Special Commissioned Entry on George Orwell, W. Scott Lucas
Special Commissioned Entry on George Orwell
See also Animal Farm Criticism and 1984 Criticism.
The following chronology provides an overview of Orwell's life and writing career. In-depth explication of these subjects is presented in the “Criticism” section of this entry.
1857: Richard Blair is born in Milborne St. Andrew, Dorset, England, the youngest of ten children of a village vicar.
1875: Ida Limouzin, the daughter of a French father and English mother, is born in the London suburb of Penge but is raised in Moulmein, Burma.
1896: Richard Blair, an official in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service, marries Ida Limouzin.
1898: Eric Blair's older sister, Marjorie, is born on 21 April.
1903: Eric Blair is born in Motihari, Bengal, India, on 25 June.
1904: Ida Blair moves to England with Eric and Marjorie, settling in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.
1908: Eric Blair's younger sister, Avril, is born on 6 April.
1911: Richard Blair retires from the Indian Civil Service and joins his family in England. Eric attends St. Cyprian's School, outside Eastbourne in Sussex, on a scholarship.
1914: Eric Blair's first published poem, “Awake! Young Men of England,” appears in the 2 October issue of the Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard.
1916: Eric Blair publishes a second patriotic poem, “Kitchener,” in the 21 July Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard.
1917: In May, Eric Blair enters the elite public school Eton College on a scholarship. In September, Richard Blair joins the Royal Army as a second lieutenant and is put in charge of mules in a camp near Marseilles, France. Ida Blair takes a clerical job with the Ministry of Pensions and moves with her older daughter, Marjorie, to Earls Court, London.
1921: In December, Eric Blair leaves Eton, placing 138th out of 167 students in the final-year examinations. That same month, his parents move to Southwold in Essex.
1922: In June, Blair takes the week long examinations for entry into the Imperial Police of the India Office.
1922: On 27 October, Blair sails for Rangoon, Burma, as a probationary assistant district superintendent of police. In November he attends training school in Mandalay.
1924: In January, Blair takes up his first provincial post in Myaungmya, eighty miles west of Rangoon. In the spring he moves to Twante, twelve miles from Rangoon.
1925: Blair is posted in January to Syriam, ten miles from Rangoon, and put in charge of security at a refinery of the Burmah Oil Company. In October he becomes an assistant superintendent at the large police headquarters in Insein, ten miles north of Rangoon.
1926: Blair moves in April to Moulmein, the third-largest city in Burma. In December he takes up his last post, at Katha, in the jungle of Upper Burma.
1927: In July, Blair resigns from the Imperial Police, leaving the service early on unspecified medical grounds. The following winter he goes “down and out” in the East End of London and then begins “tramping” about the city.
1928: Blair moves in the spring to Paris, living in a cheap hotel at 6 rue du Pot de Fer in the Latin Quarter. On 6 October his first published article, “La Censure en Angleterre,” appears in the newspaper Le Monde. His first English-language publication, “A Farthing Newspaper,” appears in the 29 December issue of G. K. Chesterton's G. K.'s Weekly. The first part of a three-part series on the unemployment situation in England is published in Le Progrès civique, also on 29 December.
1929: Early in the year the concluding parts of Blair's series on unemployment, as well as another on the British presence in Burma, are published in Le Progrès civique. From April to June the McClure Newspaper Syndicate rejects three of his short stories. In August, Blair submits a version of “The Spike,” based on his tramping in London, to The New Adelphi. In the fall, after the theft of almost all his money, he pawns his good clothes and takes a job doing menial work in the kitchen of a Paris hotel. Blair leaves Paris in December for his parents' home in Southwold, Essex, and works as a caregiver and tutor.
1930: In the spring Blair publishes his first book review, of Lewis Mumford's biography Herman Melville (1929), for The New Adelphi. In April, Blair resumes his tramping, both in London and in the counties of Kent, Bedfordshire, Essex, and Suffolk. He finishes “A Scullion's Diary,” the first version of the Paris section of Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), in October.
