George Orwell | Wikipedia audio article

Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January
1950), better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist,
journalist and critic, whose work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice,
opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.Orwell wrote
literary criticism, poetry, fiction and polemical journalism. He is best known for the allegorical
novella Animal Farm (1945) and the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His non-fiction
works, including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), documenting his experience of working class
life in the north of England, and Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences
on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, are widely acclaimed, as are his essays
on politics, literature, language and culture. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a
list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.Orwell’s work continues to influence
popular and political culture and the term “Orwellian”—descriptive of totalitarian
or authoritarian social practices—has entered the language together with many of his neologisms,
including “Big Brother”, “Thought Police”, “Room 101”, “memory hole”, “newspeak”, “doublethink”,
“proles”, “unperson” and “thoughtcrime”.==Life=====Early years===Eric Arthur Blair was born on 25 June 1903
in Motihari, Bihar, British India. His great-grandfather, Charles Blair, was a wealthy country gentleman
in Dorset who married Lady Mary Fane, daughter of the Earl of Westmorland, and had income
as an absentee landlord of plantations in Jamaica. His grandfather, Thomas Richard Arthur
Blair, was a clergyman. Although the gentility passed down the generations, the prosperity
did not; Eric 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 Moulmein, 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, his mother took him and his sisters to England.
His birthplace and ancestral house in Motihari has been declared a protected monument of
historical importance.In 1904 Ida Blair settled with her children at Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.
Eric was brought up in the company of his mother and sisters, and apart from a brief
visit in mid-1907, the family did not see their husband or father, Richard Blair, until
1912. His mother’s diary from 1905 describes a lively round of social activity and artistic
interests. Before the First World War, the family moved
to Shiplake, Oxfordshire where Eric became friendly with the Buddicom family, especially
their daughter Jacintha. When they first met, he was standing on his head in a field. 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 said that he might write a book in the style of H. G. Wells’s A Modern
Utopia. During this period, he also enjoyed shooting, fishing and birdwatching with Jacintha’s
brother and sister. Aged five, Eric was sent as a day-boy to a
convent school in Henley-on-Thames, which Marjorie also attended. It was a Roman Catholic
convent run by French Ursuline nuns, who had been exiled from France after religious education
was banned in 1903. His mother wanted him to have a public school education, but his
family could not afford the fees, and he needed to earn a scholarship. Ida Blair’s brother
Charles Limouzin recommended St Cyprian’s School, Eastbourne, East Sussex. Limouzin,
who was a proficient golfer, knew of the school and its headmaster through the Royal Eastbourne
Golf Club, where he won several competitions in 1903 and 1904. The headmaster undertook
to help Blair to win a scholarship, and made a private financial arrangement that allowed
Blair’s parents to pay only half the normal fees. In September 1911, Eric arrived at St
Cyprian’s. He boarded at the school for the next five years, returning home only for school
holidays. During this period, while working for the Ministry of Pensions, his mother lived
at 23 Cromwell Crescent, Earls Court. He knew nothing of the reduced fees, although he “soon
recognised that he was from a poorer home”. Blair hated the school and many years later
wrote an essay “Such, Such Were the Joys”, published posthumously, based on his time
there. At St Cyprian’s, Blair first met Cyril Connolly, who became a writer. Many years
later, as the editor of Horizon, Connolly published several of Orwell’s essays.
While at St Cyprian’s, Blair wrote two poems that were published in the Henley and South
Oxfordshire Standard. He came second to Connolly in the Harrow History Prize, had his work
praised by the school’s external examiner, and earned scholarships to Wellington and
Eton. But inclusion on the Eton scholarship roll did not guarantee a place, and none was
immediately available for Blair. He chose to stay at St Cyprian’s until December 1916,
in case a place at Eton became available.In January, Blair took up the place at Wellington,
where he spent the Spring term. In May 1917 a place became available as a King’s Scholar
at Eton. At this time the family lived at Mall Chambers, Notting Hill Gate. Blair remained
at Eton until December 1921, when he left midway between his 18th and 19th birthday.
