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George Orwell

George Orwell

The British novelist and essayist George Orwell (1903-1950) is best known for his satirical novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four.

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair at Motihari, Bengal, India. His father, Richard Walmesley Blair, was a minor customs official in the opium department of the Indian Civil Service. When Orwell was 4 years old, his family returned to England, where they settled at Henley, a village near London. His father soon returned to India. When Orwell was 8 years old, he was sent to a private preparatory school in Sussex. He later claimed that his experiences there determined his views on the English class system. From there he went by scholarship to two private secondary schools: Wellington for one term and Eton for 4 1/2 years.

Orwell then joined the Indian Imperial Police, receiving his training in Burma, where he served from 1922 to 1927. While home on leave in England, Orwell made the important decision not to return to Burma. His resignation from the Indian Imperial Police became effective on Jan. 1, 1928. He had wanted to become a writer since his adolescence, and he had come to believe that the Imperial Police was in this respect an unsuitable profession. Later evidence also suggests that he had come to understand the imperialism which he was serving and had rejected it.

Establishment as a Writer

In the first 6 months after his decision, Orwell went on what he thought of as an expedition to the East End of London to become acquainted with the poor people of England. As a base, he rented a room in Notting Hill. In the spring he rented a room in a working-class district of Paris. It seems clear that his main objective was to establish himself as a writer, and the choice of Paris was characteristic of the period. Orwell wrote two novels, both lost, during his stay in Paris, and he published a few articles in French and English. After stints as a kitchen porter and dishwasher and a bout with pneumonia, he returned to England toward the end of 1929.

Orwell used his parents' home in Suffolk as a base, still attempting to establish himself as a writer. He earned his living by teaching and by writing occasional articles, while he completed several versions of his first book, Down and Out in London and Paris. This novel recorded his experiences in the East End and in Paris, and as he was earning his living as a teacher when it was scheduled for publication, he preferred to publish it under a pseudonym. From a list of four possible names submitted to his publisher, he chose "George Orwell." The Orwell is a Suffolk river.

First Novels

Orwell's Down and Out was issued in 1933. During the next 3 years he supported himself by teaching, reviewing, and clerking in a bookshop and began spending longer periods away from his parents' Suffolk home. In 1934 he published Burmese Days. The plot of this novel concerns personal intrigue among an isolated group of Europeans in an Eastern station. Two more novels followed: A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) and Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936).

In the spring of 1936 Orwell moved to Wallington, Hertfordshire, and several months later married Eileen O'Shaughnessy, a teacher and journalist. His reputation up to this time, as writer and journalist, was based mainly on his accounts of poverty and hard times. His next book was a commission in this direction. The Left Book Club authorized him to write an inquiry into the life of the poor and unemployed. The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) was divided into two parts. The first was typical reporting, but the second part was an essay on class and socialism. It marked Orwell's birth as a political writer, an identity that lasted for the rest of his life.

Political Commitments and Essays

In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out. By the end of that autumn, Orwell was readying himself to go to Spain to gather material for articles and perhaps to take part in the war. After his arrival in Barcelona, he joined the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista) and served with them in action in January 1937. Transferring to the British Independent Labour party contingent serving with the POUM militia, Orwell was promoted first to corporal and then to lieutenant before being wounded in the middle of May. During his convalescence, the POUM was declared illegal, and he fled into France in June. His experiences in Spain had made him into a revolutionary socialist.

After his return to England, Orwell began writing Homage to Catalonia (1938), which completed his disengagement from the orthodox left. He then wished to return to India to write a book, but he became ill with tuberculosis. He entered a sanatorium where he remained until late in the summer of 1938. Orwell spent the following winter in Morocco, where he wrote Coming Up for Air (1939). After he returned to England, Orwell authored several of his best-known essays. These include the essays on Dickens and on boys' weeklies and "Inside the Whale."

After World War II began, Orwell believed that "now we are in this bloody war we have got to win it and I would like to lend a hand." The army, however, rejected him as physically unfit, but later he served for a period in the home guard and as a fire watcher. The Orwells moved to London in May 1940. In early 1941 he commenced writing "London Letters" for Partisan Review, and in August he joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a producer in the Indian section. He remained in this position until 1943.

First Masterpiece

The year 1943 was an important one in Orwell's life for several reasons. His mother died in March; he left the BBC to become literary editor of the Tribune; and he began book reviewing on a more regular basis. But the most important event occurred late that year, when he commenced the writing of Animal Farm. Orwell had completed this satire by February 1944, but several publishers rejected it on political grounds. It finally appeared in August 1945. This fantasy relates what happens to animals who free themselves and then are again enslaved through violence and fraud.

