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George Orwell  

Born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 and better known by his pen name, George Orwell is the author of "1984, " "Animal Farm" and other works.
Last Updated: Feb 14, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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George Orwell (1903-1950)


Brief Biography

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 in India where his father worked in the Indian Civil Service.  Blair did not see much of his father because when only one year old, he, his mother and his  sister returned to England.  The young Blair did not see his father (except for a brief visit ) until 1912.  He and his father never really got along.   The older Blair was too stuffy and conservative for his son's liking. Blair was a bright child and he received an important scholarship to Eton, the famous prep school for boys in 1917.  Blair had mixed feeling about the school.  He made friends but was only an average student despite his sharp intelligence.  He  disliked the rigid adherance to tradition and authority.  Restless and with no funds to attend college,  he joined the Indian Imperial Army in Burma in 1922.  He contracted dengue fever, grew to dislike British imperialism and returned to England in 1927, having had enough of Imperial service.  He found life outside the service difficult.  Blair wandered thoughout Europe, often with little money.  He worked very menial jobs but always wrote.  In 1933 he began using the pseudonym George Orwell  He wrote his first book in 1933.  It was about his difficult days as a poor writer living in London and Paris.  He lamented the wide gulf between the rich and poor.  In 1934, he wrote his first novel "Burmese Days" in which he was very critical of the imperial exploitation of Burma.

Before Blair ( now known as Orwell) wrote his two famous novels, he began to make his reputation as a journalist..  He was not afraid of hard work in dangerous conditions.  In 1936 he produced a documentary about coal miners in Northern England.  The documentary was an eye-opener for many people and soon Orwell found himself as one of England's most esteemed journalists.  The experience also peaked his interest in socialism.  The living conditions of the miners angered him.  He believed the central government should take a more active role in the plight of working people.  He was distrustful of the owners of companies, especially those whose profits came from dangerous occupations that demanded a great deal of the workers, but offered paltry compensation.   In the mid 1930's he married  Eileen O'Shaughnessy and adopted his wife's son.   His wife died in 1945 and he married Sonia Brownell in 1949.    She proved to be a faithful companion to a man who had serious health problems.

Despite health issues, Orwell went to Spain in 1936  to cover the Spanish Civil War.   A man of strong commitments, he joined the anti-Stalinist Worker's party and engaged in combat.  He was shot in the neck and threatened by communists.  He and his wife were forced to flee to France.  They then returned to England.  He wrote of his experiences in the Spanish Civil war in "Homage to Catalonia"  Orwell's political thinking changed over the years.  He condemned totalitarianism and the repression of freedom and basic human rights.  He was too old to join the active army, but from 1940 to 1943 he was a member of the Home Guard.  He also produced World War II commentary for the BBC.  In 1945, he wrote "Animal Farm," a political satire.   In 1949, he published his most famous book, "Nineteen Eighty-Four"-a novel about the power of a totalitarian state and its control over almost every aspect of life.  Terms like "Big Brother" and "Newspeak", both taken from the novel are now part of the English language.  Because of these two books, Orwell finally achieved financial security.

Orwell, never in good health died  in 1950 of tuberculosis.  Despite his precarious health, he led an active life.  In addition to his two famous novels, he wrote excellent essays and memoirs of his school days.  His defense of human rights and his hatred of totalitarianism are lessons we should take to heart today.

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