Wellington was “beastly”, Orwell told his childhood friend Jacintha Buddicom, but he
said he was “interested and happy” at Eton. His principal tutor was A. S. F. Gow, Fellow
of Trinity College, Cambridge, who also gave him advice later in his career. Blair was
briefly taught French by Aldous Huxley. Steven Runciman, who was at Eton with Blair, noted
that he and his contemporaries appreciated Huxley’s linguistic flair. 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 at Eton he worked with Roger Mynors to produce a College magazine,
The Election Times, joined in the production of other publications – College Days and
Bubble and Squeak – and participated in the Eton Wall Game. His parents could not
afford to send him to a university without another scholarship, and they concluded from
his poor results that he would not be able to win one. Runciman noted that he had a romantic
idea about the East, and the family decided that Blair should join the Imperial Police,
the precursor of the Indian Police Service. For this he had to pass an entrance examination.
In December 1921 he left Eton and travelled to join his retired father, mother, and younger
sister Avril, who that month had moved to 40 Stradbroke Road, Southwold, Suffolk, the
first of their four homes in the town. Blair was enrolled at a crammer there called Craighurst,
and brushed up on his Classics, English, and History. He passed the entrance exam, coming
seventh out of the 26 candidates who exceeded the pass mark.===Policing in Burma===Blair’s maternal grandmother lived at Moulmein,
so he chose a posting in Burma, then still a province of British India. 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 travelled to the police training
school in Mandalay. He was appointed an Assistant District Superintendent (on probation) on
29 November 1922, with effect from 27 November and at a base salary of Rs. 325 per month,
with an overseas supplement of Rs. 125/month and a “Burma Allowance” of Rs. 75/month (a
total of Rs. 525, or approximately ₤52-10s-0d per month at prevailing exchange rates). After
a short posting at Maymyo, Burma’s principal hill station, he was posted to the frontier
outpost of Myaungmya in the Irrawaddy Delta at the beginning of 1924.
Working as an imperial police officer gave him considerable responsibility while most
of his contemporaries were still at university in England. When he was posted farther east
in the Delta to Twante as a sub-divisional officer, he was responsible for the security
of some 200,000 people. At the end of 1924, he was posted to Syriam, closer to Rangoon.
Syriam had the refinery of the Burmah Oil Company, “the surrounding land a barren waste,
all vegetation killed off by the fumes of sulphur dioxide pouring out day and night
from the stacks of the refinery.” But the town was near Rangoon, a cosmopolitan seaport,
and Blair went into the city as often as he could, “to browse in a bookshop; to eat well-cooked
food; to get away from the boring routine of police life”. In September 1925 he went
to Insein, the home of Insein Prison, the second largest prison in Burma. In Insein,
he had “long talks on every conceivable subject” with Elisa Maria Langford-Rae (who later married
Kazi Lhendup Dorjee). She noted his “sense of utter fairness in minutest details”. By
this time, Blair had completed his training and was receiving a monthly salary of Rs.
740, including allowances (approximately ₤74-0s-0d per month). In Burma, Blair acquired a reputation as an
outsider. He spent much of his time alone, reading or pursuing non-pukka activities,
such as attending the churches of the Karen ethnic group. A colleague, Roger Beadon, recalled
(in a 1969 recording for the BBC) that Blair was fast to learn the language and that before
he left Burma, “was able to speak fluently with Burmese priests in ‘very high-flown Burmese.'”
Blair made changes to his appearance in Burma that remained for the rest of his life. “While
in Burma, he acquired a moustache similar to those worn by officers of the British regiments
stationed there. [He] also acquired some tattoos; on each knuckle he had a small untidy blue
circle. Many Burmese living in rural areas still sport tattoos like this – they are
believed to protect against bullets and snake bites.” Later, he wrote that he felt guilty
about his role in the work of empire and he “began to look more closely at his own country
and saw that England also had its oppressed.” In April 1926 he moved to Moulmein, where
his maternal grandmother lived. At the end of that year, he was assigned to Katha in
Upper Burma, where he contracted dengue fever in 1927. Entitled to a leave in England that
year, he was allowed to return in July due to his illness. While on leave in England
and on holiday with his family in Cornwall in September 1927, he reappraised his life.
