George Orwell


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George Orwell [pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair] (1903-1950), journalist, political author and novelist wrote Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949);

“It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.”

Originally titled Last Man in Europe it was renamed Nineteen Eighty-Four for unknown reasons, possibly a mere reversal of the last two digits of the year it was written. It was first met with conflicting criticisms and acclaim; some reviewers disliked its dystopian satire of totalitarian regimes, nationalism, the class system, bureaucracy, and world leaders’ power struggles, while others panned it as nihilistic prophesy on the downfall of humankind. Some still see it as anti-Catholic with Big Brother replacing God and church. From it the term Orwellian has evolved, in reference to an idea or action that is hostile to a free society. Yet, Nineteen Eighty-Four has proven to be a profoundly meaningful work and continues to be one of the world’s most widely read and quoted novels into the twenty-first century. Inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin's (1884-1937) We, Blair worked intensely, often writing ten hours a day and even when bedridden with tuberculosis in his last days continued to labour over it. From his essay “Why I Write”;

“First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision.”

He goes on to say;

“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.”

Education and Early Years 1903-1921

Eric Arthur Blair was born on 25 June 1903 in Motihari, Bengal (now Bihar) India, into a family of the “lower-upper middle class” as he wryly puts it in The Road to Wigan Pier (1933). He was the son of Ida Mabel née Limouzin (1875–1943) and Richard Walmesley Blair (1857–1938), who worked as a sub-deputy opium agent for the Indian Civil Service under the British Raj. Eric rarely saw his father until he had retired in 1912. Eric’s grandfather had been a wealthy plantation and slave owner but the fortunes dwindled by the time he was born. He had two sisters, Marjorie and Avril.

At the age of one Eric and his mother settled in England; his father joined them in 1912. At the age of five, Blair entered the Anglican parish school of Henley-on-Thames which he attended for two years before entering the prestigious St. Cyprian’s school in Sussex. Corporal punishment was common in the day and possibly a source of his initial resentment towards authority. While there, Blair wrote his first published work, the poem “Awake! Young Men of England”; “Oh! think of the War Lord’s mailed fist, That is striking at England today.” With pressures to excel, Eric earned a scholarship to “the most costly and snobbish of the English Public Schools” Eton College where he attended between 1917 and 1921, and where Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World (1932) taught him French.

Indian Civil Service 1922-1927

Following in his father’s footsteps, Blair went to Burma (now Myanmar) to join the Indian Imperial Police, much like author H. H. Munro or ‘Saki’ had done in 1893. During the next five years he grew to love the Burmese and resent the oppression of imperialism and decided to become a writer instead. Works he wrote influenced by this period of his life are his essay “A Hanging” (1931); “It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man.” and “Shooting an Elephant” (1936); “It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant – it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery.”. His novel Burmese Days was first published in the United States in 1934 and then London in 1935, also based on his days in service.

Paris and London 1928-1936

After Orwell resigned, he moved to Paris to try his hand at short stories, writing freelance for various periodicals though he ended up destroying them because nobody would publish them. He had to resort to menial jobs including one at the pseudononymous ‘Hotel X’ that barely provided him enough to eat as a plongeur;

“[A] plongeur is one of the slaves of the modern world. Not that there is any need to whine over him, for he is better off than many manual workers, but still, he is no freer than if he were bought and sold. His work is servile and without art; he is paid just enough to keep him alive; his only holiday is the sack... trapped by a routine which makes thought impossible. If plongeurs thought at all, they would long ago have formed a union and gone on strike for better treatment. But they do not think, because they have no leisure for it; their life has made slaves of them.” —Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

After a bout of pneumonia in 1929 Blair moved back to England to live in East London and adopted his pseudonym George Orwell, partly to avoid embarrassing his family. Down and Out in Paris and London, similarly to Emile Zola’s The Fat and the Thin (1873) famously exposes the seedy underbelly of Paris and accounts his days of living hand to mouth;

“At present I do not feel that I have seen more than the fringe of poverty. Still I can point to one or two things I have definitely learned by being hard up. I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning.”

