Died 21 January 1950 (aged 46)
Pen name George Orwell, John Freeman
Notable work(s): Homage to Catalonia (1938); Animal Farm (1945); Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
Influences: James Burnham, Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, Gustave Flaubert, Aldous Huxley, James Joyce, Arthur Koestler, Jack London, W. Somerset Maugham, Upton Sinclair, Jonathan Swift, Leo Tolstoy, Leon Trotsky, H. G. Wells, Tom Wintringham, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Émile Zola
George Orwell was born as Eric Blair on 25th June 1903 to Richard Walmesley Blair who worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service and Ida Mabel Blair (née Limouzin), in Motihari, West Bangal, India. Ida Blair returned to Englad in 1905 with her children and Eric was educated in England's St.Cyprian's School, Eastbourne, Sussex. He earned scholarships to both Wellington and Eton colleges. After a term at Wellington, Eric 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. During his time at the school Eric made lifetime friendships with a number of future British intellectuals.
After finishing his studies at Eton, Eric joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. His Burma police experience yielded the novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essays "A Hanging" (1931) and "Shooting an Elephant" (1936).While in Burma, he contracted Dengue fever in 1927 and returned to England in July 1927.
Back in England, he reappraised his life and resigned from the Indian Imperial Police with the intention of becoming a writer. In England, he started his exploratory expeditions to the poorer parts of London. For a while he "went native" in his own country, dressing like a tramp and making no concessions to middle class mores and expectations; he recorded his experiences of the low life for later use in "The Spike", his first published essay, and the latter half of his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).In the spring of 1928, he moved to Paris, where the comparatively low cost of living and bohemian lifestyle offered an attraction for many aspiring writers. He worked on novels, but only Burmese Days survives from that activity. More successful as a journalist, he published articles in Monde, G. K.'s Weekly and Le Progres Civique (founded by the left-wing coalition Le Cartel des Gauches).
In August 1929 he sent a copy of "The Spike" to New Adelphi magazine in London which accepted the work for publication. Blair contributed regularly to Adelphi, with "A Hanging" appearing in August 1931. Blair then took a job teaching at the Hawthorne High School for Boys in Hayes, West London. At the end of June 1932, A Scullion's Diary was ready to be published for a £40 advance, by the recently founded publishing house, Victor Gollancz Ltd, which was an outlet for radical and socialist works. Down and Out in Paris and London was published on 9 January. It was successful and was published by Harper and Brothers in New York.
In the summer Blair finished at Hawthornes to take up a teaching job at Frays College, West London. Blair started work on the novel A Clergyman's Daughter drawing upon his life as a teacher and on life in Southwold. Eventually in October, after sending A Clergyman's Daughter to his agent, he left for London to take a job that had been found for him. This job was as a part-time assistant in "Booklover's Corner", a second-hand bookshop in Hampstead. Blair worked at the shop in the afternoons, having the mornings free to write and the evenings to socialise. These experiences provided background for the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936). Around this time, Blair had started to write reviews for the New English Weekly. His book The Road to Wigan Pier was published by Gollancz for the Left Book Club in 1937.
Soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Orwell volunteered to fight for the Republicans against Franco's Nationalist uprising. Orwell's experiences in the Spanish Civil War gave rise to Homage to Catalonia (1938). Orwell was shot in the neck (near Huesca) on May 20, 1937, an experience he described in his short essay "Wounded by a Fascist Sniper", as well as in 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 1941 began work for the BBC Eastern Service, mostly working on programmes to gain Indian and East Asian support for Britain's war efforts.
Orwell started writing Animal Farm in the March of 1943. Animal Farm is a dystopian allegorical novella that reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II. Orwell, a democratic socialist and a member of the Independent Labour Party for many years, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and was suspicious of Moscow-directed Stalinism after his experiences with the NKVD during the Spanish Civil War.The novel addresses not only the corruption of the revolution by its leaders but also how wickedness, indifference, ignorance, greed and myopia destroy any possibility of a Utopia. While this novel portrays corrupt leadership as the flaw in revolution (and not the act of revolution itself), it also shows how potential ignorance and indifference to problems within a revolution could allow horrors to happen if smooth transition to a people's government isn't satisfied.
Published in England on 17 August 1945, the book received great critical and popular success. The royalties from Animal Farm provided Orwell with a comfortable income for the first time in his adult life. For the next four years Orwell mixed journalistic work — mainly for the 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 the novel during his stay on the island of Jura, off the coast of Scotland.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel about the totalitarian regime of the Party, an oligarchical collectivist society where life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, public mind control, and the voiding of citizens' rights. In the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), protagonist Winston Smith is a civil servant responsible for perpetuating the Party's propaganda by revising historical records to render the Party omniscient and always correct, yet his meagre existence disillusions him into rebellion against Big Brother, which leads to his arrest, torture, and conversion.
Though Orwell is regarded as one of the leading novelists of our times, his essays, political reviews and work as a journalist weigh equally heavy. His works such as Homage to Catalonia (describing his experiences during the Spanish Civil War), Down and Out in Paris and London (describing a period of poverty in these cities), and The Road to Wigan Pier (which described the living conditions of poor miners in northern England) have all been a result of experience that life first hand and describing it with accurate insights and excellent composition.
Orwell highly believed in the power of language to shape political ideologies, to perpetrate them and thus shape thought processes itself. Orwell's concern over the power of language to shape reality is also reflected in his invention of Newspeak, the official language of the imaginary country of Oceania in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a variant of English in which vocabulary is strictly limited by government decree. As literary science fiction, 1984 is a classic novel of the social science fiction sub-genre, thus, since its publication in 1949, the terms and concepts of Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Memory hole, thought police, Room 101, et cetera, have become part of standard vocabulary, including the adjective Orwellian, denoting George Orwell's writings and totalitarianism as exposited in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm (1945).
Orwell has influenced literary heavyweights like Margaret Atwood, Albert Camus, Noam Chomsky, Cory Doctorow, Kurt Vonnegut etc. As a master of wit and satire, he ranks among giants like Jonathan Swift and Aldous Huxley. He spent much of his career critically observing the politics of his time and prophetically envisioning the future. He devoted much of his life to various causes critical of capitalism, imperialism, fascism, and Stalinism, chronicling his experiences and turning political writing into an art.