Deciding against returning to Burma, he resigned from the Indian Imperial Police to become
a writer, with effect from 12 March 1928 after five-and-a-half years of service. He drew
on his experiences in the Burma police for the novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essays
“A Hanging” (1931) and “Shooting an Elephant” (1936).===London and Paris===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. In 1927 he
moved 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’s involvement in the move “would have lent it a reassuring respectability in
Mrs Blair’s eyes.” Pitter had a sympathetic interest in Blair’s writing, pointed out weaknesses
in his poetry, and advised him to write about what he knew. In fact he decided to write
of “certain aspects of the present that he set out to know” and ventured into the East
End of London – the first of the occasional sorties he would make to discover for himself
the world of poverty and the down-and-outers who inhabit it. He had found a subject. These
sorties, explorations, expeditions, tours or immersions were made intermittently over
a period of five years.”In imitation of Jack London, whose writing he admired (particularly
The People of the Abyss), Blair started to explore 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, adopting the name P.S. Burton and making no concessions to middle-class
mores and expectations; he recorded his experiences of the low life for use in “The Spike”, his
first published essay in English, and in the second half of his first book, Down and Out
in Paris and London (1933). In early 1928 he moved to Paris. He lived
in the rue du Pot de Fer, a working class district in the 5th Arrondissement. His aunt
Nellie Limouzin also lived in Paris and gave him social and, when necessary, financial
support. He began to write novels, including an early version of Burmese Days, but nothing
else survives from that period. He was more successful as a journalist and published articles
in Monde, a political/literary journal edited by Henri Barbusse (his first article as a
professional writer, “La Censure en Angleterre”, appeared in that journal on 6 October 1928);
G. K.’s Weekly, where his first article to appear in England, “A Farthing Newspaper”,
was printed on 29 December 1928; and Le Progrès Civique (founded by the left-wing coalition
Le Cartel des Gauches). Three pieces appeared in successive weeks in Le Progrès Civique:
discussing unemployment, a day in the life of a tramp, and the beggars of London, respectively.
“In one or another of its destructive forms, poverty was to become his obsessive subject
– at the heart of almost everything he wrote until Homage to Catalonia.”He fell seriously
ill in February 1929 and was taken to the Hôpital Cochin in the 14th arrondissement,
a free hospital where medical students were trained. His experiences there were the basis
of his essay “How the Poor Die”, published in 1946. He chose not to identify the hospital,
and indeed was deliberately misleading about its location. Shortly afterwards, he had all
his money stolen from his lodging house. Whether through necessity or to collect material,
he undertook menial jobs such as dishwashing in a fashionable hotel on the rue de Rivoli,
which he later described in Down and Out in Paris and London. In August 1929, he sent
a copy of “The Spike” to John Middleton Murry’s New Adelphi magazine in London. The magazine
was edited by Max Plowman and Sir Richard Rees, and Plowman accepted the work for publication.===Southwold===In December 1929, after nearly two years in
Paris, Blair returned to England and went directly to his parents’ house in Southwold,
a coastal town in Suffolk, which remained his base for the next five years. The family
was well established in the town, and his sister Avril was running a tea-house there.
He became acquainted with many local people, including Brenda Salkeld, the clergyman’s
daughter who worked as a gym-teacher at St Felix Girls’ School in the town. Although
Salkeld rejected his offer of marriage, she remained a friend and regular correspondent
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 early 1930 he
stayed briefly in Bramley, Leeds, with his sister Marjorie and her husband Humphrey Dakin,
who was as unappreciative of Blair as when they knew each other as children. Blair was
writing reviews for Adelphi and acting as a private tutor to a disabled child at Southwold.
He then became tutor to three young brothers, one of whom, Richard Peters, later became
a distinguished academic. “His history in these years is marked by dualities and contrasts.
There is Blair leading a respectable, outwardly eventless life at his parents’ house in Southwold,
writing; then in contrast, there is Blair as Burton (the name he used in his down-and-out
episodes) in search of experience in the kips and spikes, in the East End, on the road,
and in the hop fields of Kent.” He went painting and bathing on the beach, and there he met
Mabel and Francis Fierz, who later influenced his career. Over the next year he visited
them in London, often meeting their friend Max Plowman. He also often stayed at the homes
of Ruth Pitter and Richard Rees, where he could “change” for his sporadic tramping expeditions.
One of his jobs was domestic work at a lodgings for half a crown (two shillings and sixpence,
or one-eighth of a pound) a day.Blair now contributed regularly to Adelphi, with “A
Hanging” appearing in August 1931. From August to September 1931 his explorations of poverty
continued, and, like the protagonist of A Clergyman’s Daughter, he followed the East
End tradition of working in the Kent hop fields. He kept a diary about his experiences there.
Afterwards, he lodged in the Tooley Street kip, but could not stand it for long, and
with financial help from his parents moved to Windsor Street, where he stayed until Christmas.
