George Orwell

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Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 190321 January 1950), better known by the pen name George Orwell, was a British author and journalist. Noted as a political and cultural commentator, as well as an accomplished novelist, George Orwell is among the most widely admired English-language essayists of the twentieth century. He is possibly best known for two novels written towards the end of his life, in the 1940s; the political allegory Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, which describes a totalitarian dystopia so vividly that the adjective "Orwellian" is now used to describe totalitarian mechanisms of thought control. Orwellian describes a situation, idea, or condition that George Orwell identified as being inimical to the welfare of a free-society. Often, this includes the situations depicted in his fictional novels, particularly his political novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.



Eric Blair was born on June 25, 1903 in Motihari, Bihar, India, in the then British dominion of India (British Raj), where his father, Richard, worked for the Opium Department of the Civil Service. His mother, Ida, brought him to England at the age of one. He did not see his father again until 1907, when Richard visited England for three months before leaving again. Eric had an older sister named Marjorie, and a younger sister named Avril. With his characteristic humour, he would later describe his family's background as "lower-upper-middle class."


At the age of six, Blair was sent to a small Anglican parish school in Henley, which his sister had attended before him. He never wrote of his recollections of it, but he must have impressed the teachers very favourably, for two years later he was recommended to the headmaster of one of the most successful preparatory schools in England at the time: St Cyprian's School, in Eastbourne, Sussex. Young Eric attended St Cyprian's on a scholarship that allowed his parents to pay only half of the usual fees. Many years later, he would recall his time at St Cyprian's with biting resentment in the essay "Such, Such Were the Joys," but there he earned scholarships to both Wellington and Eton colleges.

After a term at Wellington, Eric moved to Eton, where he was a King's Scholar from 1917 to 1921. Later in life he wrote that he had been "relatively happy" at Eton, which allowed its students considerable independence, but also that he ceased doing serious work after arriving there. Reports of his academic performance at Eton vary; some assert that he was a poor student, while others claim the contrary. He was clearly disliked by some of his teachers, who resented what they perceived as disrespect for their authority. In any event, during his time at the school, Eric made lifetime friendships with a number of future British intellectuals such as Cyril Connolly, the future editor of the Horizon magazine, in which many of Orwell's most famous essays were originally published.

Burma and afterwards

After finishing his studies at Eton, having no prospect of gaining a university scholarship, and his family's means being insufficient to pay his tuition, Eric joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He resigned and returned to England in 1927 having grown to hate imperialism, as shown by his novel Burmese Days, published in 1934, and by such essays as "A Hanging", and "Shooting an Elephant." He lived for several years in poverty, sometimes homeless, sometimes doing itinerant work, as he recalled in Down and Out in Paris and London, his first major work. He eventually found work as a schoolteacher, but ill health forced him to give this up to work part-time as an assistant in a second-hand bookshop in Hampstead, an experience later partially recounted in the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

Eric Blair became George Orwell in 1933, while the author was writing for the New Adelphi, and living in Hayes, Middlesex while working as a schoolmaster. He adopted a pen name in order not to embarrass his parents with Down and Out in Paris and London. He considered such possible pseudonyms as "Kenneth Miles" and "H. Lewis Allways" before settling on a name that stressed his lifelong affection for the English tradition and countryside: George is the patron saint of England (and George V was monarch at the time), while the River Orwell in Suffolk was one of his most beloved English sites. Blair also thought that a last name begining with the letter "O" would best position his books on bookseller's shelves.

Between 1936 and 1945 Orwell was married to Eileen O'Shaughnessy, with whom he adopted a son, Richard Horatio Blair (b. May of 1944). She died in 1945 during an operation.

Spanish Civil War

In December 1936, Orwell went to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War as part of the ILP Contingent. This roughly 25-person contingent joined the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), which fought alongside the anarcho-syndicalists against Franco's fascist army. The POUM Marxists should not be confused with the right-wing Communists, who worked hard to undermine the leftist POUM. By his own admission, Orwell joined the POUM (as opposed to the Communists) by chance; however, he grew to passionately prefer the POUM position over time. During his military service, Orwell was shot through the neck, and barely survived. In order to recuperate, he spent six months in Morocco. His book Homage to Catalonia describes his experiences in Spain.

World War II and after

Orwell began supporting himself by writing book reviews for the New English Weekly until 1940. During World War II he was a member of the Home Guard, for which he received the Defence medal. In 1941 Orwell began work for the BBC Eastern Service, mostly working on programmes to gain Indian and East Asian support for Britain's war efforts. He was well aware that he was shaping propaganda, and wrote that he felt like "an orange that's been trodden on by a very dirty boot." Despite the good pay, he resigned in 1943 to become literary editor of Tribune, the left-wing weekly then edited by Aneurin Bevan and Jon Kimche. Orwell contributed a regular column entitled "As I Please."

In 1944 Orwell finished his anti-Stalinist allegory Animal Farm, which was published the following year with great critical and popular success. The royalties from Animal Farm provided Orwell with a comfortable income for the first time in his adult life. From 1945 Orwell was the Observer's war correspondent and later contributed regularly to the Manchester Evening News. He was a close friend of the Observer's editor/owner, David Astor, and his ideas had a strong influence on Astor's editorial policies. In 1949 his best-known work, the dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four, was published. He wrote the novel during his stay on the island of Jura, off the coast of Scotland.

