Facts About George Orwell

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1. George Orwell was the pen name taken by Eric Arthur Blair. Blair was born in India, on 25th June, 1903. He went back to England when he was a year old. He was a lonely child who often fell sick. He described himself as feeling ‘isolated and undervalued’.

2. When he was 11, a local newspaper published his poem. He won a scholarship to a reputed school where he was made painfully aware of the difference between the well-off and the working class students, and how they were treated by the authorities. He then got a scholarship to Eton, but after he finished there, he could not study further due to financial constraints.

3. Blair joined the India Imperial Police Force in 1922, and was posted to the Burma. During his five years of service there, he got an inside view of the workings of the British Raj. This was to serve him well in his writing career.

4. When he returned to England, he decided to experience first-hand the lives of the working class. He took all sorts of menial jobs in London and Paris, and even joined some tramps (homeless people) as they moved from one shelter to another. He then wrote his first major work, Down and Out in London and Paris, describing his experiences. He used the pen name George Orwell, so as not to embarrass his family. His next book was Burmese Days, in which he showed the darker side of colonialism. After this work was published, he grew increasingly involved in politics.

5. In June,1936, he married Eileen O’Shaughnessy. She was supportive of his work, and assisted him in many ways. In December, 1936, he went to Spain to investigate the Civil War. He joined the militia who were fighting against Franco. His wife also went to Spain. In the course of events, he was injured and had to be hospitalised. The Soviet backed Communist fighters declared that Orwell and his wife were guilty of treason, but fortunately they were able to leave Spain safely. This incident made Orwell wary and suspicious of Communists.

6. When he returned to England, he contracted TB. He kept writing essays and reviews. His reputation as a literary critic grew. He worked with the BBC as a producer, and leading authors such as T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster appeared on his programs. He resigned in 1943, during World War II, and joined a socialist paper which had links with Aneurin Bevan of the Labour Party.

7. In 1945, Animal Farm was published. This novel, written in a deceptively simple style, was a satirical account of the events in Soviet Russia. It cleverly portrayed the rise and fall of Trotsky, and Lenin’s stealthy power play, through the characters of farmyard animals. This was the novel that made Orwell famous.

8. Orwell then published Nineteen Eighty Four, a futuristic story which imagines life in a totalitarian state, where every aspect of an individual’s life is under surveillance. This book, published in 1949, created a furore. Though it was well received by the public, there were many who thought it too gloomy and pessimistic. Its impact, however, was far reaching and long lasting.

9. Though Orwell achieved fame and financial gains towards the end of his life, he was plagued with ill health. His wife Eileen died in 1945, soon after they had adopted a son, who was then looked after by Eileen’s sister. He married editor Sonia Brownell shortly before his death on 21st January, 1950.

10. Orwell described himself at various points in his life as an anti- imperialist, anti- fascist, anarchist and finally socialist. His readers cannot fail to observe the common thread running through his work of a strong sense of social justice and political awareness. If Animal Farm catapulted him to fame, Nineteen Eighty Four ensured that his legacy will endure. His unique terms like Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime and Newspeak have entered our vocabulary, and the adjective Orwellian has been coined to denote sinister controlling activities by governments.

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