“Hop Picking”, by Eric Blair, appeared in the October 1931 issue of New Statesman, whose
editorial staff included his old friend Cyril Connolly. Mabel Fierz put him in contact with
Leonard Moore, who became 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 and Faber, but their editorial director, T. S. Eliot, also rejected it. Blair
ended the year by deliberately getting himself arrested, so that he could experience Christmas
in prison, but the authorities did not regard his “drunk and disorderly” behaviour as imprisonable,
and he returned home to Southwold after two days in a police cell.===Teaching career===
In April 1932 Blair became a teacher at The Hawthorns High School, a school for boys,
in Hayes, West London. This was a small school offering private schooling for children of
local tradesmen and shopkeepers, and had only 14 or 16 boys aged between ten and sixteen,
and one other master. While at the school he became friendly with the curate of the
local parish church and became involved with activities there. 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, through his recently founded
publishing house, Victor Gollancz Ltd, which was an outlet for radical and socialist works. At the end of the summer term in 1932, Blair
returned to Southwold, where his parents had used a legacy to buy their own home. Blair
and his sister Avril spent the 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”, an essay describing his failed attempt to get sent to prison, appeared in the August
1932 number of Adelphi. He returned to teaching at Hayes and prepared for the publication
of his book, now known as Down and Out in Paris and London. He wished to publish under
a different name to avoid any embarrassment to his family over his time as a “tramp”.
In a letter to Moore (dated 15 November 1932), he left the choice of pseudonym to Moore and
to Gollancz. Four days later, he wrote to Moore, suggesting the pseudonyms P.S. Burton
(a name he used when tramping), Kenneth Miles, George Orwell, and H. Lewis Allways. He finally
adopted the nom de plume George Orwell because “It is a good round English name.” Down and
Out in Paris and London was published on 9 January 1933 as Orwell continued to work on
Burmese Days. Down and Out was modestly successful and was next published by Harper & Brothers
in New York. In mid-1933 Blair left Hawthorns to become
a teacher at Frays College, in Uxbridge, Middlesex. This was a much larger establishment with
200 pupils and a full complement of staff. He acquired a motorcycle and took trips through
the surrounding countryside. On one of these expeditions he became soaked and caught a
chill that 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 disappointed when Gollancz turned down
Burmese Days, mainly on the grounds of potential suits for libel, but Harper were prepared
to publish it in the United States. Meanwhile, 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 isolated in Southwold – working 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.===Hampstead===This job was as a part-time assistant in Booklovers’
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 were friendly and
provided him with comfortable accommodation at Warwick Mansions, Pond Street. He was sharing
the job with Jon Kimche, who also lived with the Westropes. Blair worked at the shop in
the afternoons and had his mornings free to write and his evenings free 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. The Westropes and Kimche were members of the
Independent Labour Party, although at this time Blair was not seriously politically active.
He was writing for the Adelphi and preparing A Clergyman’s Daughter and Burmese Days for
publication. 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 11 March 1935. In early 1935 Blair met his future wife Eileen
O’Shaughnessy, when his landlady, Rosalind Obermeyer, who was studying for a master’s
degree in psychology at University College London, invited some of her fellow students
to a party. One of these students, Elizaveta Fen, a biographer and future translator of
Chekhov, recalled Blair and his friend Richard Rees “draped” at the fireplace, looking, she
thought, “moth-eaten and prematurely aged.” Around this time, Blair had started to write
reviews for The New English Weekly. In June, Burmese Days was published and Cyril
Connolly’s review in the New Statesman prompted Blair (as he then became known) to re-establish
contact with his old friend. In August, he moved into a flat in Kentish Town, which he
shared with Michael Sayers and Rayner Heppenstall. The relationship was sometimes awkward and
Blair and Heppenstall even came to blows, though they remained friends and later worked
together on BBC broadcasts. Blair was now working on Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and
also tried unsuccessfully to write a serial for the News Chronicle. By October 1935 his
flatmates had moved out and he was struggling to pay the rent on his own. He remained until
