Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), who used the pseudonym George Orwell, was an English writer.
His work is marked by a profound consciousness of social injustice, an intense dislike of totalitarianism, and a passion for clarity in language. He wrote works in many different genres including fiction, polemics, journalism, memoir and critical essays, but his most famous works are two novels, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
Eric Arthur Blair was born on 25 June 1903 in Motihari, Bengal Presidency, British India. His great-grandfather Charles Blair had been a wealthy plantation owner in Jamaica and his grandfather a clergyman. Although the gentility was passed down the generations, the prosperity was not; Blair described his family as "lower-upper-middle class". His father, Richard Walmesley Blair, worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. His mother, Ida Mabel Blair (née Limouzin), grew up in Burma where her French father was involved in speculative ventures. Eric had two sisters; Marjorie, five years older, and Avril, five years younger. When Eric was one year old, Ida Blair took him to England.
In 1905, Blair's mother settled at Henley-on-Thames. Eric was brought up in the company of his mother and sisters, and apart from a brief visit he did not see his father again until 1912. His mother's diary for 1905 indicates a lively round of social activity and artistic interests. The family moved to Shiplake before World War I, and Eric became friendly with the Buddicom family, especially Jacintha Buddicom. When they first met, he was standing on his head in a field, and on being asked why he said, "You are noticed more if you stand on your head than if you are right way up". Jacintha and Eric read and wrote poetry and dreamed of becoming famous writers. He told her that he might write a book in similar style to that of H. G. Wells's A Modern Utopia. During this period, he enjoyed shooting, fishing, and birdwatching with Jacintha’s brother and sister.
After a term at Wellington College, Blair transferred to Eton College, where he was a King's Scholar (1917–1921). His tutor was A. S. F. Gow, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge who remained a source of advice later in his career. Blair was briefly taught French by Aldous Huxley who spent a short interlude teaching at Eton, but outside the classroom there was no contact between them. Cyril Connolly followed Blair to Eton, but because they were in separate years they did not associate with each other. Blair's academic performance reports suggest that he neglected his academic studies, but during his time he worked with Roger Mynors to produce a college magazine and participated in the Eton Wall Game. His parents could not afford to send him to university without another scholarship, and they concluded from the poor results that he would not be able to obtain one. However Stephen Runciman who was a close contemporary noted that he had a romantic idea about the East and, for whatever reason, it was decided that Blair should join the Indian Imperial Police. To do this, it was necessary to pass an entrance examination. His father had retired to Southwold, Suffolk by this time and Blair was enrolled at a "crammer" there called "Craighurst" where he brushed up on his classics, English and History. Blair passed the exam, coming seventh out of twenty-seven.
Blair's grandmother lived at Moulmein, and with family connections in the area, his choice of posting was Burma. In October 1922, he sailed on board SS Herefordshire via the Suez Canal and Ceylon to join the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. A month later he arrived at Rangoon and made the journey to Mandalay the site of the police training school. After a short posting at Maymyo Burma's principal hill station he was posted to the remote area of Mayaungma at the beginning of 1924. His imperial policeman's life gave him considerable responsibilities for a young man of his age while his contemporaries were still at university in England. He was then posted to Twante where as sub-divisional officer he was responsible for the security of some 200,000 people. At the end of 1924 he was promoted to Assistant District Superintendent and posted to Syriam, which was closer to Rangoon and in September 1925 went to Insein the home of the second-largest jail in Burma. He moved to Moulmein where his grandmother lived in April 1926 and at the end of that year went on to Katha. There he contracted Dengue fever in 1927. He was entitled to leave in England in that year and in view of his illness was allowed to go home in July. While on leave in England in 1927, he reappraised his life and resigned from the Indian Imperial Police with the intention of becoming a writer. The Burma police experience yielded the novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essays "A Hanging" (1931) and "Shooting an Elephant" (1936).
In England, he settled back in the family home at Southwold, renewing acquaintance with local friends and attending an Old Etonian dinner. He visited his old tutor Gow at Cambridge for advice on becoming a writer, and as a result he decided to move to London. Ruth Pitter, a family acquaintance, helped him find lodgings and by the end of 1927 he had moved into rooms in Portobello Road (a blue plaque commemorates his residence there). Pitter took a vague interest in his writing as he set out to collect literary material on a social class as different from his own as were the natives of Burma. Following the precedent of Jack London, whom he admired, he started his exploratory expeditions to the poorer parts of London. On his first outing he set out to Limehouse Causeway (spending his first night in a common lodging house, possibly George Levy's 'kip'. For a while he "went native" (in his own country), dressing like a tramp, making no concessions to middle class mores and expectations, and 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 spring of 1928, he moved to Paris, where the comparatively low cost of living and bohemian lifestyle offered an attraction for many aspiring writers. His Aunt Nellie Limouzin also lived there and gave him social and, if necessary, financial support. He worked on novels, but only Burmese Days survives from that activity. More successful as a journalist, he published articles in Monde (not to be confused with Le Monde), G. K.'s Weekly and Le Progres Civique (founded by Le Cartel des Gauches). He fell seriously ill in March 1929 and shortly afterwards had all his money stolen from the lodging house. Whether through necessity or simply to collect material, he undertook menial jobs like dishwashing in a fashionable hotel on the rue de Rivoli providing experiences to be used in Down and Out in Paris and London. In August 1929 he sent a copy of "The Spike" to New Adelphi magazine in London. This was owned by John Middleton Murry who had released editorial control to Max Plowman and Sir Richard Rees. Plowman accepted the work for publication.