1931: In April The Adelphi (the magazine reverted to its original name in October 1930) publishes “The Spike,” portions of which are revised for inclusion in Down and Out in Paris and London. In August and September, Blair tramps from London to the hop fields of Kent. His article “Hop-picking” is published in the 17 October edition of The New Statesman and Nation. Late in the year, Blair hesitantly asks Leonard Moore of the literary agency Christy and Moore to represent him, but Moore is put off by the cool tone of his letters. In December, Blair goes “down and out” in the East End of London a final time, attempting for several days to be arrested and imprisoned by drinking in public and violating the Vagrancy Act. His essay about this experience, “The Clink,” is never published. Also in December, Blair moves from Paddington to cheap housing in Westminster, south of the Thames.
1932: After Jonathan Cape's rejection of the original version of “A Scullion's Diary,” Blair expands the manuscript by adding the section devoted to his tramping in England, but Cape and then Faber and Faber (represented by T. S. Eliot) reject this revised text. In April, Blair takes up a teaching post at the Hawthorns, a school in Hayes, Middlesex, northwest of London. That same month, after a friend of Blair's takes the manuscript of the book on Paris and London to Moore, the agent agrees to contact publishers. In June a reader for Victor Gollancz recommends Blair's “Days in London and Paris” for publication but warns of possible problems with charges of obscenity, blasphemy, and libel. Blair begins to court Eleanor Jaques, a friend from Southwold, but she eventually marries another Southwold friend of Blair's, Dennis Collings.
1933: On 9 January Down and Out in Paris and London (a compromise title between Blair's choice, “The Confessions of a Dishwasher,” and Gollancz's, “The Confessions of a Down and Out”) is published under Blair's pseudonym, George Orwell. In March, an untitled poem by Orwell (as Blair) on pessimism and faith appears in The Adelphi. In June, Harper publishes Down and Out in Paris and London in the United States. Two more untitled poems by Orwell (as Blair) are published in The Adelphi this year. He completes the revised manuscript of Burmese Days (1934) in December. That same month, Orwell develops pneumonia, the first of his protracted battles with lung problems, after a motorcycle ride in an icy storm; he recovers in Southwold.
1934: Early in the year Heinemann and Gollancz turn down Burmese Days, fearing charges of libel, but Harper signs a contract to publish the book in the United States. In April a poem by Orwell (as Blair), “On a Ruined Farm near the His Master's Voice Gramophone Factory,” is published in The Adelphi; it is subsequently included in The Best Poems of 1934. Orwell completes the manuscript of A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) on 3 October. Later in the month he takes a job and lodgings at Booklovers' Corner, a bookshop in Hampstead, London. Harper publishes the U.S. edition of Burmese Days on 25 October.
1935: Gollancz publishes A Clergyman's Daughter on 11 March. That spring, Orwell meets Eileen O'Shaughnessy, a graduate student in psychology at University College, London. On 24 June, Gollancz publishes Burmese Days, with changes to the characters' names. Orwell begins a regular column of book reviews for The New English Weekly in August. That same month, he moves into an apartment with two other writers, Michael Sayers and Rayner Heppenstall, in the Camden area of north London.
1936: In January, Orwell submits the manuscript of Keep the Aspidistra Flying to Gollancz, and the firm commissions him to write a book about economic conditions in northern England. He leaves his job at the bookshop and, from 31 January to 30 March, travels throughout the West Midlands, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. On 1 April, Orwell moves to a cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is published by Gollancz on 20 April. Orwell and Eileen O'Shaughnessy are married in Wallington on 9 June. In August, Harper publishes A Clergyman's Daughter in the United States, and Orwell attends and speaks at the Adelphi summer school. He delivers the manuscript of The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) to Gollancz on 15 December. On 23 December he leaves London for Spain and joins the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, POUM).