the end of January 1936, when he stopped working at Booklovers’ Corner.===The Road to Wigan Pier===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 about England north of the Trent, sparking
an interest in reportage. The depression had also introduced a number of working-class
writers from the North of England to the reading public. It was one of these working-class
authors, Jack Hilton, whom Orwell sought for advice. Orwell had written to Hilton seeking
lodging and asking for recommendations on his route. Hilton was unable to provide him
lodging, but suggested that he travel to Wigan rather than Rochdale, “for there are the colliers
and they’re good stuff.”On 31 January 1936, Orwell set out by public transport and on
foot, reaching Manchester via Coventry, Stafford, the Potteries and Macclesfield. Arriving in
Manchester after the banks had closed, he had to stay in a common lodging-house. The
next day he picked up a list of contacts sent by Richard Rees. One of these, the trade union
official Frank Meade, suggested Wigan, where Orwell spent February staying in dirty lodgings
over a tripe shop. At Wigan, he visited many homes to see how people lived, took detailed
notes of housing conditions and wages earned, went down Bryn Hall coal mine, and used the
local public library to consult public health records and reports on working conditions
in mines. During this time, he was distracted by concerns
about style and possible libel in Keep the Aspidistra Flying. He made a quick visit to
Liverpool and during March, stayed in south Yorkshire, spending time in Sheffield and
Barnsley. As well as visiting mines, including Grimethorpe, and observing social conditions,
he attended meetings of the Communist Party and of Oswald Mosley—”his speech the usual
claptrap – The blame for everything was put upon mysterious international gangs of
Jews”—where he saw the tactics of the Blackshirts—”one is liable to get both a hammering and a fine
for asking a question which Mosley finds it difficult to answer.” He also made visits
to his sister at Headingley, during which he visited the Brontë Parsonage at Haworth,
where he was “chiefly impressed by a pair of Charlotte Brontë’s cloth-topped boots,
very small, with square toes and lacing up at the sides.” The result of his journeys through the north
was The Road to Wigan Pier, published by Gollancz for the Left Book Club in 1937. The first
half of the book documents his social investigations of Lancashire and Yorkshire, including an
evocative description of working life in the coal mines. The second half is a long essay
on his upbringing and the development of his political conscience, which includes an argument
for socialism (although he goes to lengths to balance the concerns and goals of socialism
with the barriers it faced from the movement’s own advocates at the time, such as “priggish”
and “dull” socialist intellectuals and “proletarian” socialists with little grasp of the actual
ideology). Gollancz feared the second half would offend readers and added a disculpatory
preface to the book while Orwell was in Spain. Orwell needed somewhere he could concentrate
on writing his book, and once again help was provided by Aunt Nellie, who was living at
Wallington, Hertfordshire in a very small 16th-century cottage called the “Stores”.
Wallington was a tiny village 35 miles north of London, and the cottage had almost no modern
facilities. Orwell took over the tenancy and moved in on 2 April 1936. He started work
on The Road to Wigan Pier by the end of April, but also spent hours working on the garden
and testing the possibility of reopening the Stores as a village shop. Keep the Aspidistra
Flying was published by Gollancz on 20 April 1936. On 4 August, Orwell gave a talk at the
Adelphi Summer School held at Langham, entitled An Outsider Sees the Distressed Areas; others
who spoke at the school included John Strachey, Max Plowman, Karl Polanyi and Reinhold Niebuhr.
Orwell’s research for The Road to Wigan Pier led to him being placed under surveillance
by the Special Branch from 1936, for 12 years, until one year before the publication of Nineteen
Eighty-Four.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 military uprising (supported by Nazi Germany,
Fascist Italy and local groups such as Falange), Orwell decided to go to Spain to take part
in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. Under the erroneous impression that
he needed papers from some left-wing organisation to cross the frontier, on John Strachey’s
recommendation he applied unsuccessfully to Harry Pollitt, leader of the British Communist
Party. Pollitt was suspicious of Orwell’s political reliability; he asked him whether
he would undertake to join the International Brigade and advised him to get a safe-conduct
from the Spanish Embassy in Paris. Not wishing to commit himself until he had seen the situation
in situ, Orwell instead used his Independent Labour Party contacts to get a letter of introduction
to John McNair in Barcelona.===The Spanish Civil War===Orwell set out for Spain on about 23 December
