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George Orwell: Prolific writer, essayist, critic

This renowned English author and essayist was famous for the novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949). His works continue to be popular 70 years after his demise.

inspiring-lives Updated: Jan 21, 2020 15:20 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
George Orwell became a democratic socialist and developed a strong dislike for totalitarian political systems such as Soviet communist regime.
George Orwell became a democratic socialist and developed a strong dislike for totalitarian political systems such as Soviet communist regime.(ILLUSTRATION: Rushikesh Tulshiram Gophane)

Born on June 25, 1903, in Motihari, Bihar as Eric Arthur Blair. His father, Richard Walmesley Blair, was a civil servant. At a young age, he was sent to England where he was raised by his mother. The intelligent and industrious child was enrolled at St Cyprian’s preparatory school in Eastbourne. He later wrote an essay about his experiences there in the essay Such, Such Were the Joys, which described, among other things, the class discrimination he found there. He saw that the school treated wealthy students better than poorer ones. He found comfort in books and read works by Rudyard Kipling and HG Wells.

Career

Orwell won a scholarship to Eton College where he pursued his Form Six (roughly equal to the Class 12 in India). The family did not have the finances for a university education. Orwell passed the entrance exam of the Indian Imperial Police and joined the Burma division where he had relatives (Burma was a part of the Indian empire at that time). Soon, however, he began to see the negative side of the empire and left the service.

The next five years were difficult. He taught in private schools and, for a while, even worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Paris. To save his family from embarrassment, he adopted the pen name of Orwell from a local river. He had a bout of pneumonia and while recuperating in England, wrote the novel A Clergyman’s Daughter. He then worked at a bookshop where he met Eileen O’Shaughnessy, his first wife.

Orwell volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War for six months. He sustained a bullet injury in his throat close to the carotid artery. That was the phase during which his political views began to take shape. He became a democratic socialist and developed a strong dislike for totalitarian political systems such as Soviet communist regime. He had suffered lung hemorrhage and recuperated in England and Morocco. He joined the BBC’s Eastern Service but was uncomfortable about having to broadcast British propaganda in India due to prevalent political situation. He resigned, became the literary editor of a socialist newspaper and became columnist for another publication.

Breakthrough

In 1944, he wrote the novel Animal Farm, which was critical of the communist regime in the Soviet Union. But publishers were reluctant to publish it and the novel was finally released in August 1945. He suffered a huge setback when Eileen died of heart failure during a routine surgery. Orwell also decided to raise, with his sister’s help, a little boy named Richard Horation Blair, whom he and Eileen had adopted.

Later years and death

Orwell began to live on the Scottish island of Jura. Despite poor health, Orwell wrote his masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four there. By the time he completed the manuscript in 1948, he had to be admitted to a nursing home due to tuberculosis. The novel achieved international success on publication in June 1949, but, soon after, Orwell died in a hospital in January 21, 1950 at the age of 46. Before his death, he married Sonia Brownell.

INTERESTING FACTS

1. Animal Farm was a satire on the Soviet political system. It has two pigs as protagonists who were apparently based on Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. The novel brought Orwell international acclaim and success.

2. In George Orwell’s masterpiece dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (or 1984), the world is divided into three nations. The government in it controls all aspects of a person’s life, including his thoughts.

3. Orwell gave his views on language and style in the essay titled Politics and the English Language. The essay, that includes guidelines how to write good prose, includes guidelines for writers across the world.

4. While working as a producer for the BBC in 1941, he got literary greats such as TS Eliot and EM Forster to appear on his programme. As World War II was raging, he had to write propaganda in the national interest and hated his work. Despite this, years later, a statue of Orwell was installed at BBC. He supervised cultural broadcasts to India to counter propaganda from Nazi Germany designed to undermine Imperial links.

SOURCE: Orwellfoundation.com, biography.com