1937: In January, Orwell's unit arrives at the front in Aragon; it soon joins the siege of Huesca. His wife travels in February to Barcelona to work for the office of the International Labour Party. In March The Road to Wigan Pier is published in an edition of 43,690 copies for the Left Book Club. On 3 May, while Orwell is on leave, civil conflict between government forces and others on the left breaks out in Barcelona. Seven days later he returns to the front line with the POUM militia. On 20 May Orwell is shot in the neck by a sniper, the bullet passing only an inch from his carotid artery. He is discharged from the militia in June; he, Eileen, and two members of the International Labour Party flee Spain a week later, avoiding arrest by government authorities. After Orwell's two-part exposé on the Spanish Civil War is turned down by The New Statesman and Nation, it is published in the 29 July and 2 September issues of The New English Weekly. Orwell attends the summer school of the International Labour Party in August.
1938: Orwell completes the manuscript of Homage to Catalonia in January. On 15 March he is taken to the sanatorium at Preston Hall in Aylesford, Kent, after prolonged bleeding of a tubercular lesion on his left lung. Homage to Catalonia is published on 25 April. Orwell joins the International Labour Party on 13 June; his article “Why I Joined the I.L.P.” is published eleven days later. On 2 September, Orwell, released from the sanatorium, sails for Morocco with Eileen. He finishes the draft of Coming Up for Air (1939) in December.
1939: Orwell and Eileen return to Wallington in March. Coming Up for Air is published on 12 June. Richard Blair, Orwell's father, dies in Southwold on 28 June. With the outbreak of World War II in September, Eileen joins the Censorship Department in London, while Orwell remains in Wallington.
1940: Penguin publishes a paperback edition of Down and Out in Paris and London, printing fifty-five thousand inexpensive copies. On 11 March, Orwell's Inside the Whale, and Other Essays is published. He moves to London in May, renting a flat with Eileen near Baker Street. On 25 May he becomes the movie and theater critic for the journal Time and Tide. In June, Eileen's brother, Laurence O'Shaughnessy, is killed at Dunkirk, France, while treating wounded soldiers. Orwell, unable to enlist in the Royal Army for medical reasons, joins the Home Guard on 12 June.
1941: Orwell's The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius is published in February. The following month, two of his essays are published in the anthology The Betrayal of the Left: An Examination and Refutation of Communist Policy. On 18 August, Orwell is offered a contract as a talks producer in the Empire Department of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
1942: Eileen changes government posts in the summer, developing broadcasts for the Ministry of Food.
1943: Orwell's mother, Ida Blair, dies in London on 19 March. He begins writing Animal Farm (1945) in November. Orwell leaves the BBC on 24 November and becomes the literary editor of the weekly newspaper The Tribune, starting the column “As I Please.”
1944: Orwell completes the draft of Animal Farm in February. He and Eileen adopt a baby boy in June, naming him Richard Horatio Blair. In July, after Animal Farm is rejected by several publishers, Orwell sends it to Fredric Warburg, who commits on 29 August to bring out the book within a year.
1945: Orwell leaves The Tribune in February and on 15 March begins work as a war correspondent in France and Germany for The Observer. On 29 March, Eileen dies unexpectedly during a hysterectomy in Newcastle. Orwell returns to work as a correspondent on the Continent in April and then covers the British general election in July.Animal Farm is published on 17 August. Orwell and his adopted son spend the Christmas holidays at Arthur Koestler's home in North Wales with Koestler; his wife, Mamaine; and her twin sister, Celia Paget. Paget subsequently turns down Orwell's proposal of marriage.
1946: Early in the year Harcourt, Brace publishes an American edition of Animal Farm. Orwell's second volume of literary and cultural criticism, Critical Essays, is published in February. The collection is published in the United States as Dickens, Dali & Others in April. On 3 May, Orwell's older sister, Marjorie, dies of kidney disease. On 23 May he begins staying at a rented cottage on the Scottish island of Jura, where he remains until October. Orwell resumes his “As I Please” column in November and continues to write it until April of the following year.
1947: After finishing the first draft of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Orwell is bedridden with tuberculosis in October. On 24 December he is admitted to a hospital near Glasgow.
