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Thursday, 24 November 2016

George Orwell


George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903, in Motihari, Bengal Presidency (present-day Bihar), in the then British colony of India.

Eric was the second child of Richard and Ida Blair. His father worked in India for the Opium Department of the Civil Service. 

Eric had an older sister named Marjorie and a younger sister named Avril. With his characteristic humor, he would later describe his family's background as "lower-upper-middle class."

Eric's mother brought him to England at the age of one. He did not see his father again until 1907, when Richard visited England for three months before leaving again. 

As a child he was bullied and called "Little Eric", partly because of his snobbish tendencies.

At the age of six, Blair was sent to a small Anglican parish school in Henley, which his sister had attended before him. 

Two years later he was recommended to the headmaster of one of the most successful preparatory schools in England at the time: St Cyprian's School, in Eastbourne, Sussex. Cecil Beaton, the photographer, was one of his contemporaries there. 

Young Eric attended St Cyprian's on a scholarship that allowed his parents to pay only half of the usual fees. He was distinguished there by his poverty and intelligence. Blair's time at the school inspired his essay Such, Such Were the Joys.

His first piece of work was a poem, which appeared in the Henley paper in 1914.

After a term at Wellington, Eric moved to Eton, where he was a King's Scholar from 1917 to 1921

Aldous Huxley was Orwell's French teacher for a semester early in his Eton career. Huxley apparently had difficulty in maintaining discipline in his classrooms. 

After finishing his studies at Eton, having no prospect of gaining a university scholarship and his family's means being insufficient to pay his tuition, Eric joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma.


The young Eric Blair spent five years in Burma as an officer in the Indian Imperial Police fighting crime in the jungle. He quit in 1927 to become a writer after suffering a bout of dengue fever.

Blair pictured in a passport photo during his Burma years

While in the Indian Imperial Police force, Blair was compelled to shoot an elephant which greatly upset him & helped seed his later anti-establishment rebellion.

The whipping, jailing and hanging of prisoners that Orwell had to witness as an officer in the Burma Police force induced life-long self-loathing.

In late 1927 Blair moved into rooms in Portobello Road, London. For a while he dressed like a tramp, adopting the name P. S. Burton.

Blair's 1927 lodgings in Portobello Road, London

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Orwell had a succession of ill paid jobs such as a dishwasher in Paris. He also had some success as a journalist there. Orwell's first article as a professional writer, "La Censure en Angleterre", appeared in Monde, a political/literary journal edited by Henri Barbusse, on October 6, 1928.

In December 1929, after nearly two years in Paris, Blair returned to England and went directly to his parents' house at 31 High Street, Southwold, Suffolk, which remained his base for the next five years.
Blair had a temporary job as a teacher at The Hawthorns High School, a school for boys in Hayes, West London during the summer term of 1932.

Blair's parents lived at 31 High Street, Southwold, Suffolk in the 1920s, and he returned there at intervals whilst living rough in Notting Hill Gate and Paris.

Blair adopted the nom de plume George Orwell in 1932 because, as he told Eleanor Jacques, "It is a good round English name." The pen surname was inspired by the River Orwell in the English county of Suffolk. He also changed to George as he thought Eric was not sufficiently masculine.


Orwell married 29 year old Eileen O'Shaughnessy on June 9, 1936, at St Mary's Church, Wallington, Hertfordshire. A teacher and trainee educational psychologist, Eileen was sophisticated, intelligent with large blue eyes.

Eileen was once a student of J.R.R. Tolkien.

During the Second World War Eileen worked at the Ministry of Food preparing "Kitchen Front" broadcasts. She supervised BBC broadcasts to India every week and wrote regularly for the Tribune.

They tried to have children, but Eileen did not become pregnant and they learnt later that Orwell was sterile.

In June 1944 Eileen and Eric adopted a three-week-old boy they named Richard Horatio.

Eileen died under anesthetic on March 29, 1945 after she'd gone into hospital for a hysterectomy.
Orwell took on bringing up Richard, who was still a baby.

In mid-1949, Orwell started courting the tough, outspoken and beautiful Sonia Brownell. They married on October 13, 1949 only three months before his death from tuberculosis.


George Orwell's first full length work, Down and Out in Paris and London, was published in 1933. A semi-autobiographical based on his experiences living in poverty in the two cities,

In 1934, just after he had published Down And Out In Paris And London, Orwell moved to Pond Street in Hampstead. He took a part time job as an assistant at a second hand bookshop at the nearby Booklovers Corner, while he worked on his next novel.

Orwell moved shortly afterwards to 50 Lawford Road, Kentish Town where he shared three rooms on the top floor with the writers Michael Sayers and Rayner Heppenstall.

Orwell moved to a very small 16th-century cottage called the "Stores" at No 2 Kits Lane, Wallington, Hertfordshire on April 2, 1936. The house was a death-trap, freezing, insanitary and vermin ridden.

He and Eileen kept a small village store in Wallington to subsidize his writing income.

No 2 Kits Lane, Wallington, Hertfordshire. By Dennis3333 - Wikipedia

The Road to Wigan Pier was published in 1937. Orwell wrote the book after being given an advance of £500 by publisher Victor Gollancz to look at the lives of industrial workers in the north. During his time researching the book, Orwell had unbelievably squalid digs over a tripe shop in Wigan.

In 1939 there was a Customs and Excise raid on Orwell's Hertfordshire cottage in search of contraband literature.

In August 1941, Orwell was taken on full-time by the BBC's Eastern Service as a propagandist. He resigned from the BBC post two years later in order to concentrate on writing Animal Farm.