In December 1929, after a year and three quarters in Paris, Blair returned to England and went directly to his parents' house in Southwold, which was to remain his base for the next five years. The family was well established in the local community, and his sister Avril was running a tea house in the town. He became acquainted with many local people including a local gym teacher, Brenda Salkield, the daughter of a clergyman. Although Salkield rejected his offer of marriage she was to remain a friend and regular correspondent about his work for many years. He also renewed friendships with older friends such as Dennis Collings, whose girlfriend Eleanor Jacques was also to play a part in his life.
In the spring he had a short stay in Leeds with his sister Marjorie and her husband Humphrey Dakin whose regard for Blair was as unappreciative then as when he knew him as a child. Blair was undertaking some review work for Adelphi and acting as a private tutor to a handicapped child at Southwold. He followed this up by tutoring a family of three boys one of whom, Richard Peters, later became a distinguished academic. He went painting and bathing on the beach, and there he met Mabel and Francis Fierz who were later to influence his career. Over the next year he visited them in London often meeting their friend Max Plowman. Other homes available to him were those of Ruth Pitter and Richard Rees. These acted as places for him to "change" for his sporadic tramping expeditions where one of his jobs was to do domestic work at a lodgings for half a crown a day.
Meanwhile, Blair now contributed regularly to Adelphi, with "A Hanging" appearing in August 1931. In August and September 1931 his explorations extended to following the East End tradition of working in the Kent hop fields (an activity which his lead character in A Clergyman's Daughter also engages in). At the end of this, he ended up in the Tooley Street kip, but could not stand it for long and with a financial contribution from his parents moved to Windsor Street where he stayed until Christmas. "Hop Picking" by Eric Blair appeared in October 1931 in the New Statesman, where Cyril Connolly was on the staff. Mabel Fierz put him in contact with Leonard Moore who was to become his literary agent.
At this time Jonathan Cape rejected A Scullion's Diary, the first version of Down and Out. On the advice of Richard Rees he offered it to Faber & Faber, whose editorial director, T. S. Eliot, also rejected it. To conclude the year Blair attempted another exporatory venture of getting himself arrested so that he could spend Christmas in prison, but the relevant authorities did not cooperate and he returned home to Southwold after two days in a police cell.
Blair then took a job teaching at the Hawthorne High School for Boys in Hayes, West London. This was a small school that provided private schooling for local tradesmen and shopkeepers and comprised only 20 boys and one other master. While at the school he became friendly with the local curate and became involved with the local church. Mabel Fierz had pursued matters with Moore, and at the end of June 1932, Moore told Blair that Victor Gollancz was prepared to publish A Scullion's Diary for a £40 advance. Gollancz had only recently founded the publishing house which was an outlet for radical and socialist works. At the end of the school summer term in 1932 Orwell returned to Southwold, where his parents had been able to buy their own home as a result of a legacy . Blair and his sister Avril spent the summer holidays making the house habitable while he also worked on Burmese Days. He was also spending time with Eleanor Jacques but her attachment to Dennis Collings remained an obstacle to his hopes of a more serious relationship.Clink appeared in the August number of Adelphi. He returned to teaching at Hayes and prepared for the publication of his work now known as Down and Out in Paris and London which he wished to publish under an assumed name. In a letter to Moore (dated 15 November 1932) he left the choice of pseudonym to him and to Victor Gollancz. Four days later, he wrote to Moore, suggesting these pseudonyms: P. S. Burton (a tramping name), Kenneth Miles, George Orwell, and H. Lewis Allways.He finally adopted the nom de plume George Orwell because as he told Eleanor Jacques, "It is a good round English name." Down and Out in Paris and London was published on 9 January 1933 but Blair was back at the school at Hayes. He had little free time and was still working on Burmese Days. Down and Out was successful and it 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, at Uxbridge, Middlesex. This was a much larger establishment with 200 pupils and a full complement of staff. He acquired a motorcycle and took trips in the surrounding countryside. On one of these expeditions he became soaked and caught a chill which developed into pneumonia. He was taken to Uxbridge Cottage Hospital where for a time his life was believed to be in danger. When he was discharged in January 1934, he returned to Southwold to convalesce and, supported by his parents, never returned to teaching. He was disapponted when Gollancz turned down Burmese Days, mainly on the grounds of potential libel actions but Harpers were prepared to publish it in the United States. Meanwhile back at home Blair started work on the novel A Clergyman's Daughter drawing upon his life as a teacher and on life in Southwold. Eleanor Jacques was now married and had gone to Singapore and Brenda Salkield had left for Ireland, so Blair was relatively lonely in Southwold - pottering on the allotments, walking alone and spending time with his father. Eventually in October, after sending A Clergyman's Daughter to Moore, he left for London to take a job that had been found for him by his Aunt Nellie Limouzin.