A proponent for socialism, Blair now wanted to write for the ‘common man’ and purposefully lived as a tramp in London and the Home Counties and stayed with miners in the north. Blair learned of the disparity between the classes and came to know a life of poverty and hardship amongst beggars and thieves. His study of the under-classes in general would provide the theme for many of his works to follow. We read of his ‘urban rides’ and experience with the unemployed in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), written for the Left Book Club.

In 1932 Blair was a teacher for a time before moving to Hampstead, London to work in a bookstore. In the sardonically comical Keep The Aspidistra Flying (1936) Gordon Comstock spurns the ‘Money God’, materialism, and status, though that which he hates becomes an obsession. Comstock’s political creed soon proves a cover-up for deep seated emotional issues;

“The money clinked in his trouser pocket as he got up. He knew the precise sum that was there. Fivepence halfpenny—twopence halfpenny and a Joey. He paused, took out the miserable little threepenny-bit, and looked at it. Beastly, useless thing! And bloody fool to have taken it! It had happened yesterday, when he was buying cigarettes. ‘Don't mind a threepenny-bit, do you, sir?’ the little bitch of a shop-girl had chirped. And of course he had let her give it him. ‘Oh no, not at all!’ he had said—fool, bloody fool!”

In 1936 Blair and once student of J.R.R. Tolkien student Eileen O'Shaughnessy (1905-1945) married. In 1944 they would adopt a son, Richard Horatio. Based on his teaching days, A Clergyman’s Daughter was published in 1935.

Spanish Civil War

When civil war broke out, Blair and his wife both wanted to fight for the Spanish government against Francisco Franco’s Nationalist uprising. While on the front at Huesca in Aragon Blair was shot in the throat by “a Fascist sniper”. In Barcelona he joined the anti-Stalinist Spanish Trotskyist ‘Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista’ or POUM, the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification. When the communists partly gained control and tried to purge the POUM, many of Blair's friends were arrested, shot, or disappeared. He and Eileen barely escaped with their lives in 1937. His autobiographical Homage to Catalonia is written in the first person, mere months after the events.

“Shall the common man be pushed back into the mud, or shall he not? I myself believe, perhaps on insufficient grounds, that the common man will win his fight sooner or later, but I want it to be sooner and not later—some time within the next hundred years, say, and not some time within the next ten thousand years. That was the real issue of the Spanish war, and of the last war, and perhaps of other wars yet to come.”—from his essay “Looking Back on the Spanish War”

WW II, the Home War Effort, and Fame 1939-1950

Back in England, Blair set to freelance writing again for such publications as New English Weekly, The Tribune and New Statesman. His essay subjects include fellow authors Charles Dickens, William Butler Yeats, Arthur Koestler, and P.G. Wodehouse. Essay titles include “Inside the Whale” (1940), “The Lion and The Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius” (1941), “Notes on Nationalism” (1945), “How the Poor Die” (1946), and “Reflections on Gandhi” (1949). Coming Up For Air was published in 1939. Blair joined the Home Guards and also worked in broadcasting with the BBC in propaganda efforts to garner support from Indians and East Asians. He was also literary editor for the left wing The Tribune, writing his column “As I Please” until 1945, the same year he became a war correspondent for The Observer. Eileen O’Shaughnessy died on 29 March 1945 while undergoing surgery in Newcastle upon Tyne.

In 1946 Blair lived for a year at Barnhill on the Isle of Jura. For years he had been developing his favourite novel that would cinch his literary legacy, Animal Farm (1944). “On my return from Spain I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood.” Publishers did not want to touch his anti-Stalinist allegory while war was still raging so it was held for publishing until after the war had ended. From Chapter One of Animal Farm;

“Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever. Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.”

