George Orwell (1903 – 1950)

Eric Arthur Blair (June 25, 1903–January 21, 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, Orwell is among the most widely-admired English-language essayists of the 20th century. He is best known for two novels written towards the end of his life: Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Eric Blair was born on June 25, 1903 to an Anglo-Indian family in Motihari, Bihar, in India, during the period when India was part of the British Empire under the British Raj. There Blair's father, Richard Walmesley Blair, worked for the opium department of the Civil Service. His mother, Ida Mabel Blair, brought him to Britain 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. 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-on-Thames, 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. Blair 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", describing the stifling limits placed on his development by the Warden. "They [the officials] were my benefactors", writes Orwell, "sacrificing financial gain in order that the cleverest might bring academic accolades to the school". "Our brains were a gold-mine in which he [the Warden] had sunk money, and the dividends must be squeezed out of us". However, in his time at St Cyprians, the young Blair successfully earned scholarships to both Wellington College and Eton College.

After some time at Wellington, Blair 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. During his time at the school, Blair 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.

After Blair finished his studies at Eton, his family could not pay for university and he had no prospect of a scholarship. So in 1922 he joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He came to hate imperialism, returned to England in 1927 and resigned, determined to become a writer. He later used his Burmese experiences for the novel Shooting an Elephant" (1936).

In 1928, he moved to Paris, where his aunt lived, hoping to make a living as a freelance writer. But his lack of success forced him into menial jobs – which he later described in his first book, Down and Out In Paris and London (1933), although there is no indication that he had the book in mind at the time.

Ill and broke, he moved back to England in 1929, using his parents' house in Southwold, Suffolk, as a base. Writing what became Burmese Days, he made frequent forays into tramping as part of what had by now become a book project on the life of the underclass. Meanwhile, he became a regular contributor to John Middleton Murry's New Adelphi magazine.

Blair completed Down and Out in 1932, and it was published early the next year while he was working briefly as a schoolteacher at a private school in Hayes, Middlesex. Blair became George Orwell just before Down and Out was published, adopting the pen-name of George Orwell. It is unknown exactly why he chose this name. He knew and liked the River Orwell in Suffolk and apparently found the plainness of the first name George attractive. It is believed by some that he chose George by way of Saint George, among other things the patron saint of England.

Orwell drew on his teaching experiences for the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936).

In early 1936, Orwell was commissioned by Victor Gollancz of the Left Book Club to write an account of life in the depressed areas of northern England, which appeared in 1937 as The Road To Wigan Pier.

Soon after completing his research for the book, Orwell married Eileen O'Shaughnessy.

In December 1936, Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War against Francisco Franco's Nationalist uprising. He went as part of the Independent Labour Party contingent, a group of some 25 Britons who joined the militia of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), a revolutionary socialist party with which the ILP was allied. The POUM, along with the radical wing of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT (the dominant force on the left in Catalonia), believed that Franco could be defeated only if the working class in the Republic overthrew capitalism- a position fundamentally at odds with that of the Spanish Communist Party and its allies, which (backed by Soviet arms and aid) argued for a coalition with bourgeois parties to defeat the Nationalists. By his own admission, Orwell joined the POUM rather than the communist-run International Brigades by chance- but his experiences, in particular his witnessing the communist suppression of the POUM in May 1937, made him sympathetic towards the POUM line and turned him into a lifelong anti-Stalinist. During his military service, Orwell was shot through the neck and was lucky to survive. His book Homage To Catalonia describes his experiences in Spain. To recuperate from his injuries, he spent six months in Morocco, described in his essay 'Marrakech".

Back in Britain, Orwell supported himself by writing freelance reviews, mainly for the New English Weekly (until he broke with it over its pacifism in 1940) and then mostly for Time and Tide. He joined the Home Guard soon after the war began (and was later awarded the Defence medal).

In 1941 Orwell took a job at 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 was on the staff until early 1945, contributing a regular column titled "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 were to provide Orwell with a comfortable income for the first time in his adult life.

While Animal Farm was at the printer, Orwell left Tribune to become (briefly) a war correspondent for Observer. 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. (Astor, who died in 2001, is buried in the grave next to Orwell.)

Orwell returned from Europe in spring 1945, shortly after his wife died during an operation (they had recently adopted a baby boy, Richard Horatio Blair, who was born in May 1944).

For the next three years Orwell mixed journalistic work, mainly for Tribune, the Observer and the Manchester Evening News, though he also contributed to many small-circulation political and literary magazines, with writing his best-known work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published in 1949.

He wrote much of the novel while living in a remote farmhouse on the island of Jura, off the coast of Scotland, to which he moved in 1946 despite increasingly bad health.

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 they 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 adopted 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.

Orwell's political views changed over time, but there can be no doubt that he was a man of the left throughout his life as a writer. His time in Burma made him a staunch opponent of imperialism, and his experience of poverty while researching Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier turned him into a socialist. "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," he wrote in 1946.

It was Spain, however, that played the most important part in defining his socialism. Having witnessed at first hand the suppression of the revolutionary left by the Communists, Orwell returned from Catalonia a staunch anti-Stalinist and joined the Independent Labour Party.

At the time, like most other left-wingers in Britain, he was still opposed to rearmament against Hitlerite Germany but after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the outbreak of the Second World War, he changed his mind. He left the ILP over its pacifism and adopted a political position of "revolutionary patriotism". He supported the war effort but detected (wrongly as it turned out) a mood that would lead to a revolutionary socialist movement among the British people. "We are in a strange period of history in which a revolutionary has to be a patriot and a patriot has to be a revolutionary," he wrote in Tribune, the Labour left's weekly, in December 1940.

By 1943, his thinking had moved on. He joined the staff of Tribune as literary editor, and from then until his death was a left-wing (though hardly orthodox) democratic socialist. He canvassed for the Labour Party in the 1945 general election and was broadly supportive of its actions in office, though he was sharply critical of its timidity on certain key questions and was also harshly critical of the proSoviet stance of many Labour left-wingers.

Although he was never either a Trotskyist or an anarchist, he was strongly influenced by the Trotskyist and anarchist critiques of the Soviet regime and by the anarchists' emphasis on individual freedom. Many of his closest friends in the mid 1940s were part of the small anarchist scene in London.

In his last years, Orwell was, unlike several of his comrades around Tribune, a fierce opponent of the creation of the state of Israel. He was also an early proponent of a federal Europe.

During most of his career, Orwell was best known for his journalism, in essays, reviews, columns in newspapers and magazines and in his books of reportage: Homage to Catalonia (describing his experiences during the Spanish Civil War). 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 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.

Influence on the English language
Nineteen Eighty-Four has given the English language the phrase 'Big Brother', or 'Big Brother is watching you'. This is used to refer to any oppressive regime, but particularly in the context of invasion of privacy. The TV series 'Big Brother' is named after this phrase.

The adjective Orwellian is mainly derived from the system depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It can refer to any form of government oppression, but it is particularly used to refer to euphemistic and misleading language originating from government bodies with a political purpose, for example 'friendly fire', 'collateral damage' and 'pacification'.

Variations of the slogan "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others", from Animal Farm, are sometimes used to satirise situations where equality exists in theory and rhetoric but not in practice. For example, an allegation that rich people are treated more leniently by the courts despite legal equality before the law might be summarised as "all criminals are equal, but some are more equal than others".

The term "cold war" goes back centuries. Orwell used it in an essay titled "You and the Atomic Bomb" on October 19, 1945 in Tribune, he 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."

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 "New Grub Street with its description of the growing commercialisation of late 19th Century society was another influence.

Books by George Orwell