Orwell was inspired to write the satirical novel after seeing a boy whipping a carthorse. He said: "It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength, we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat."

Orwell lived at 10A Mortimer Crescent, Hampstead during the 1940s until it was bombed by the Nazis and flattened. The completed manuscript of Animal Farm was picked out of the rubble. He subsequently moved to 27 Canonbury Square, Islington.

Orwell wrote Animal Farm at a time when the UK was in its wartime alliance with the Soviet Union and the British people and intelligentsia held Stalin in high esteem. An allegory of Marxist analysis of capitalism, Orwell had great difficulties in publishing the novel, as many were afraid that it would offend Britain's Russian war allies.

Animal Farm was first published in England on August 17, 1945 and within two weeks it had sold out.

Cover to first edition of Animal Farm by George Orwell

The C.I.A. purchased the film rights to Animal Farm and changed its ending to be more anti-communist.

From 1942, Orwell had been contributing articles to The Observer. In February 1945 he was invited to become a war correspondent for the newspaper. Orwell went to Paris after the liberation of France and to Cologne once it had been occupied by the Allies.

In 1947 Orwell moved to the Scottish island of Jura in the Outer Hebrides, where he tried to support himself by growing vegetables. Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four there away from the phone and other distractions. It was published June 8, 1949.

The first-edition front cover of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

He originally wanted to call it "Nineteen Forty Eight" to show it was a contemporary warning rather than a prophecy.

Many of the sadistic details of Room 101 were developed from Orwell's conversations with an ex Japanese Prisoner of war neighbor.

The Julia character was based on his second wife Sonia.

On October 21, 1949, a few months after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell received a letter from his former teacher Aldous Huxley, whose Brave New World had been published 17 years earlier.  Huxley commended the book and contrasted it with his own futuristic novel. He wrote:  "I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World."

In the 1970s Orwell’s widow, Sonia, stopped David Bowie’s planned musical based on Nineteen Eighty-Four. Some of the songs he wrote for it appeared on his LP Diamond Dogs.


The 11-year-old Orwell wrote about the Great War
"Awake, oh you young men of England
For if, when your country's in need
You do not enlist in your thousands
You truly are cowards indeed."

Orwell fought for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. He was part of a small dissident Trotskyist militia group known as POUM, and led infantry charges across open terrain under intensive fire.

After sustaining a bullet in his throat by a sniper, Orwell was forced to go into hiding in Barcelona. The bullet had missed his main artery by the barest margin and his voice was barely audible for a time.

Orwell's bad lungs kept him out of the army during the Second World War, so he fought with the Home Guard.

In August 1941, Orwell obtained "war work" when he was taken on full-time by the BBC's Eastern Service as a propagandist.

Orwell at the BBC in 1941


Orwell returned from service in the police force in Burma as an earnest socialist with a social conscience and hatred of imperialism.

Orwell experiences in Spain during the 30s instilled in him a bitter hatred of the Marxist ideology, and his Animal Farm and  Nineteen Eighty-Four novels were both attacks on Communism, Stalinism in particular.

Cyril Connolly said of him: "George Orwell was the sort of man who couldn't blow his nose without lamenting on the demise of the Lancashire cotton industry."

A High Churchman, Orwell once likened Heaven to "choir practice in a jeweller's shop." However he became increasingly scornful of religion and was reproved for suggesting that the "belief in personal immortality" is decaying.


Orwell grew a lot in his teenage years; he was 6ft 3 when he left Eton.

Orwell was painfully thin, gaunt and gloomy looking with a pencil thin mustache across his upper lip.

Orwell's press card portrait, 1943

He had a monotonous, rasping voice; Orwell's conversation consisted of proletarian rants delivered in his public school drawl.

Orwell had a gruff, offhand exterior with a pessimist, bleak and bitter personality. He had a dry, sardonic humor.

Orwell detested the Scots; it is said he would cross the road if he heard a Scottish accent, yet he went there to write his greatest book.


Orwell loved the countryside. On his farm he grew vegetables and kept chickens and goats, which he could milk. He refused to keep pigs as they were the only animal he disliked.

As a child, Orwell was totally dis-interested in sport. After the visit of the Moscow Dynamo football team to London he commented: "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting." – From the essay The Sporting Spirit (1945)


Orwell suffered a tubercular hemorrhage in February 1946 but disguised his illness. His tuberculosis was probably contracted during the period described in Down and Out in Paris and London.

Orwell was in and out of hospitals for the last three years of his life.


In the last years of his life Orwell lived a self-sufficient life style at Barnhill, a remote smallholding on the Scottish island of Jura in the Outer Hebrides. Barnhill was an empty, isolated farmhouse, eight miles from the nearest road, where he could fight his tuberculous.

Barnhill By Ken Craig, Wikipedia Commons

In 1947 after moving to Jura, Orwell took his son, nephew and nieces on a boat trip but he totally misjudged the tides and nearly drowned them all in the notorious Corryurechan Whirlpool.

Shortly after Nineteen Eighty-Four was completed Orwell became bedridden and he never recovered. He was removed to University College Hospital in London. Sonia took charge of Orwell's affairs and attended him diligently in the hospital.

George Orwell died early in the morning on January 21, 1950 at the age of 46 after an artery burst in his lungs.

Having requested burial in accordance with the Anglican rite, he was interred in All Saints' Churchyard, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire with the simple epitaph: "Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born June 25th 1903, died January 21st 1950."

By Brian Robert Marshall,  Wikipedia Commons

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