This job was as a part-time assistant in "Booklover's Corner", a second-hand bookshop in Hampstead run by Francis and Myfanwy Westrope who were friends of Nellie Limouzin in the Esperanto movement. The Westropes had an easy-going outlook and provided him with comfortable accommodation at Warwick Mansions, Pond Street. He was job-sharing with Jon Kimche who also lived with the Westropes. 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). As well as the various guests of the Westropes, he was able to enjoy the company of Richard Rees and the Adelphi writers and Mabel Fierz. He had also met in the bookshop a girl called Kay Ekevall who provided female company. The Westropes and Kimche were members of the Independent Labour Party although at this time Blair was not seriously politically aligned. He was writing for the Adelphi and dealing with pre-publication issues with A Clergymans Daughter and Burmese Days. At the beginning of 1935 he had to move out of Warwick Mansions, and Mabel Fierz found him a flat in Parliament Hill. A Clergyman's Daughter was published on the 11 March 1935. In the spring of 1935 Blair met his future wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy when his landlady, who was studying at the University of London, invited some of her fellow students. Around this time, Blair had started to write reviews for the New English Weekly. In July, Burmese Days was published and following Connolly's review of it in the New Statesman, the two re-established contact. In August Blair moved into a flat in Kentish Town, which he shared with Michael Sayer and Rayner Heppenstall. He was working on Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and also tried to write a serial for the News Chronicle, which was an unsuccessful venture. By October 1935 his flat-mates had moved out, and he was struggling to pay the rent on his own.
At this time, Victor Gollancz suggested Orwell spend a short time investigating social conditions in economically depressed northern England. Two years earlier J. B. Priestley had written of England north of the Trent and this had stimulated an interest in reportage. Furthermore the depression had spawned a number of working class writers from the north of England.
On 31 January 1936, Orwell set out by public transport and on foot via Coventry, Stafford, the Potteries and Macclesfield, reaching Manchester. Arriving after the banks had closed, he had to stay in a common lodging house. Next day he picked up a list of contact addresses sent by Richard Rees. One of these, a Trade Union official Frank Meade suggested Wigan where he spent February staying in dirty lodgings over a tripe shop. At Wigan he gained entry to many houses to see how people lived, took systematic notes of housing conditions and wages earned, went down a coal mine, and spent days at the local public library consulting public health records and reports on working conditions in mines. During this time he was distracted by dealing with libel and stylistic issues relating to Keep the Aspidistra Flying. He made a quick visit to Liverpool and spent March in South Yorkshire, spending time in Sheffield and Barnsley. As well as visiting mines and observing social conditions, he attended meetings of the Communist Party and of Oswald Mosley where he saw the tactics of the Blackshirts. He punctuated his stay with visits to his sister at Headingley, during which he visited the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth.
His investigations gave rise to The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937. The first half of this work documents his social investigations of Lancashire and Yorkshire. It begins with an evocative description of working life in the coal mines. The second half is a long essay of his upbringing, and the development of his political conscience, including a denunciation of the Left's irresponsible elements. Publisher Gollancz feared the second half would offend Left Book Club readers and inserted a mollifying preface to the book while Orwell was in Spain.
Orwell needed somewhere where he could concentrate on writing his book, and once again help was provided by Aunt Nellie who was living in a cottage at Wallington, Hertfordshire. It was a very small cottage called the "Stores" with almost no modern facilities in a tiny village. Orwell took over the tenancy and had moved in by 2 April 1936. He started work on the book by the end of April, and as well as writing, he spent hours working on the garden and investigated the possibility of reopening the Stores as a village shop.
Orwell married Eileen O'Shaughnessy on 9 June 1936. Shortly afterwards, the political crisis began in Spain and Orwell followed developments there closely. At the end of the year, concerned by Francisco Franco's Falangist uprising, Orwell decided to go Spain to take part in the Spanish Civil War on the the Republican side. He needed an introduction and applied unsuccessfully to Harry Pollit, leader of the British Communist Party. Instead he used his ILP contacts to get a letter of introduction to John McNair in Barcelona. He was advised to get safe passage from the Spanish Embassy in Paris.
Orwell set out for Spain on about 23 December, dining with Henry Miller in Paris on the way. A few days later at Barcelona, he met John McNair of the ILP Office who quoted him: "I've come to fight against Fascism". Orwell stepped into a complex political situation in Catalonia. The Republican government was supported by a number of factions with conflicting aims, including the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM - Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), the anarcho-syndicalist CNT and the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia a wing of the Spanish Communist Party, which was backed by Soviet arms and aid. The Independent Labour Party (ILP) contingent was linked to the POUM and so Orwell joined the POUM.