Toward the end of World War II, Orwell traveled to France, Germany, and Austria as a reporter. His wife died in March 1945. The next year he settled on Jura off the coast of Scotland, with his youngest sister as his housekeeper.

Crowning Achievement

By now, Orwell's health was steadily deteriorating. Renewed tuberculosis early in 1947 did not prevent the composition of the first draft of his masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-four. The second draft was written in 1948 during several attacks of the disease. By the end of 1948 Orwell was seriously ill. Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) is an elaborate satire on modern politics, prophesying a world perpetually laid waste by warring dictators.

Orwell entered a London hospital in September 1949 and the next month married Sonia Brownell. He died in London on Jan. 21, 1950.

Orwell's singleness of purpose in pursuit of his material and the uncompromising honesty that defined him both as a man and as a writer made him critical of intellectuals whose political viewpoints struck him as dilettante. Thus, though a writer of the left, he wrote the most savage criticism of his generation against left-wing authors, and his strong stand against communism resulted from his experience of its methods gained as a fighter in the Spanish Civil War.

Further Reading

Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (1968), is an invaluable addition to Orwell studies. Probably the most significant work on Orwell is George Woodcock, The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell (1966). Other useful studies of Orwell as man and artist include Tom Hopkinson, George Orwell (1953); John Atkins, George Orwell (1954); Laurence Brander, George Orwell (1954); Christopher Hollis, A Study of George Orwell (1956); Richard J. Vorhees, The Paradox of George Orwell (1961); Richard Rees, George Orwell: Fugitive from the Camp of Victory (1962); Edward M. Thomas, Orwell (1965); Ruth Ann Lief, Home to Oceania: The Prophetic Vision of George Orwell (1969), particularly for students already familiar with Orwell's writing; and Raymond Williams, George Orwell (1971). □

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Orwell, George

George Orwell

Born: June 25, 1903
Motihari, India
Died: January 21, 1950
London, England

English writer, novelist, and essayist

The English novelist and essayist, George Orwell, is best known for his satirical (using wit or sarcasm to point out and devalue sin or silliness) novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four.

Early years

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, Bengal, India, to Richard and Ida Mabel Blair. He had an older sister and a younger sister. His father was a minor customs official in the Indian Civil Service. When Orwell was four years old, his family returned to England, where they settled at Henley, a village near London, England. His father soon returned to India.

As a child, Orwell was shy and lacked self-confidence. He suffered from bronchitis all his life. He spent long hours reading and was especially interested in science fiction, ghost stories, William Shakespeare's (15641616) plays, and fiction by Edgar Allan Poe (18091849), Charles Dickens (18121870), and Rudyard Kipling (18651936). When Orwell was eight years old, he was sent to a private preparatory school in Sussex, England. He later claimed that his experiences there determined his views on the English class system. From there he went by scholarship to two private secondary schools: Wellington for one term and Eton for four and a half years.

Orwell then joined the Indian Imperial Police, receiving his training in Burma, where he served from 1922 to 1927. While home on leave in England, Orwell made the important decision not to return to Burma, but to pursue writing. His resignation from the Indian Imperial Police became effective on January 1, 1928. Later evidence suggests that he had come to understand the imperialism for which he was serving, and had rejected it. Imperialism is a political and economic practice whereby a nation increases its power by gaining control or ownership of other territories.

Establishment as a writer

Shortly after making this decision Orwell stayed in Notting Hill, a poor section in London's East End, and in a working-class district of Paris, France. He wrote two novels, both lost, during his stay in Paris, and he published a few articles in French and English. After working as a kitchen porter and dishwasher, and suffering from pneumonia (a lung disease), he returned to his parents' house in Suffolk, England, toward the end of 1929.

Back in England, Orwell earned his living by teaching and by writing occasional articles, while he completed several versions of his first book, Down and Out in London and Paris. This novel recorded his experiences in the East End and in Paris. Because he was earning his living as a teacher when his novel was scheduled for publication, he preferred to publish it under a pseudonym (a made-up name used by an author to disguise his or her true identity). From a list of four possible names submitted to his publisher, he chose "George Orwell."

First novels

Orwell's Down and Out was issued in 1933. During the next three years he supported himself by teaching, reviewing, and clerking in a bookshop. In 1934 he published Burmese Days. The plot of this novel concerns personal intrigue (plotting) among an isolated group of Europeans in Burma (a country now known as Myanmar). Two more novels followed: A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) and Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936).

In the spring of 1936 Orwell moved to Wallington, Hertfordshire, and several months later married Eileen O'Shaughnessy, a teacher and journalist. The Left Book Club authorized Orwell to write an inquiry into the lives of the poor and unemployed. The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) included an essay on class and socialism (a social system in which the production of goods and distribution of wealth is controlled centrally). It marked Orwell's birth as a political writer, an identity that lasted for the rest of his life.