1936, dining with Henry Miller in Paris on the way. The American writer told Orwell that
going to fight in the Civil War out of some sense of obligation or guilt was “sheer stupidity”
and that the Englishman’s ideas “about combating Fascism, defending democracy, etc., etc.,
were all baloney.” A few days later in Barcelona, Orwell met John McNair of the Independent
Labour Party (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 Confederación
Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (a wing of the
Spanish Communist Party, which was backed by Soviet arms and aid). The ILP was linked
to the POUM 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 1,500 feet (460 m) above sea level, in the depth of winter. There was
very little military action and Orwell was shocked by the lack of munitions, food and
firewood as well as other extreme deprivations. With his Cadet Corps and police training,
Orwell 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 was 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 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 a 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. Wanting
to be sent to the Madrid front, which meant he “must join the International Column”, he
approached a Communist friend attached to the Spanish Medical Aid and explained his
case. “Although he did not think much of the Communists, Orwell was still ready to treat
them as friends and allies. That would soon change.” This was the time of the 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. The subsequent campaign of lies and distortion carried out by the Communist press,
in which the POUM was accused of collaborating with the fascists, had a dramatic effect on
Orwell. Instead of joining the International Brigades as he had intended, he decided to
return to the Aragon Front. Once the May fighting was over, he was approached by a Communist
friend who asked if he still intended transferring to the International Brigades. Orwell expressed
surprise that they should still want him, because according to the Communist press he
was a fascist. “No one who was in Barcelona then, or for months later, will forget the
horrible atmosphere produced by fear, suspicion, hatred, censored newspapers, crammed jails,
enormous food queues and prowling gangs of armed men.”After his return to the front,
he was wounded in the throat by a sniper’s bullet. At 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), Orwell was
considerably taller than the Spanish fighters and had been warned against standing against
the trench parapet. Unable to speak, and with blood pouring from his mouth, Orwell was carried
on a stretcher to Siétamo, loaded on an ambulance and after a bumpy journey via Barbastro arrived
at the hospital at Lérida. He recovered sufficiently to get up and on 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. It had been
such a clean shot that the wound immediately went through the process of cauterisation.
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—painted
by the pro-Soviet Communists as a Trotskyist organisation—was outlawed and under attack.
The Communist line was that the POUM were “objectively” Fascist, hindering the Republican
cause. “A particularly nasty poster appeared, showing a head with a POUM mask being ripped
off to reveal a Swastika-covered face beneath.” Members, including Kopp, were arrested and
others were in hiding. Orwell and his wife were under threat and had to lie 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. In the first week of July 1937 Orwell arrived back at Wallington; on 13 July
1937 a deposition was presented to the Tribunal for Espionage & High Treason, Valencia, charging
the Orwells with “rabid Trotskyism”, and being agents of the POUM. The trial of the leaders
of the POUM and of Orwell (in his absence) took place in Barcelona in October and November
1938. Observing events from French Morocco, Orwell wrote that they were “only a by-product
of the Russian Trotskyist trials and from the start every kind of lie, including flagrant
absurdities, has been circulated in the Communist press.” Orwell’s experiences in the Spanish
Civil War gave rise to Homage to Catalonia (1938).===Rest and recuperation===Orwell returned to England in June 1937, and
stayed at the O’Shaughnessy home at Greenwich. He found his views on the Spanish Civil War
out of favour. Kingsley Martin rejected two of his works and Gollancz was equally cautious.
At the same time, the communist Daily Worker was running an attack on The Road to Wigan
Pier, taking out of context Orwell writing that “the working classes smell”; a letter
to Gollancz from Orwell threatening libel action brought a stop to this. Orwell was
also able to find a more sympathetic publisher for his views in Fredric Warburg of Secker
& Warburg. Orwell returned to Wallington, which he found in disarray after his absence.
He acquired goats, a rooster he called Henry Ford and a poodle puppy he called Marx; and
settled down to animal husbandry and writing Homage to Catalonia.