After a time at the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona he was sent to the relatively quiet Aragon Front under Georges Kopp. By January 1937 he was at Alcubierre 1500 feet above sea level in the depth of winter. There was very little military action, and the lack of equipment and other deprivations which made it uncomfortable. Orwell, with his Cadet Corps and police training was quickly made a corporal. On the arrival of a British ILP Contingent about three weeks later, Orwell and the other English militiaman, Williams, were sent with them to Monte Oscuro. The newly-arrived ILP contingent included Bob Smillie, Bob Edwards, Stafford Cottman and Jack Branthwaite. The unit were then sent on to Huesca.
Meanwhile, back in England, Eileen had been handling the issues relating to the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier before setting out for Spain herself, leaving Aunt Nellie Limouzin to look after The Stores. Eileen volunteered for a post in John McNair's office and with the help of Georges Kopp paid visits to her husband, bringing him English tea, chocolate and cigars. Orwell had to spend some days in hospital with a poisoned hand and had most of his possessions stolen by the staff. He returned to the front and saw some action in night attack on the Nationalist trenches where he chased an enemy soldier with a bayonet and bombed an enemy rifle position.
In April, Orwell returned to Barcelona where he applied to join the International Brigades to become involved in fighting closer to Madrid. However this was the time of Barcelona May Days and Orwell was caught up in the factional fighting. He spent much of the time on a roof, with a stack of novels, but encountered Jon Kimche from his Hampstead days during the stay. Instead of joining the International Brigades, he decided to return to the Aragon Front. Orwell was considerably taller than the Spanish fighters and was warned against standing against the trench parapet. One morning a sniper's bullet caught him in the throat. Unable to speak, and with blood pouring from his mouth, Orwell was stretchered to Siétamo, loaded on an ambulance and after a bumpy journey via and Barbostro arrived at the hospital at Lerida. He recovered sufficiently to get up and on the 27 May 1937 was sent on to Tarragona and two days later to a POUM sanatorium in the suburbs of Barcelona.The bullet had missed his main artery by the barest margin and his voice was barely audible. He received electrotherapy treatment and was declared medically unfit for service.
By the middle of June the political situation in Barcelona had deteriorated and the POUM - seen by the Communists as a Trotskyist organisation - was outlawed and under attack. Members, including Kopp, were arrested and others were in hiding. Orwell and his wife were under threat and had to lay low, although they broke cover to try to help Kopp. Finally with their passports in order, they escaped from Spain by train, diverting to Banyuls-sur-Mer for a short stay before returning to England. Orwell's experiences in the Spanish Civil War gave rise to Homage to Catalonia (1938).
There were thoughts of going to India to work on a local newspaper there, but by March 1938 Orwell's health had deteriorated. He was admitted to a sanitorium at Aylesford, Kent to which his brother-in-law Laurence O'Shaughnessy was attached. He was thought initially to be suffering from tuberculosis and stayed in the sanitorium until September. A stream of visitors came to see him including Common, Heppenstall, Plowman and Cyril Connolly. Connolly brought with him Stephen Spender, a cause of some embarrassment as Orwell had referred to Spender as a "pansy friend" some time earlier. Homage to Catalonia was published by Secker & Warburg and was a commercial flop. In the latter part of his stay at the clinic Orwell was able to go for walks in the countryside and study nature.
The novelist L.H. Myers secretly funded a trip to French Morocco for half a year for Orwell to avoid the English winter and recover his health. The Orwells set out in September 1938 via Gibraltar and Tangier to avoid Spanish Morocco and arrived at Marrakesh. They rented a villa on the road to Casablanca and during that time, Orwell wrote Coming Up for Air. They arrived back in England on 30 March 1939 and Coming Up for Air was published in June. Time was spent between Wallington and Southwold working on Orwell's Dickens essay and it was in July 1939 that Orwell's father, Richard Blair died.