Political commitments and essays

In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out. Orwell arrived in Barcelona, Spain, at the end of autumn and joined the militia (a group of citizens who serve in the armed forces of a country). Orwell was wounded in the middle of May 1937. During his recovery, the militia was declared illegal, and he fled into France in June. His experiences in Spain had made him into a revolutionary socialist, one who advocated change to a socialist form of society through rebellion of the people.

After Orwell returned to England, he began writing Homage to Catalonia (1938), which describes his disappointment with the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. He then wished to return to India to write a book, but he became ill with tuberculosis (a serious disease of the lungs). He was treated in a hospital until late in the summer of 1938. He spent the following winter in Morocco, where he wrote Coming Up for Air (1939). After he returned to England, Orwell authored several of his best-known essays. These include the essays on Dickens and on boys' weeklies and "Inside the Whale."

After World War II (19391945; a war fought between the Axis: Italy, Germany, and Japan, and the Allies: England, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) began, Orwell wanted to enlist. The army, however, rejected him as physically unfit. Later he served for a period in the home guard and as a fire watcher. The Orwells moved to London in May 1940. In early 1941 George Orwell began writing "London Letters" for Partisan Review, and in August he joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a producer in the Indian section. He remained in this position until 1943.

First masterpiece

In 1943 Orwell's mother died; he left the BBC to become literary editor of the Tribune; and he began reviewing books on a more regular basis. By February 1944 Orwell had completed Animal Farm, but several publishers rejected it on political grounds. It finally appeared in August 1945. This fable intends to enforce a useful truth, the failure of communism, through animals that speak and act like humans.

Toward the end of World War II, Orwell traveled to France, Germany, and Austria as a reporter. His wife died in March 1945. The next year he settled on Jura off the coast of Scotland, with his youngest sister as his housekeeper.

Crowning achievement

Although Orwell's health was now steadily falling apart, he started work on Nineteen Eighty-four. Published in 1949, this book is an elaborate satire (a literary work that uncovers the corrupt morals of humans) on modern politics, foretelling a world in which humans are made less than human in a world where citizens are at the mercy of the state's absolute control. Orwell entered a London hospital in September 1949 and the next month married Sonia Brownell. He died in London on January 21, 1950.

Orwell's work is strongly autobiographical (based on the events of his own life) and combines elements of his own middle-class experience with his desire to cause social reform. He was critical of intellectuals whose political viewpoints struck him as superficial. His strong stand against communism (a system in which the government controls all businesses) resulted from his experience of its methods gained as a fighter in the Spanish Civil War.

For More Information

Boerst, William J. Generous Anger: The Story of George Orwell. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds, 2001.

Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell Matters. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. New York: Norton, 2000.

Shelden, Michael. Orwell: The Authorized Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

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ORWELL, George

ORWELL, George [1903–50]. Pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, English novelist, journalist, and political thinker. The adoption in 1933 of the pen name, taken from the River Orwell in East Anglia, marked his transformation from a member of the establishment of the British Empire into a social, political, and literary radical. He was born in Montihari, Bengal, India, the son of a British civil servant, and educated at Eton (where Aldous Huxley was one of his masters). From there he went in 1922 to serve in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, but resigned because he disliked imperialism ‘and every form of man's dominion over man’. In England in 1927, he became a reviewer and columnist, living for a time in the poverty described in the ‘documentary novel’ Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). Six more works appeared before the Second World War: the novels Burmese Days (1934), A Clergyman's Daughter (1935), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), Coming Up for Air (1939), and the non-fiction The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Homage to Catalonia (1938). They range from reflections on his life in Burma and on class differences and unemployment in England to his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, in which he was wounded in the throat while fighting for the Republicans against Fascism. Orwell at first saw himself as an anarchist, then a socialist, but later sought to avoid political labels. He was opposed to totalitarianism in any guise. He died of tuberculosis, a disease from which he had suffered for many years. He is best known for his two post-war anti-totalitarian satirical novels, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the latter introducing the concept of NEWSPEAK. From the same period comes the essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ (first published in Horizon, 1946), still frequently included in anthologies and widely admired for its advice on prose style.

Attitude to English

Like others of his time, background, and social position, Orwell was a polyglot: LATIN and GREEK; FRENCH; Hindustani and Burmese; SPANISH. He did not, however, accept contemporary standards for English; he often derided the variety of BrE common among his fellow Etonians, along with the variety employed on the BBC, seeing them as dangerous establishment tools. In its place, he advocated an artificial amalgam of lower-class varieties, including the dropped aitch, to be taught in schools. Orwell was not averse to the official promulgation of an invented variety of English. The Newspeak of Nineteen Eighty-Four is not, therefore, evil simply because it is artificial, but because its goals are untruth and mind control, and because its means to this end are the suppression of words for forbidden concepts (like honour, justice) and the ready conversion of parts of speech (like the verb speak as a noun, instead of speech). Orwell was in most ways a language conservative while he was a social individualist and a political adherent of ‘democratic socialism’, as he called it. His books sometimes champion those who speak non-standard English, but his essays severely oppose linguistic change and by implication condemn the diversity that change brings.