1948: Orwell begins to receive experimental treatment with the new drug streptomycin in February. He is discharged from the hospital in July and returns to Jura. In November, despite continuing ill health, Orwell finishes a revised draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
1949: Orwell enters the Cotswold Sanatorium in Cranham, Gloucestershire, early in January. He is treated with the experimental drug para-amino salicylic acid, but he does not improve. On 21 January, after long deliberation, Orwell and Warburg decide on the title Nineteen Eighty-Four for the novel rather than “The Last Man in Europe.” In March and April, Orwell and Celia Paget Kirwan, now working for British intelligence, discuss “suspect” individuals. He eventually provides a select list of thirty-six people, drawn from a notebook of 105 names, for Britain's information Research Department. Orwell's treatment with streptomycin is resumed in April but is stopped immediately because of adverse side effects. Nineteen Eighty-Four is published in England on 8 June and in America five days later. On 3 September, Orwell moves to University College Hospital in London. On 13 October he marries Sonia Brownell, an editorial assistant at the journal Horizon, in the hospital.
1950: Orwell dies on 21 January from a lung hemorrhage. He is buried five days later in a churchyard in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire.
1952: Homage to Catalonia is published in the United States for the first time.
1956: The first American edition of Keep the Aspidistra Flying is published by Harcourt, Brace.
1960: The George Orwell Archive is opened at University College, London.
1968: The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, is published in four volumes by Secker and Warburg in England and by Harcourt, Brace in the United States.
1980: Sonia Orwell dies on 11 December.
About George Orwell
W. Scott Lucas
SOURCE: Lucas, W. Scott. “An Overview of the Life and Career of George Orwell.” In Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vol. 128, edited by Scott Darga and Linda Pavlovski. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group, 2002.
[In the following original essay, Lucas discusses Orwell's life, career, awards and recognition, and overall body of work, while also examining the era in which Orwell wrote and the critical reception of his works.]
Eric Blair, later known as George Orwell, was a child of the British Empire, born in Motihari, India, on 25 June 1903. He was the second child and only son of Richard Blair, an official in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service, and Ida Limouzin Blair. She was the daughter of an English mother and a French father who frittered away the family's businesses in Burma. Richard Blair was forty-six when his son was born; his wife was twenty-eight.
When Richard Blair took up a new post in a large Indian town, his wife took Eric and his older sister, Marjorie, to Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. Between 1904 and his retirement in 1911, Richard Blair saw his family for only three months, during leave in 1907. One can speculate about the effect on Eric of his father's absence. Richard Blair spent little time with his son after his return from India, preferring gardening and golf. In 1917 he joined the Royal...
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Orwell At Work
Orwell claimed in 1946 that he had wanted to be a writer from an early age: “I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. I cannot remember anything about it except that it was a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’—a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake's ‘Tiger, Tiger.’”1
On his eighth birthday, Eric Blair received from his mother a copy of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726); Swift would become a significant influence, particularly upon the writing of Animal Farm. Other favorite writers included William Makepeace Thackeray, Rudyard Kipling, and H. G. Wells.
While at his preparatory school, St. Cyprian's, the eleven-year-old Blair published his first poem in a local newspaper. At his secondary school, Eton College, he started a short-lived magazine, Election Times, which included his poetry and stories. He also wrote meaningful lines to Jacintha Buddicom, the object of his youthful infatuation.
There was no immediate success. While in Burma with the Indian Imperial Police, Blair started a couple of novels, one of which would provide some material for Burmese Days. He also wrote some poems, the two most striking concerning encounters with prostitutes. In Paris, Blair's attempts at journalism led to a few articles, in...
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To evaluate the work of Orwell, one must consider him primarily as a political writer. As he noted in his 1946 essay “Why I Write,” “What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art.”1 His writing cannot be separated from the ideology of his society and time. However valiantly his admirers might try to portray him as a writer who showed principled opposition to the faults of his own country as well as those of others, Orwell's writing reveals the signs of his upbringing and experiences working for the “establishment,” and his beliefs ultimately led him to defend the political system that he was supposedly criticizing. The final irony is that, by the end of his life, the author who portrayed the individual confronting the tyrannical state in Nineteen Eighty-four was passing information, listing individuals (including friends) who held suspect beliefs, to intelligence officers of the British government.