On the outbreak of World War II Orwell's wife Eileen started work in the Censorship Department in London, staying during the week with her family in Greenwich. Orwell also submitted his name to the Central Register for war effort but nothing transpired. He returned to Wallington, and in the autumn of 1939 he wrote essays for Inside the Whale. For the next year he was occuped writing reviews for plays, films and books for The Listener, Time and Tide and New Adelphi. At the beginning of 1940, the first edition of Connolly's Horizon appeared, and this provided a new outlet for Orwell's work as well as new literary contacts. In May the Orwells took lease of a flat in London at Dorset Chambers, Chagford Street, Marylebone. It was the time of the Dunkirk evacuation and the death in France of Eileen's brother Lawrence during this caused her considerable grief and long term depression. Orwell was declared "Unfit for any kind of military service" by the Medical Board in June, but soon afterwards found an opportunity to become involved in war activities by joining the Home Guard. He shared Tom Wintringham's socialist vision for the Home Guard as a revolutionary People's Militia. Sergeant Orwell managed to recruit Frederic Warburg to his unit. During the Battle of Britain he used to spend weekends with Warburg and his new friend Zionist Tosco Fyvel at Twyford, Berkshire. At Wallington he worked on "England Your England" and in London wrote reviews for various periodicals. Visiting Eileen's family in Greenwich brought him face to face with the effects of the blitz on East London. Early in 1941 he started writing for the American Partisan Review and contributed to Gollancz' anthology "The Betrayal of the Left" written in the light of the Hitler-Stalin pact. He also applied unsuccessfully for a job at the Air Ministry. In the Home Guard his mishandling of a mortar put two of his unit in hospital. Meanwhile he was still writing reviews of books and plays and at this time met the novelist Anthony Powell. He also took part in a few radio broadcasts for the Eastern Service of the BBC. In March the Orwells moved to St John's Wood in a 7th floor flat at Langford Court, while at Wallington Orwell was "digging for victory" by planting potatoes.
In August 1941, Orwell finally obtained "war work" when he was taken on full time by the BBC's Eastern Service. He supervised cultural broadcasts to India in the context of propaganda from Nazi Germany designed to undermine Imperial links. This was Orwell's first experience of the rigid conformity of life in an office. However it gave him an opportunity to create cultural programmes with contributions from T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, E. M. Forster, Mulk Raj Anand, and William Empson among others. At the end of August he had a dinner with H. G. Wells which degenerated into a row because of slights made previously by Orwell in a Horizon article. In October Orwell had a bout of bronchitis and the illness recurred frequently. David Astor was looking for a provocative contributor for The Observer and invited him to write for him - the first article appearing in March 1942. In spring of 1942 Eileen changed jobs to work at the Ministry of Food and Orwell's mother and sister Avril took war work in London and came to stay with them. They all moved to a basement at Mortimer Crescent in Kilburn in the summer. At the BBC Orwell introduced "Voice" a literary programme for his Indian broadcasts, and by now was leading an active social life with literary friends, particularly on the political left. Late in 1942 he started writing for the left-wing weekly Tribune directed by Labour MPs Aneurin Bevan and George Strauss. In March 1943 Orwell's mother died and around the same time he told Moore he was starting work on a new book, which would turn out to be Animal Farm. In September 1943 Orwell resigned from the BBC post that he had occupied for two years. His resignation followed a report confirming his fears that few Indians listened to the broadcasts, but he was also keen to concentrate on writing Animal Farm. At this time he was also discharged from the Home Guard.
In November 1943, Orwell was appointed literary editor at Tribune, where his assistant was his old friend Jon Kimche. Orwell was on staff until early 1945, writing the regular column "As I Please". He was still writing reviews for other magazines, and becoming a respected pundit among the left wing chattering classes but also close friends with people on the right like Powell, Astor and Malcolm Muggeridge. By April 1944 Animal Farm was ready for publication. Gollancz refused to publish it, considering it an attack on the Soviet regime which was a crucial ally in the war. A similar fate was met from other publishers until Jonathan Cape agreed to take it.
In May the Orwells had the opportunity to adopt a child, thanks to the contacts of Eileen's sister Gwen O'Shaughnassy then a doctor in Newcastle on Tyne. In June a V-1 flying bomb landed on Mortimer Crescent and the Orwells had to find somewhere else to live. Orwell was scrabbling around in the rubble rescuing his collection of books, which he had finally managed to transfer from Wallington, and carting them away in a wheelbarrow.
Another bombshell was Cape's withdrawal of his support of Animal Farm, believed to be due to the influence of Peter Smollett who worked at the Ministry of Information and was later disclosed to be a Soviet agent. The Orwell's spent some time in the North East dealing with matters in the adoption of a boy whom they named Richard Horatio. In October 1944 they had set up home in Islington in a flat on the 7th floor of a block. Baby Richard joined them there, and Eileen gave up work to look after her family. Warburg had agreed to publish Animal Farm, planned for the following March, although it did not appear in print until August 1945. By February 1945 David Astor had invited Orwell to become a war correspondent for the Observer. Orwell had been looking for the opportunity throughout the war, but his failed medical reports prevented him from being allowed anywhere near action. He went to Paris after the liberation of France and to Cologne once it had been occupied.
It was while he was there that Eileen went into hospital for a hysterectomy and died under anaesthetic on 29 March 1945. She had given Orwell much notice about this operation because of worries about the cost and because she expected to make a speedy recovery. Orwell returned home for a while and then went back to Europe. He returned finally to London to cover the 1945 UK General Election at the beginning of July. Animal Farm: A Fairy Story was published in Britain on 17 August 1945, and a year later in the U.S. on 26 August 1946.
