George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, India. His father, Richard W. Blair, worked for the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. His mother, Ida Mabel Blair, brought him and his sisters back to England one year after his birth. He did not see his father again for many years.
Orwell attended boarding school in Sussex and earned scholarships to prestigious schools. He chose Eton College. While there, he published his first writing in college publications. He left Eton intent on becoming a writer.
Early Career and Burma
After Eton, Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police and was posted to Burma in 1922. He grew to resent imperial rule and returned to England on leave in 1927, deciding to pursue a writing career.
He lived a bohemian life in Paris for two years, writing novels that went unpublished. In 1928, he moved to London and worked as a teacher and bookseller while writing reviews and essays to support himself.
During this time, he immersed himself in London’s working-class neighborhoods, gathering material that informed his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933 under the pseudonym George Orwell.
What influenced his decision to become a writer?
Orwell became increasingly political throughout the 1930s, opposing imperialism and aligning himself with democratic socialism. After marrying Eileen O’Shaughnessy in 1936, he traveled to report on the Spanish Civil War. He joined a Trotskyist militia and was seriously wounded.
He and Eileen resided in London during World War II. He worked for the BBC and published essays and books, including Animal Farm in 1945. Its phenomenal success enabled them to purchase a farmhouse on Jura, an island off Scotland.
It was on Jura that Orwell wrote his final novel, 1984, published in 1949, just seven months before his death from tuberculosis at age 46. The novel cemented him as one of history’s most influential political writers.
What were the major events in Orwell’s life during the 1930s and 40s?
|Marriage to Eileen O’Shaughnessy
|Reporting on Spanish Civil War
|Resides in London during WWII, works for BBC
|Animal Farm published
|Purchases remote farmhouse on Jura, Scotland
|1984 published; Orwell dies from tuberculosis
Themes and Influences in His Work
Orwell is best known for the dystopian themes in Animal Farm and 1984. But much of his work reflected his personal struggles and opinions, including:
Critiques of totalitarianism and warnings about propaganda
Orwell harbored deep opposition toward Stalinism and fascism. His two most famous novels used allegory and satire to provide sharp critiques of totalitarian governments. They explore how propaganda and surveillance can erode freedom.
Championing democratic socialism
While Orwell was deeply critical of the Soviet model of socialism, he still advocated for democratic socialism and egalitarianism in England. He aimed to expose consolidated power structures wherever they might hide.
Abhorrence of British imperialism
His experiences as a police officer in Burma fueled a hatred of Britain’s imperial rule. He felt politics poisoned human relations in imperialist societies and aimed to unveil the deception. His essay “Shooting an Elephant” describes this tension.
Disdain for the elite class
Despite his prestigious education, Orwell identified more as a working-class rebel, distrustful of England’s bourgeois intelligentsia. He approached political writing through a populist lens.
Later Life and Death
Animal Farm’s immense success brought financial comfort. Orwell purchased a remote house on Jura, a Scottish island, where he retreated to write 1984. His solitude on Jura was broken only by trips to London to visit Eileen, who died unexpectedly during surgery in 1945.
On Jura, Orwell lived rustically with his sister and made steady writing progress in a Spartan setup without electricity. As his health declined rapidly from tuberculosis, which claimed the lives of others in his family, he raced to finish 1984 before it claimed his own.
Orwell died at age 46 on January 21, 1950. His unique, rebellious voice left an indelible mark on discourse around politics and language. 1984 solidified him as one of history’s most profound political writers – as relevant today as when it was written.
Why did Orwell purchase a remote home in Scotland?
Some of George Orwell’s best known works which capture his unique political eye and mastery of language include:
Animal Farm (1945 novel)
A short, allegorical novel about farm animals who launch a rebellion to seize the farm from their human owner, only to see it devolve into a totalitarian state run by the pigs. It parodies Stalin’s Soviet regime.
1984 (1949 novel)
Orwell’s vision of a future dystopian world divided into three repressive superstates engaged in perpetual war. It centers on Winston, who works for the totalitarian government revising history, until he rebels by falling in love and engaging with an underground resistance movement.
Homage to Catalonia (1938 memoir)
This memoir documents Orwell’s experiences as a militia member fighting fascism for the Marxist party POUM in the Spanish Civil War, painting a nuanced picture of the deeply complicated political context in Spain.
Shooting an Elephant (1936 essay)
A widely anthologized essay describing Orwell’s internal clash during his time serving imperial Britain in Burma regarding an incident in which he shoots an elephant. It exemplifies his razor-sharp examination of the moral cruelties of the imperial experience.
Down and Out in Paris and London (1933 memoir)
A memoir in which Orwell recounts his chosen descent into poverty in these European cities to investigate the lives of the working poor and homeless. He worked as a dishwasher and day laborer. It set the tone for his brand of personally immersive political writing.
George Orwell left an indelible mark on world literature and political thought with his simple yet profound prose style and fiercely independent spirit. His two most famous works, Animal Farm and 1984, chillingly predicted some authoritarian developments that unfolded during the latter half of the 20th century.
Beyond those monumental final novels completed in isolation before his untimely death at age 46, Orwell relentlessly questioned consolidated power and totalitarian political developments – as well as the insidious role of propaganda and dishonesty in enabling them. His deep affinity for democratic socialism guided not only his literary work but his personal values and choices throughout adulthood.
From volunteering in the Spanish Civil War to turning down lucrative speaking and visiting opportunities at American universities on moral grounds during the McCarthy era, Orwell practiced the egalitarian principles about which he preached and wrote prolifically.
His legacy continues today not only through ongoing scholarly review of his canonical novels but also quotidian vocabulary and idiom, as terms he coined like Big Brother and thoughtcrime remain firmly lodged in pop culture worldwide. Perhaps above all, Orwell modeled a style of personal integrity, intellectual honesty and moral courage amid complex political landscapes that still carries deep resonance for writers and citizens worldwide.
Frequently Asked Questions About George Orwell
Who were George Orwell’s biggest influences?
Orwell was an avid reader from a young age and claimed Charles Dickens, Jack London and H.G. Wells as some of his earliest influences. He was also heavily influenced by his experiences living in poverty in England as well as his time serving as a police officer in British-ruled Burma. These events shaped his anti-imperialist and pro-democratic socialist political leanings.
What is George Orwell best known for?
Orwell published numerous acclaimed essays, memoirs and novels, but his last two novels – Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949) – represent his most enduring legacy. These dystopian classics chillingly portray totalitarian regimes that employ propaganda, terror and technology to consolidate power.