Back in England, in 1949 Blair was admitted to the Cotswolds Sanitorium, Gloucestershire for tuberculosis, the same year he married Sonia Bronwell (1918-1980). Eric Arthur Blair died suddenly in London on 21 January 1950 at the age of forty-six, succumbing to the tuberculosis that had plagued him for the last three years of his life. He lies buried in the All Saint’s Churchyard in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, England.

George Orwell’s life and works have been the source of inspiration for many other authors’ works. Keep The Aspidistra Flying, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four have inspired numerous television and film adaptations. He has also contributed numerous concepts, words, and phrases to present day language including Newspeak; doublethink “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”; thoughtcrime; four legs good, two legs bad; all animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others; He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past; and War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. Among the ranks of other such acclaimed literary giants as Jonathan Swift and Aldous Huxley, George Orwell is a master of wit and satire, 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, but in the end what he “most wanted to do is to make political writing into an art.”

“Liberty is telling people what they do not want to hear.”—from a preface to Animal Farm

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on George Orwell

Room 101

Room 101 where the worst torture is held really makes the novel. Without it, the book is a world with no emotion. Room 101 brings out the fear of the victim and shows the real power that Big Brother has over the inferior proles. It shows that even though people have to show no emotion, it doesn't mean that it isn't there. That is one of the central points of the book, how people are forced believing that a world with no happiness, sadness, fear or courage is the best world to be present in. Room 101 really shows how some people have crumbled under their society and shows that emotion may be hidden, but it always present. Room 101 helps support the main themes of 1984 and it helps to show that the human mind can be easily broken. This aspect of torture a base for the book to be built on.


My problem with 1984

When winston first started writing it said he would disappear into a crevice so the tele screen couldn't see him. Why didn't the though police cone and check out where he went or something. Furthermore if their society is always under surveillance how was him slipping away to the same hiding spots with Julia not noticed. I just find it hard to believe he lasted as long as he did.