He wrote much of the novel while living at Barnhill, a remote farmhouse on the island of Jura which lies in the Gulf stream off the west coast of Scotland. It was an abandoned farmhouse with outbuildings near to the northern end of the island, situated at the end of a five-mile (8 km), heavily rutted track from Ardlussa, where the laird, or landowner, Margaret Fletcher lived, and where the paved road, the only one on the island, came to an end. Younger sister, Avril, joined him at Barnhill, Jura, as housekeeper. Like her brother, she was of tough character, and eventually drove away Richard Orwell's nanny, because the house was too small for both women. Orwell also nearly died during an unfortunate boating expedition in that time.
In 1948, he co-edited a collection entitled British Pamphleteers with Reginald Reynolds.
In 1949, Orwell was approached by a friend, Celia Kirwan, who had just started working for a Foreign Office unit, the Information Research Department, which the Labour government had set up to publish anti-communist propaganda. He gave her a list of 37 writers and artists he considered to be unsuitable as IRD authors because of their pro-communist leanings. The list, not published until 2003, consists mainly of journalists (among them the editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin) but also includes the actors Michael Redgrave and Charlie Chaplin. Orwell's motives for handing over the list are unclear, but the most likely explanation is the simplest: that he was helping a friend in a cause — anti-Stalinism — that they both supported. There is no indication that Orwell abandoned the democratic socialism that he consistently promoted in his later writings — or that he believed the writers he named should be suppressed. Orwell's list was also accurate: the people on it had all made pro-Soviet or pro-communist public pronouncements. In fact, one of the people on the list, Peter Smollett, the head of the Soviet section in the Ministry of Information, was later (after the opening of KGB archives) proven to be a Soviet agent, recruited by Kim Philby, and "almost certainly the person on whose advice the publisher Jonathan Cape turned down Animal Farm as an unhealthily anti-Soviet text", although Orwell was unaware of this.
In October 1949, shortly before his death, he married Sonia Brownell.
Orwell's son, Richard Blair, was raised by an aunt after his father's death. He maintains a low public profile, though he has occasionally given interviews about the few memories he has of his father. Blair worked for many years as an agricultural agent for the British government.
Modern readers are more often introduced to Orwell as a novelist, particularly through his enormously successful titles Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The former is often thought to reflect developments in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution; the latter, life under totalitarian rule. Nineteen Eighty-Four is often compared to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; both are powerful dystopian novels warning of a future world filled with state control, the former was written later and considers perpetual war preparation in a nuclear age; the latter is more optimistic.
Coming Up for Air, his last novel before World War II is the most English of his novels; alarums of war mingle with images of idyllic Thames-side Edwardian childhood of protagonist George Bowling. The novel is pessimistic; industrialism and capitalism have killed the best of Old England, and there were great, new external threats. In homely terms, Bowling posits the totalitarian hypotheses of Borkenau, Orwell, Silone and Koestler: "Old Hitler's something different. So's Joe Stalin. They aren't like these chaps in the old days who crucified people and chopped their heads off and so forth, just for the fun of it ... They're something quite new — something that's never been heard of before".
Elsewhere, Orwell strongly praised the works of Jack London, especially his book The Road. Orwell's investigation of poverty in The Road to Wigan Pier strongly resembles that of Jack London's The People of the Abyss, in which the American journalist disguises himself as an out-of-work sailor in order to investigate the lives of the poor in London.
In the essay "Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels" (1946) he wrote: "If I had to make a list of six books which were to be preserved when all others were destroyed, I would certainly put Gulliver's Travels among them."
Other writers admired by Orwell included Ralph Waldo Emerson, G. K. Chesterton, George Gissing, Graham Greene, Herman Melville, Henry Miller, Tobias Smollett, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad and Yevgeny Zamyatin. He was both an admirer and a critic of Rudyard Kipling, praising Kipling as a gifted writer and a "good bad poet" whose work is "spurious" and "morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting," but undeniably seductive and able to speak to certain aspects of reality more effectively than more enlightened authors.
Woodcock suggested that the last two sentences characterised Orwell as much as his subject.
Variations of the slogan "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others", from Animal Farm, are sometimes used to satirise situations where equality exists in theory and rhetoric but not in practice with various idioms. For example, an allegation that rich people are treated more leniently by the courts despite legal equality before the law might be summarised as "all criminals are equal, but some are more equal than others". This appears to echo the phrase Primus inter pares - the Latin for "First amongst equals", which is usually applied to the head of a democratic state.
Although the origins of the term are debatable, Orwell may have been the first to use the term cold war. He used it in an essay titled " You and the Atomic Bomb" on 19 October 1945 in Tribune, he wrote:
Connolly remarked of him as a schoolboy "The remarkable thing about Orwell was that alone among the boys he was an intellectual and not a parrot for he thought for himself". At Eton his former headmaster's son observed "He was extremely argumentative - about anything - and criticising the masters and criticising the other boys...We enjoyed arguing with him. He would generally win the arguments - or think he had anyhow. Roger Mynors concurs "Endless arguments about all sorts of things, in which he was one of the great leaders. He was one of those boys who thought for himself..."
