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George Orwell
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George Orwell

George Orwell (June 25, 1903January 21, 1950) was the pen-name of Eric Arthur Blair, a British author and journalist best known for his allegorical political novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The latter, which describes a futuristic dystopian society, led to the use of the adjective 'Orwellian' to describe totalitarian mechanisms of thought-control.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Orwell's Work
3 Quotation
4 Books
5 Essays
6 See also
7 External links


Eric Blair was born in Bengal, 1903 in the British colony of India, 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 until 1912. Eric had an older sister named Marjorie and a younger sister named Avril.


At the age of 5, Eric was sent to a small Anglican parish school in Henley, which his sisters had attended before him. He never wrote of his recollections of it, but he must have impressed the teachers very favorably, 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 he did well enough to earn scholarships to both Wellington and Eton colleges.

After a semester a 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 claim he was a poor student, others deny this. It is clear that he was 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.

Burma and afterwards

Upon completing his studies at Eton, having no prospect of gaining a university scholarship and his family's means being insufficient to pay for his tuition, Eric joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma in 1922. He resigned and returned to England in 1928 having grown to hate imperialism (as evidenced by first novel Burmese Days, published in 1934, and by such notable essays as 'A Hanging', and 'Shooting an Elephant'). He adopted his pen name in 1933, while writing for the New Adelphi. Perhaps surprisingly for a writer with progressive, socialist views, he chose a pen name that stressed his deep and life-long affection for the English tradition and countryside: George is the patron saint of England, while the River Orwell in Suffolk was one of his most beloved English sites.

Blair lived for several years in poverty, sometimes homeless, sometimes doing itinerant work, as he recalled in the book Down and Out in Paris and London. He eventually found work as a schoolteacher until ill health forced him to give this up to work part-time as an assistant in a secondhand bookshop in Hampstead.

Spanish Civil War

A member of the Independent Labour Party, Orwell felt impelled to fight as an infantryman in the anti-Stalinist POUM (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification) during the Spanish Civil War. In Homage to Catalonia he described his admiration for the apparent absence of a class structure in the revolutionary areas of Spain he visited. He also depicted what he believed was the betrayal of that workers' revolution in Spain by the Spanish Communist Party, which was abetted by the Soviet Union. Orwell was shot in the neck (near Huesca) on May 20, 1937, an experience he described in his short essay "Wounded by a Fascist Sniper", as well as in Homage to Catalonia.

Literary career and afterwards

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 and in 1941 began work for the BBC Eastern Service, mostly working on programs 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 quit this job in 1943 to become literary editor of Tribune, a left-wing journal sponsored by a group of Labour Party MPs.

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.

Between 1936 and 1945 Orwell was married to Eileen O'Shaughnessy, with whom he adopted a son, Richard Horatio Blair. Tragically, she died in 1945 during an operation. In the fall of 1949, shortly before his death, he married Sonia Brownell.

In 1949 Orwell spoke to the Information Research Department, an organization run by the government to encourage the publication of anti-communist propaganda. He offered them information on the "crypto-communist leanings" of some of his fellow writers and advice on how best to spread the anti-communist message. Orwell's motives for this are unclear, though it does not necessarily follow that he had abandoned socialism - merely that he detested Stalinism, as he had already made very clear in his earlier published works. Some have also speculated that the tuberculosis from which he suffered had affected him mentally.

Orwell died at the age of 47 from tuberculosis that he probably had 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 to the Anglican rite, he was interred in All Saint's Churchyard, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire under his real name, Eric Arthur Blair.

Interest in the occult

Orwell consistently declared that he was an atheist from adolescence. In his works he rarely mentions the occult, and when he does it is usually to mock the belief in it (see, for instance, the passage in the novel Coming Up for Air in which a professional medium accidentally drops a piece of cheesecloth concealed in his pants). However, there are indications that the young Eric Blair had a keen concern for the supernatural. Inside George Orwell, a biography written by Gordon Bowker and published in 2003, cites a letter written on his deathbed by Sir Steven Runciman, a medieval historian who was Orwell's friend at Eton. The letter indicates that Orwell became interested in voodoo after reading the Ingoldsby Legends by R.H. Barham, which describe killing by black magic. Runciman and Orwell used a wax image to harm an older boy whom they "disliked for being unkind to his juniors". Runciman says that Orwell wanted to stick a pin into the heart of our image, but that frightened me, so we compromised by breaking off his right leg – and he did break his leg a few days later playing football and he died young. The book also claims that Orwell confided in a few friends that his adoption of a pen name was intended to prevent his enemies from using his real name to work magic against him. Bowker also claims that Orwell was troubled by visions of his death and that he experienced ghost sightings throughout his life, all of which conflict with the rationalism usually associated with Orwell.

Orwell's Work

During most of his professional life time Orwell was best known for his journalism, both in the British press and in books of reportage such as Homage to Catalonia (describing his activities 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 journalist of his day and the foremost architect of the English essay since Hazlitt."

Orwell is, however, most remembered today for two of his novels: 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. Nineteen Eighty-Four also presents Orwell's philosophy reguarding metaphysical objectivism. 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'.

Another widely known work of Orwell is his classic essay "Politics and the English Language", in which he decries the effects of political propaganda, official language, and superficial thinking on literary styles, vocabulary, and ultimately on thought itself. Orwell's concern over the declining power of language to capture and express reality with honesty is also reflected in his invention of "Newspeak", the language of the imaginary country of Oceania in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a variant of English in which vocabulary is strictly limited by government fiat. The goal is to make it increasingly difficult to express ideas that contradict the official line - and, in time, even to conceive such ideas. (cf. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis).

Orwell's literary and political career was dominated by the tension between his desire for greater equality and social justice, and his ambivalent attitude towards his own middle-class background. "You have nothing to lose but your aitches" as he once said in mocking of middle-class taboos about pronunciation.




See also

External links