In 1949 Orwell was approached by a friend, Celia Kirwan, who had just started working for a Foreign Office unit, the Information Research Department, which had been set up by the Labour government to publish pro-democratic and anti-communist propaganda. He gave her a list of 37 writers and artists he considered to be unsuitable as IRD authors because of their pro-communist leanings. The list, not published until 2003, consists mainly of journalists (among them the editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin) but also includes the actors Michael Redgrave and Charlie Chaplin. Orwell's motives for handing over the list are unclear, but the most likely explanation is the simplest: that he was helping out a friend in a cause — anti-Stalinism — that both supported. There is no indication that Orwell ever abandoned the democratic socialism that he consistently promoted in his later writings — or that he believed the writers he named should be suppressed. Orwell's list was also accurate: the people on it had all, at one time or another, made pro-Soviet or pro-communist public pronouncements.

In October 1949, shortly before his death, he married Sonia Brownell. Orwell died in London at the age of 46 from tuberculosis, which he had probably contracted during the period described in Down and Out in Paris and London. He was in and out of hospitals for the last three years of his life. Having requested burial in accordance with the Anglican rite, he was interred in All Saints' Churchyard, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire with the simple epitaph: Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born June 25th 1903, died January 21st 1950.

Orwell's son, Richard Horatio Blair, was raised by an aunt after his father's death. He maintains a low public profile, though he has occasionally given interviews about the few memories he has of his father. Blair worked for many years as an agricultural agent for the British government, and had no interest in writing.

George Orwell's work

During most of his career, Orwell was best known for his journalism, in books of reportage such as Homage to Catalonia (describing his experiences during the Spanish Civil War), Down and Out in Paris and London (describing a period of poverty in these cities), and The Road to Wigan Pier, which described the living conditions of poor miners in northern England. According to Newsweek, Orwell "was the finest of his day and the foremost architect of the English essay since Hazlitt."

Contemporary readers are more often introduced to Orwell as a novelist, particularly through his enormously successful titles Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The former is an allegory of the corruption of the socialist ideals of the Russian Revolution by Stalinism, and the latter is Orwell's prophetic vision of the results of totalitarianism. Orwell had returned from Catalonia a staunch anti-Stalinist and anti-Communist, but he remained to the end a man of the left and, in his own words, a " democratic socialist".

Literary influences

Orwell claimed that his writing style was most similar to that of Somerset Maugham. In his literary essays, he also strongly praised the works of Jack London, especially his book "The Road." Orwell's descent into the lives of the poor, in "The Road to Wigan Pier," strongly resembles that of Jack London's "The People of the Abyss," in which London disguises himself as a poverty stricken American sailor in order to investigate the lives of the poor in London. In his literary essays, George Orwell also praised Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick. Another of his favourite authors was Jonathan Swift, and, in particular, his book Gulliver's Travels.

Quotations from George Orwell

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • "The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists, whose real though unacknowledged motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration for totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writing of the younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States." Notes on Nationalism, May 1945.
  • "The Spanish war and other events in 1936–37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it." — From the essay "Why I Write" [1]
  • "Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the sources of their own income." — From the essay "Antisemitism in Britain" [2]
  • "What purpose is served by saying that men like Maxton are in Fascist pay?... It is as though in the middle of a chess tournament one competitor should suddenly begin screaming that the other is guilty of arson or bigamy." — From "Homage to Catalonia" (1938).
  • "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". — From Animal Farm (1945).
  • "One cannot really be a Catholic and grown up." — From "Manuscript Notebook," (1949).
  • "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." — From the essay "Notes on Nationalism" (1945).
  • "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting." — From the essay "The Sporting Spirit" (1945).
  • "If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear". From the Preface of Animal Farm The Freedom of the Press
  • "There are families in which the father will say to his child, ‘You'll get a thick ear if you do that again’, while the mother, her eyes brimming over with tears, will take the child in her arms and murmur lovingly, ‘Now, darling, is it kind to Mummy to do that?’ And who would maintain that the second method is less tyrannous than the first? The distinction that really matters is not between violence and non-violence, but between having and not having the appetite for power." From the essay "Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool" (1947).
  • "No one can look back on his schooldays and say with truth that they were altogether unhappy".
  • "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength." From Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Miscellaneous trivia

  • Aldous Huxley was Orwell's French teacher for a term early in his Eton career.
  • His wife Eileen was once a student of J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Despite being remembered for his radio broadcasts for the BBC during the war no recording of Orwell speaking was known until 2002. The only known film footage of Orwell is from him at Eton playing the Eton Wall Game.
  • Orwell had a Soviet secret police file — partly due to his anti-Stalinist "Animal Farm".
  • Before settling on "George Orwell", Eric Blair had considered using the pseduonyms "P.S. Burton", "Kenneth Miles", and "H. Lewis Allways".
  • Orwell actually coined the term Cold War. In an essay titled "You and the Atomic Bomb" on October 19, 1945 in Tribune, Orwell wrote:
"We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham's theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications — this is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a State which was once unconquerable and in a permanent state of 'cold war' with its neighbours."



Main description: Essays of George Orwell


See also

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four, the BBC's famous 1954 television adaptation of Orwell's novel.
  • James Burnham, whose book The Managerial Revolution was a major influence on the development of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin, whose novel We, which Orwell reviewed, provided a model for Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Books about George Orwell

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