George Orwell

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At a Glance

George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair's pen name) was a socialist who wrote some of the greatest criticisms of totalitarianism published in the 20th century. How did he do it? The answer: honesty and direct personal experience. Orwell is best known for his novels Animal Farm and 1984. The first is a fable written in simple language; the second is a dystopian novel full of brutal descriptions and dense theoretical discussions of politics. Both novels methodically expose the dangers of the totalitarian state. Orwell is also known as one of the greatest essayists of the twentieth century. “Shooting an Elephant” and “Politics and the English Language” are still widely read today and still offer powerful statements on the nature of ethics, responsibility, politics, and writing.

Facts and Trivia

  • Orwell was born in Bengal, India (which was still part of the British Empire at the time), but he was sent to England when he was a year old. Orwell’s father stayed in India, and Orwell didn’t see him again for years.
  • One nice thing about Orwell is that you don’t have to guess what he thinks about a subject; he usually left written records. In his essay “Such, Such Were the Joys,” Orwell describes in detail his unhappy experience at English boarding schools. The essay starts with him wetting the bed and moves quickly to him getting beaten for it.
  • Orwell served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, which gave him a chance to see imperial and racial politics first-hand.
  • In his nonfiction work Down and Out in London and Paris, Orwell describes his experience tramping around England and France. He took low-paying jobs requiring very long hours, was unemployed at other times, and once slept on the beach to dodge a landlord.
  • While fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell was shot through the neck and nearly killed.

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Biography

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Orwell’s uncompromising ideals, reflected consistently in the enormous and diverse body of his works, entitle him to be considered among the most personally courageous writers in the history of British letters, one whose social concern and distinctive style can be compared only to those of the eighteenth century political and social satirist Jonathan Swift.

Early Life

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903, at Motihari, Bengal, in India. His father, Richard Walmesley Blair, was a relatively minor official in the Opium Department, the British civil service agency which regulated legalized opium trade with China as a government monopoly. Orwell’s mother, born Ida Mabel Limouzin, was of English-French background. She had lived in Moulmein, Burma, where her French father was a teak trader and boat builder and was eighteen years younger than her husband, whom she had married in 1896. Their first child, Marjorie, was born at Tehta, Bihar, India, in 1898. After Eric was born, the elder Blair’s almost annual changes in posting, often to remote towns within India, coupled with possibilities of better schooling, caused Ida Blair’s return to England with the children. Richard Blair did not see his family again until 1907 on a three-month leave; their last child, Avril, would be born as a result of this visit.

Orwell’s early childhood was, consequently, essentially a fatherless one. This was not a particularly unusual situation among overseas service families, but the need to maintain two residences on a meager civil service stipend meant that finances always remained tight and luxuries few. Though Orwell was born to what he refers to in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) as the “lower-upper-middle” class, he appears to have become aware of his “shabby gentility” only upon attending St. Cyprian’s, a new but successful preparatory school, at age eight. St. Cyprian’s was considered “successful” because of its boys’ record of gaining admission to the “great” public schools, such as Eton and Harrow. “Such, Such Were the Joys,” an essay of uncertain date...

(The entire section is 6,102 words.)