Orwell on Anarchism

I am posting these quotes by Orwell partly because there seems to be some lingering confusion on what Orwell actually said or what his position might've been regarding this subject. But also partly because it seems that the media and academe seem mainly interested in some of the things Orwell was against, rather than what he was for. The first batch of quotes are from Homage to Catalonia the second from his Collected Essays. Enjoy: "As far as my purely personal preferences went I would have liked to join the Anarchists." George Orwell - Homage to Catalonia page 116 "The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle." ibid page 4 "Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Senor' or 'Don' or even 'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' and 'Thou,' and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenas Dias.' Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor cars, they had all been commandeered, and alll the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night." ibid page 5 "Yet so far as one could judge the people were contented and hopeful. There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gypsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine. In the barbers' shops were Anarchist notices (the barbers were mostly Anarchists) solemnly explaining that barbers were no longer slaves. In the streets were coloured posters appealing to prostitutes to stop being prostitutes." ibid page 6 "In practice the democratic 'revolutionary' type of discipline is more reliable than might be expected. In a workers's army discipline is theoretically voluntary. It is based on class-loyalty, whereas the discipline of a bourgeois conscript army is based ultimately on fear...In the militias the bullying and abuse that go on in an ordinary army would never have been tolerated for a moment." ibid page 28 "The estates of the big pro-Fascist landlords were in many places seized by the peasants. Along with the collectivization of industry and transport there was an attempt to set up the rough beginnings of a workers' government by means of local committees, workers' patrols to replace the old pro-capitalist police forces, workers' militias based on the trade-unions, and so forth." ibid page 50 "In Catalonia, for the first few months, most of the actual power was in the hands of the Anarcho-Syndicalists, who controlled most of the key industries. The thing that had happened in Spain was, in fact, not merely a civil war, but the beginning of a revolution. It is this fact that the anti-Fascist press outside of Spain has made it its special business to obscure." ibid page 50 "Except Russia and Mexico no country had had the decency to come to the rescue of the Government, and Mexico, for obvious reasons, could not supply arms in large quantities." ibid page 53 "As usual, the breaking-up of the militias was done in the name of military efficiency; and no one denied that a thorough military reorganization was needed. It would, however, have been quite possible to reorganize the militias and make them more efficient while keeping them under direct control of the trade-unions; the main purpose of the change was to make sure that the Anarchists did not possess an army of their own." ibid page 55 "During the first two months of the war it was the Anarchists more than anyone else who had saved the situation, and much later than this the Anarchist militia, in spite of their indiscipline, were notoriously the best fighters among the purely Spanish forces." ibid page 62 "I have described how were armed, or not armed, on the Aragon front. There is very little doubt that arms were deliberately withheld lest too many of them should get into the hands of the Anarchists, who would afterwards use them for a revolutionary purpose...What was more important was that once the war had been narrowed down to a 'war for democracy' it became impossible to make any large scale appeal for working class aid abroad." ibid page 68 "Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism." ibid page 104 "Many of the normal motives of civilized life-snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc.-had simply ceased to exist." ibid page 104 "One had breathed the air of equality. I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy 'proving' that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this." ibid page 104 "Thirdly-though this was not generally known at the time-the Anarchist leaders feared that if things went beyond a certain point and the workers took possession of the town, as they were perhaps in a position to do on 5 May, there would be foreign intervention. A British cruiser and two British destroyers had closed in upon the harbour, and no doubt there were other warships not far away. The English newspapers gave it out that these ships were proceeding to Barcelona 'to protect British interests,' but in fact they made no move to do so; that is, they did not land any men or take off any refugees. There can be no certainty about this, but it was at least inherently likely that the British Government, which had not raised a finger to save the Spanish Government from Franco, would intervene quickly enough to save it from its own working class." ibid pages 153-154 "For the first time since I had been in Barcelona I went to have a look at the cathedral-a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It has four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution-it was spared because of its 'artistic value,' people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance, though they did hang a red and black banner between its spires." ibid page 225 From Orwell's Collected Essays: "If I had understood the situation a bit better I should probably have joined the Anarchists." George Orwell - Collected Essays; Vol 1 page 289 re; Mairin Mitchell's book Storm over Spain: "Her book is valuable for a number of reasons, but especially because, unlike almost all English writers on Spain, she gives a fair deal to Spanish Anarchist. The Anarchists and Syndicalists have been persistently misrepresented in England, and the average English person still retains his eightneen-ninetyish notion that Anarchism is the same thing as anarchy. Anyone who wants to know what Spanish Anarchism stands for, and the remarkable things it achieved, especially in Catalonia, during the first two months of the revolution, should read chapter VII of Miss Mitchell's book." ibid pages 290-1


Influence on literature

Hi, what influence would you say that Orwell had on literature? Was it his poitical views? His style of writing? Please, share some ideas with me. Thanx!


Shooting an Elephant and other essays

I have been reading Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays. I have really enjoyed them. I think they contain some of Orwell's best writing. I have just finished Thus, Thus Were the Joys, which was a very long essay, more like a mini memoir about his days at prep school. I think it is probably the best thing he wrote, certainly something to think about next time you watch Downton Abbey or some other period drama about posh people. One of the reviews on the book cover, by Christopher Hitchens, says Orwell is still vividly contemporary. I thought so myself. Sometimes when you read a book written long ago, or by a very old person, it feels like going back in time, but I did not get that feeling. This despite some of the situations he describes sounding straight out of Dickens, for example, The Spike, about sleeping at a homeless shelter, or How the Poor Die about a hospital in Paris that Orwell was ill at in the late 1920s. How the Poor Die was interesting, bearing in mind the recent controversy about the standard of care at some NHS hospitals recently. I was reading it while travelling to visit my father in a nursing home. I am glad to say the care he receives is orders of magnitude better than that. Other essays, for example Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War, are interesting because you can see how his thinking is developing towards him writing Animal Farm and particularly 1984.