Rules for writing English

In ‘Politics and the English Language’, Orwell wrote that ‘one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases: (1) Never use a METAPHOR, SIMILE or other FIGURE OF SPEECH which you are used to seeing in print. (2) Never use a LONG WORD where a short one will do. (3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (4) Never use the PASSIVE when you can use the ACTIVE. (5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a JARGON word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.’ The double implication (that half a dozen rules would ‘cover most cases’, and that all writers worthy of the name would agree about what was ‘outright barbarous’) reveals Orwell's conservative stand on the complexities of language variety. See SATIRE, USAGE GUIDANCE AND CRITICISM.

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Orwell, George

George Orwell, pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair, 1903–50, British novelist and essayist, b. Bengal, India. He is best remembered for his scathingly satirical and frighteningly political novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. After attending Eton, he served (1922–27) with the Indian imperial police in Burma (now Myanmar). He returned to Europe in 1927, living penuriously in Paris and later in London. In 1936 he fought with the Republicans in the Spanish civil war and was seriously wounded. His writings—particularly such early works as Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), Burmese Days (1934), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and Homage to Catalonia (1938)—are highly autobiographical.

Orwell was a keen critic of imperialism, fascism, Stalinism, and capitalism, all of which seemed to him forms of political oppression, and although he espoused a sort of socialism, he refused to be formally associated with any ideology or party label. His works are concerned with the sociopolitical conditions of his time, notably with the problem of human freedom. Animal Farm (1946) is a witty, satirical fable about the failure of Soviet-style Communism, and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is a prophetic novel describing the dehumanization of humanity in a mechanistic, totalitarian world. Orwell's other novels include A Clergyman's Daughter (1935), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), and Coming Up for Air (1940). The master of a superbly lucid prose style, Orwell wrote many literary essays, which some critics find superior to his novels. His volumes of essays include Dickens, Dali and Others (1946), Shooting an Elephant (1950), and the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (4 vol., 1968, repr. 2000).

See S. Orwell and I. Angus, ed., The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (4 vol., 1968, repr., 2000); P. Davison, ed., The Complete Works of George Orwell (20 vol., 1998), George Orwell: A Life in Letters (2010), and Diaries (2012); S. Orwell and I. Angus, ed., The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (4 vol., 1968, repr. 2000); biographies by B. Crick (1980), M. Shelden (1991), J. Meyers (2000), G. Bowker (2003), and D. J. Taylor (2003); A. Coppard and B. Crick, ed., Orwell Remembered (1985); studies by J. Meyers, ed. (1975), R. Williams (1981), L. Hunter (1984), R. Alok (1989), J. Rodden (1989, repr. 2002), and C. Hitchens (2002).

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Orwell, George

Orwell, George (1903–50). Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair, embodied the hopes and aspirations of the left in the 1930s, and the subsequent post-war disillusionment. His career began as a policeman in Burma, but in 1927 he returned to England to be a writer. The experience of poverty enabled him to write Down and Out in Paris and London (1930); Burmese Days (1931) followed. Based on personal experiences, it was critical of the British empire. But Orwell's breakthrough came when he was commissioned by Gollancz of the Left Book Club to write a study of poverty in England. The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) was a brilliantly emotive impression of working-class life.

The experience of fighting with the POUM militia against fascists in Spain, which almost led to his death, cemented Orwell's socialist ideas. Homage to Catalonia (1938), which aroused great hostility, was a graphic description of the Spanish revolution. Animal Farm (1945), the result of these experiences, launched an acerbic satirical attack on Stalinism. His final book, written in solitude on the Isle of Jura, was 1984 (1949), a grim warning of the dangers of totalitarianism. Over the course of his life Orwell developed a distinctive and quintessentially English revolutionary libertarian socialism of his own, which continued to inspire long after his life was cut short by tuberculosis in 1950.

Lewis Mates

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Orwell, George

Orwell, George (1903–50) British novelist and essayist, b. Eric Arthur Blair in India. Orwell's service (1922–27) with the Indian imperial police in Burma formed the basis of Burmese Days (1934). Other early autobiographical works include Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and Homage to Catalonia (1938), the latter on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell is best-known, however, for his fictions on totalitarianism: the satirical fable Animal Farm (1945) and the dystopic novel 1984 (1949).

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