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George Orwell

Eric Arthur Blair (June 25, 1903 - January 21, 1950), better known by the pen name George Orwell, was a British author best known for his allegorical political novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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Biography Orwell was born in Bengal, British India, where his father worked for the Opium Department of the Civil Service. His father brought him to England at the age of one; he did not see his father again until 1907 when his father visited England for three months before leaving again until 1912. Young Orwell was a hardworking student, and won scholarships first to St. Cyprian's School[?] (which he described in his essay "Such, Such Were The Joys") and then Eton, which he attended from 1917 to 1921. He joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma in 1922, but returned to England and resigned in 1928 having grown to hate imperialism (as can be seen in his first novel Burmese Days[?], published in 1934).

Orwell then lived for several years in poverty, sometimes homeless, sometimes doing itinerant work, as he recalled in Down and Out in Paris and London, his first work using his pen name. 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.

A member of the Independent Labour Party, Orwell felt impelled to fight as an infantryman in the anti-Stalinist POUM[?], or Worker's Party of Marxist Unification[?] during the Spanish Civil War. In Homage to Catalonia he described his feelings at 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. During his tour of duty in Spain he was shot in the neck on May 20 1937, an experience he described in his short essay "Wounded by a Fascist Sniper", as well as in his book Homage to Catalonia.

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 1940 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.

In 1944 Orwell finished his anti-Stalinist allegory Animal Farm, which was published the following year with great critical and popular success.

From 1945 Orwell was the Observers war correspondent and later contributed regularly to the Manchester Evening News[?].

In 1949 his best-known work, the dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four, was published.

Between 1936 and 1945 Orwell was married to Eileen O'Shaugessy[?], with whom he adopted a son. Tragically she died in 1945 during an operation. In 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 Soviet Communism, as he had already made very clear in his earlier published works. Some have also speculated that he was mentally unstable at the time as the result of the tuberculosis from which he suffered.

Orwell died at the age of 47 from tuberculosis, which he 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.

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 such as Homage to Catalonia (describing his activities during the Spanish Civil War), and Down and Out in Paris and London (describing a period of poverty in these cities).

Orwell is best remembered today for two of his novels, namely 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 such totalitarianism. Both of these books are often viewed as critical of socialism per se, but this view is probably only credible to those who are ignorant of Orwell's own socialist opinions.

Another widely-known work of Orwell is his classic essay "Politics and the English Language", in which he decries the effects of political propaganda, officialese, 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 voculary 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.

Orwell was a committed socialist for most of his life, as a result of many of the experiences described in his books. This was in opposition to his middle-class upbringing. "You have nothing to lose but your aitches" as he once said in mocking of middle-class taboos about pronunciation.

Quotation

  • "The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. 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." -- From the essay "Why I Write" [1] (http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/897/)

Books

Essays

The above essays are all included in the book Inside the Whale[?].



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