It is questionable whether Orwell was a socialist. There is no evidence, for example, that he ever read the work of Karl Marx or other writers who contributed to contemporary theories of socialism. His socialism may have praised the efforts and sacrifice of coal miners, condemned substandard housing, and elevated the Spanish workers to the status of heroes, but it never took the form of a coherent economic and political...
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Down and Out in Paris and London (1933): Eric Blair, an aspiring writer, lives in the Latin Quarter of Paris and subsists by giving English lessons. The area is crowded with rundown lodgings; the residents are an eccentric mix, impoverished by ill fortune, drink, or choice. The center of social life is the bistro, where characters entertain each other with songs, stories, and games of chance.1
After more than a year, Blair decides to seek a permanent job, but almost all his money is stolen by a fellow lodger. Life becomes a daily struggle for food and lodging, with Blair pawning his good clothes, and he seeks out a Russian waiter, Boris, who has assured him of kitchen work. After several false opportunities, including reportage for the newspaper of a Communist secret society and employment at a new Russian restaurant, the two men find jobs at the Hotel X, Blair as a plongeur (kitchen assistant) working more than eighty hours a week. The long-promised Russian restaurant finally opens, and Boris and Blair join the staff for a few weeks. Blair is appalled by the filth and incompetence, and when an English contact writes of a job caring for “a congenital imbecile,”2 he seizes the chance and returns to London.
Upon arrival, Blair is told that his new employers are abroad for a month. He pawns some more clothes for a shilling and some older rags,...
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Orwell On Orwell And Writing
LETTER TO DENNIS COLLINGS, OCTOBER 1931:
I am getting stories etc. to do for the new paper Modern Youth. (A poisonous name for a poisonous paper—& the things I write for them are also poisonous, but one must live.)1
LETTER TO ELEANOR JAQUES, 19 OCTOBER 1932, ON BURMESE DAYS:
My novel is making just a little progress. I see now more or less what will have to be done to it when the rough draft is finished, but the longness & complicatedness are terrible.2
LETTER TO BRENDA SALKELD, SPRING 1933:
[W]ith me almost any piece of writing has to be done over and over again. I wish I were one of those people who can sit down and fling off a novel in about four days. … Have you read [James Joyce's] Ulysses yet? It sums up better than any book I know the fearful despair that is almost normal in modern times. You get the same kind of thing, though only just touched upon, in Eliot's poems. With E, however, there is also a certain sniffish “I told you so” implication, because as he is the spoilt darling of the Church Times he is bound to point out that all this wouldn't have happened if we had not shut our eyes to the Light.3
LETTER TO SALKELD, DECEMBER 1933, ON ULYSSES:
[T]he queer and original thing about it is that instead of taking as his material the...
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Orwell As Studied
Since his death in 1950, Orwell may have received more academic and popular attention than any other British writer of the twentieth century. His work is now a standard source for authoritative comment not only on politics and ideology but also on culture. This commentary, however, has not been driven primarily by a search to evaluate and commemorate Orwell as a literary figure. Instead, it has been prompted by his central position in the political and cultural context of the Cold War and by his adoption, at a time when the future status and composition of England is the focus of general debate, as an archetypal representative of “Englishness.”
In an excellent 1984 essay that is still relevant today, Alan Brown noted that Orwell had been a constant presence on the British curriculum since World War II. Studying examination questions and syllabi, Brown concluded that the emphasis was not the literary quality of Orwell's works but on the quality of his ideas. Moreover, students were not asked to set Orwell's ideas against other ideas and events in the political, economic, and social environment but to put the “personal” before the “political.” Brown summarized: “It is characteristic of the ‘Orwell’ persona that it conveys a neutral, received wisdom, of ‘objective’ and ‘human’ truths.”1
This process began with the immediate reaction to Orwell's death,...
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