Blair liked to carry out practical jokes. Buddicom recalls him swinging from the luggage rack in a railway carriage like an orang-utang to frighten a woman passenger out of the compartment At Eton he played tricks on his master in house, among which was to enter a spoof advertisement in a College magazine implying pederasty. Gow, his tutor said he "made himself as big a nuisance as he could" and "was a very unattractive boy". Later Blair was expelled from the crammer at Southwold for sending a dead rat as a birthday present to the town surveyor In one of his As I Please essays he refers to a protracted joke when he answered an advertisement for a woman who claimed a cure for obesity.
Blair had an enduring interest in natural history which stemmed from his childhood. In letters from school he wrote about caterpillars and butterflies. and Buddicom recalls his keen interest in ornithology. He also enjoyed fishing and shooting rabbits, and conducting experiments as in cooking a hedgehog or shooting down a jackdaw from the Eton roof to dissect it. His zeal for scientific experiments extended to explosives - again Buddicom recalls a cook giving notice because the noise. Later in Southwold his sister Avril recalled him blowing up the garden. When teaching he enthused his students with his nature-rambles both at Southwold and Hayes His adult diaries are permeated with his observations on nature.
Buddicom and Blair lost touch shortly after he went to Burma, and she became unsympathetic towards him. She wrote that it was because of letters he wrote complaining about his life, but an addendum to the book by Venables gives another story.
Mabel Fierz who later became his confidante said "He used to say the one thing he wished in this world was that he'd been attractive to women. He liked women and had many girlfriends I think in Burma. He had a girl in Southwold and another girl in London. He was rather a womaniser, yet he was afraid he wasn't attractive.
Brenda Salkield (Southwold) preferred friendship to any deeper relationship and maintained a correspondence with Blair for many years, particularly as a sounding board for his ideas. She wrote "He was a great letter writer. Endless letters, And I mean when he wrote you a letter he wrote pages. His correspondence with Eleanor Jacques (London) was more prosaic, dwelling on a closer relationship and referring to past assignments or planning future ones in London and Burnham Beeches.
When Orwell was in the sanitorium in Kent his wife's friend Lydia Jackson visited. He invited her for a walk and out of sight "an awkward situation arose. Jackson was to be the most critical of Orwell's marriage to Eileen but their later correspondence hints a complicity. Eileen at the time was more concerned about Orwell's closeness to Brenda Salkeld. Orwell was to have an affair with his secretary at Tribune which caused Eileen much distress, and others have been mooted. In a letter to Ann Popham he wrote: 'I was sometimes unfaithful to Eileen, and I also treated her badly, and I think she treated me badly, too, at times, but it was a real marriage, in the sense that we had been through awful struggles together and she understood all about my work, etc.', Similarly he suggested to Celia Kirwan that they had both been unfaithful.. There are several testaments that it was a well-matched and happy marriage
Orwell was very lonely after Eileen's death, and desperate for a wife, both as companion for himself and as mother for Richard. He proposed marriage to four women, and eventually Sonia Brownwell accepted.
It was the Spanish Civil War that played the most important part in defining his socialism. Having witnessed the success of the anarcho-syndicalist communities, and the subsequent brutal suppression of the anarcho-syndicalists and other revolutionaries by the Soviet-backed Communists, Orwell returned from Catalonia a staunch anti-Stalinist and joined the Independent Labour Party.
At the time, like most other left-wingers in the United Kingdom, he was still opposed to rearmament against Nazi Germany — but after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the outbreak of the Second World War, he changed his mind. He left the ILP over its pacifism and adopted a political position of "revolutionary patriotism". He supported the war effort but detected (wrongly as it turned out) a mood that would lead to a revolutionary socialist movement among the British people. "We are in a strange period of history in which a revolutionary has to be a patriot and a patriot has to be a revolutionary," he wrote in Tribune, the Labour left's weekly, in December 1940.
By 1943, his thinking had moved on. He joined the staff of Tribune as literary editor, and from then until his death was a left-wing (though hardly orthodox) Labour-supporting democratic socialist. He canvassed for the Labour Party in the 1945 general election and was broadly supportive of its actions in office, though he was sharply critical of its timidity on certain key questions and despised the pro-Soviet stance of many Labour left-wingers.
Although he was never a Trotskyist, he was strongly influenced by the Trotskyist and anarchist critiques of the Soviet regime and by the anarchists' emphasis on individual freedom. He wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier that 'I worked out an anarchistic theory that all government is evil, that the punishment always does more harm than the crime and the people can be trusted to behave decently if you will only let them alone.' In typical Orwellian style, he continues to deconstruct his own opinion as 'sentimental nonsense'. He continues 'it is always necessary to protect peaceful people from violence. In any state of society where crime can be profitable you have got to have a harsh criminal law and administer it ruthlessly'.
Orwell had little sympathy with Zionism and opposed the creation of the state of Israel. In 1945, Orwell wrote that "few English people realise that the Palestine issue is partly a colour issue and that an Indian nationalist, for example, would probably side with the Arabs".