Politics and the English Language

I thought I only had one George Orwell book left to read, A Clergyman's Daughter, so I was slightly put out to see another on display when I went into Waterstone's bookshop, titled Shooting An Elephant. Never having seen Shooting An Elephant on sale before, I bought a copy. I also bought a £1 booklet called Politics and the English Language. I could have saved myself a pound there, because it was one of the essays included in Shooting An Elephant. Another essay is the one about Charles Dickens, which I have already read on this site. Anyway, Politics and the English Language was a criticism of the state of English writing of the time. He was complaining about unnecessary verbosity, technical terminology out of context, use of cliché, and a sort of speech that sounds significant but does not actually say much except that it favours one side or another. Lastly he complained about the use of euphemism to disguise politically motivated atrocities. "Collateral damage" and "extraordinary rendition" sound like up-to-date examples of this. I was amused that many of the tired metaphors he complained about are still used. In particular, the phrase "shoulder to shoulder" reminded me of a certain politician. If you need a clue which politician, look up Orwell's real name. I wondered what Orwell would think about phrases used so often they have their own abbreviations in forum posts, such as btw, iirc, imo, otoh, and so on. They are somewhat redundant, but I often use them. Orwell complained about the use of tired metaphors and clichés, especially when it appeared the person who used them did not know what they meant. I can think of two common examples of that. One is "begs the question" which most people take to mean "raises the question", when originally it referred to a form of logical fallacy. The other is the word 'period'. British people heard Americans on the TV say 'Period!' at the end of statements to make them more emphatic and started doing the same. I am pretty sure they did not realise a period is the American word for a full stop. Orwell complained of ugly, made up, Latin or Greek derived words. A word I dislike is 'facilitate', which is just a fancy word for 'enable' or 'help'. OTOH, I also dislike the word 'incentivise', but cannot think of an alternative. He also disapproved of using the passive voice. This is always a problem to me when I try and write a a technical report. I, personally, am not usually the point of interest in these reports, so writing in the active voice seems wrong. A lot of Orwell's advice reminded me of a plain English guide I read several years ago. The booklet also contained a review of Mein Kampf written in March 1940. It was more about Adolph Hitler's personality than the book itself. However, I was impressed that Orwell guessed that Hitler would get around to invading Russia before long. He said the only reason he tried to invade Britain first was that the Soviet Union had been easier to bribe.


Was Orwell ever a fascist?

Well, was he? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OrwellBurmaPassport.jpg


Orwell's themse: Keep the Aspidistra Flying

I started reading Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It has some of Orwell's familiar themes. The main character constantly frets over the lack of money and sex. There is a lot of class consciousness. He seems to hold several character types in particular contempt: shy or effete men; stupid, coarse working class people, the shallow, and callous, upper-middle-class dowagers. This was just chapter one. Shy, effete men and coarse, working class types got it in the neck in On The Road To Wigan Pier, while the callous upper middle class got it in Burmese Days. As a person, Orwell seems not to like many people. There were some other interesting things in chapter one. It was written in 1936, but already he was worrying about the bombers that would fly over London in a few years time. Orwell's protagonist works in a book shop, where he takes the opportunity to comment on several of his contemporary writers and poets, including Lawrence, Elliot and Auden. It seems he wasn't too sure how their reputations would last.


Overal impressions of the novel

Orwell's novel has been one of the most scrutinized in all of literature. It is also one of the prominent works of literature featured on banned book lists in the United States. The novel is also regarded as one of the most important pieces and should be studied by students thoughout the world. Additionally, 1984 is a novel which should be read more than once. Young readers should visit it again in a decade or so. You will find your perspective and interpretations may have changed. It is always interesting to hear what 1st-time readers think of the novel. Please share your overall, specific impressions of the novel.:ihih:


Room 101

We all know what happens in Room 101. They use your deepest fears against you. My question is, do you think that people would actually crack and betray their loved ones? We all think "No, I would never", but if you really think bout it, would we?


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