While Orwell was concerned that the Palestinian Arabs be treated fairly, he was equally concerned with fairness to Jews in general: writing in the spring of 1945 a long essay titled "Antisemitism in Britain," for the "Contemporary Jewish Record." Antisemitism, Orwell warned, was "on the increase," and was "quite irrational and will not yield to arguments." He thought "the only useful approach" would be a psychological one, to discover "why" antisemites could "swallow such absurdities on one particular subject while remaining sane on others." (pp 332-341, As I Please: 1943-1945.) In his magnum opus, Nineteen Eighty-Four, he showed the Party enlisting antisemitic passions in the Two Minute Hates for Goldstein, their archetypal traitor.
"This man has advanced Communist views, and several of his Indian friends say that they have often seen him at Communist meetings. He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours.
Conversely, there has been speculation about the extent of Orwell's links to Britain's secret service, MI5, and some have even claimed that he was in the service's employ. The evidence for this claim is contested.
That winter was very cold. Orwell had very little money, indeed. I think he must have suffered in that unheated room, after the climate of Burma ... Oh yes, he was already writing. Trying to write that is – it didn't come easily ... To us, at that time, he was a wrong-headed young man who had thrown away a good career, and was vain enough to think he could be an author. But the formidable look was not there for nothing. He had the gift, he had the courage, he had the persistence to go on in spite of failure, sickness, poverty, and opposition, until he became an acknowledged master of English prose.
In The Road to Wigan Pier he writes of tramping and poverty:
When I thought of poverty, I thought of it in terms of brute starvation. Therefore my mind turned immediately towards the extreme cases, the social outcasts: tramps, beggars, criminals, prostitutes. These were the 'lowest of the low', and these were the people with whom I wanted to get into contact. What I profoundly wanted at that time was to find some way of getting out of the respectable world altogether.
Orwell had a difficult relationship with his original publisher, Victor Gollancz. When Gollancz wrote an apologetic preface to The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell wrote to thank him but commented "of course I could have answered some of the criticisms you made. Gollancz also annoyed Orwell by refusing to publish Animal Farm on the grounds that it was too critical of the Soviet Union.
On Sundays, Orwell liked very rare roast beef, and Yorkshire pudding dripping with gravy, and good Yarmouth kippers at high tea. (p.501) ... He liked his tea, as well as his tobacco, strong, sometimes putting twelve spoonfuls into a huge brown teapot requiring both hands to lift.
His wardrobe was famously casual: 'an awful pair of thick corduroy trousers', a pair of thick, grey flannel trousers, a 'rather nice' black corduroy jacket, a shaggy, battered, green-grey Harris tweed jacket, and a 'best suit' of dark-grey-to-black herringbone tweed of old-fashioned cut.
Orwell's will requested that no biography of him be written, an edict that his wife Sonia Orwell tried to enforce. Various recollections and interpretations were published in the 1950s and 1960s such as T. R Fyvel. but Sonia saw the 1968 Collected Works as the record of his life. She also appointed Muggeridge as official biographer - a choice Taylor sees as deliberate spoiling - but in 1973 Stansky and Williams produced an unauthorised biography which inevitably lacked Mrs Orwell's input. Sonia then commissioned Bernard Crick, a left-wing professor at London University to complete a biography which was published in 1980. After Sonia Orwell's death many more works were produced in the 1980s - collections of reminiscences (Coppard/Crick, Wadhams) and new biographies (Michael Shelden from the United States) Subsequent biographies have been able to draw on these and further sources and to address many of the gaps which were filled in the earlier studies by extrapolation from his novels.
According to T.R. Fyvel:
His crucial experience ... was his struggle to turn himself into a writer, one which led through long periods of poverty, failure and humiliation, and about which he has written almost nothing directly. The sweat and agony was less in the slum-life than in the effort to turn the experience into literature
... he was both a brave man and one who drove himself hard, for the sake, first, of 'writing' and then more and more for an integrated sense of what he had to write. Orwell was unusually reticent to his friends about his background and his life, his openness was all in print for literary or moral effect; he tried to keep his small circle of good friends well apart – people are still surprised to learn who else at the time he knew; he did not confide in people easily, not talk about his emotions – even to women with whom he was close; he was not fully integrate as a person, not quite comfortable within his own skin, until late in his life – and he was many-faceted, not a simple man at all.
Shelden noted Orwell’s obsessive belief in his failure, and the deep inadequacy haunting him through his career:
Playing the loser was a form of revenge against the winners, a way of repudiating the corrupt nature of conventional success – the scheming, the greed, the sacrifice of principles. Yet, it was also a form of self-rebuke, a way of keeping one’s own pride and ambition in check.
While the substance of many of Orwell's novels, particularly Burmese Days, is drawn from his personal experiences, the following are works presented as narrative documentaries, rather than being fictionalized.
Source: George Orwell's Poems
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