There were thoughts of going to India to work on the Pioneer, a newspaper in Lucknow, but
by March 1938 Orwell’s health had deteriorated. He was admitted to Preston Hall Sanatorium
at Aylesford, Kent, a British Legion hospital for ex-servicemen to which his brother-in-law
Laurence O’Shaughnessy was attached. He was thought initially to be suffering from tuberculosis
and stayed in the sanatorium 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 Marrakech. 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. Orwell spent time in Wallington and Southwold
working on a Dickens essay and it was in June 1939 that Orwell’s father, Richard Blair,
died.===Second World War and Animal Farm===At the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell’s
wife Eileen started working in the Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information
in central London, staying during the week with her family in Greenwich. Orwell also
submitted his name to the Central Register for war work, but nothing transpired. “They
won’t have me in the army, at any rate at present, because of my lungs”, Orwell told
Geoffrey Gorer. He returned to Wallington, and in late 1939 he wrote material for his
first collection of essays, Inside the Whale. For the next year he was occupied writing
reviews for plays, films and books for The Listener, Time and Tide and New Adelphi. On
29 March 1940 his long association with Tribune began with a review of a sergeant’s account
of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. 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 caused her considerable grief and long-term depression. Throughout
this period Orwell kept a wartime diary.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. His lecture notes for instructing
platoon members include advice on street fighting, field fortifications, and the use of mortars
of various kinds. Sergeant Orwell managed to recruit Fredric Warburg to his unit. During
the Battle of Britain he used to spend weekends with Warburg and his new Zionist friend, Tosco
Fyvel, at Warburg’s house 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. In mid-1940, Warburg, Fyvel
and Orwell planned Searchlight Books. Eleven volumes eventually appeared, of which Orwell’s
The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, published on 19 February 1941,
was the first.Early in 1941 he began to write for the American Partisan Review which linked
Orwell with The New York Intellectuals who were also anti-Stalinist, and contributed
to Gollancz anthology The Betrayal of the Left, written in the light of the Molotov–Ribbentrop
Pact (although Orwell referred to it as the Russo-German Pact and the Hitler-Stalin Pact).
He also applied unsuccessfully for a job at the Air Ministry. 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 a seventh-floor flat at Langford Court, St John’s Wood, while at
Wallington Orwell was “digging for victory” by planting potatoes. One could not have a better example of the
moral and emotional shallowness of our time, than the fact that we are now all more or
less pro Stalin. This disgusting murderer is temporarily on our side, and so the purges,
etc., are suddenly forgotten. 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 to counter propaganda from Nazi Germany designed to undermine Imperial
links. This was Orwell’s first experience of the rigid conformity of life in an office,
and it gave him an opportunity to create cultural programmes with contributions from T. S. Eliot,
Dylan Thomas, E. M. Forster, Ahmed Ali, 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
Wells had taken offence at observations Orwell made about him 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 Orwell to write for him – the
first article appearing in March 1942. In early 1942 Eileen changed jobs to work at
the Ministry of Food and in mid-1942 the Orwells moved to a larger flat, a ground floor and
basement, 10a Mortimer Crescent in Maida Vale/Kilburn – “the kind of lower-middle-class ambience
that Orwell thought was London at its best.” Around the same time Orwell’s mother and sister
Avril, who had found work in a sheet-metal factory behind King’s Cross Station, moved
into a flat close to George and Eileen. 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 regularly
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 turned 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. Just six days before
his last day of service, on 24 November 1943, his adaptation of the fairy tale, Hans Christian
Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes was broadcast. It was a genre in which he was greatly interested
and which appeared on Animal Farm’s title-page. At this time he also resigned from the Home
Guard on medical grounds.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 over 80 book reviews and on 3 December 1943 started his regular personal column,
“As I Please”, usually addressing three or four subjects in each. He was still writing
reviews for other magazines, including Partisan Review, Horizon, and the New York Nation and
becoming a respected pundit among left-wing circles but also a close friend of people
on the right such as 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 (including T. S. Eliot at Faber and Faber) 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’Shaughnessy, then a doctor in
Newcastle upon Tyne. In June a V-1 flying bomb struck Mortimer Crescent and the Orwells
had to find somewhere else to live. Orwell had to scrabble around in the rubble for his
collection of books, which he had finally managed to transfer from Wallington, carting
them away in a wheelbarrow. Another bombshell was Cape’s reversal of his
plan to publish Animal Farm. The decision followed his personal visit to Peter Smollett,
an official at the Ministry of Information. Smollett was later identified as a Soviet
agent.The Orwells spent some time in the North East, near Carlton, County Durham, dealing
with matters in the adoption of a boy whom they named Richard Horatio Blair. By September
1944 they had set up home in Islington, at 27b Canonbury Square. Baby Richard joined
them there, and Eileen gave up her work at the Ministry of Food to look after her family.
Secker & 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 by the Allies. It was while he was there that Eileen went
into hospital for a hysterectomy and died under anaesthetic on 29 March 1945. She had
not 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 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 US, on 26 August 1946.===Jura and Nineteen Eighty-Four===
Animal Farm had particular resonance in the post-war climate and its worldwide success
made Orwell a sought-after figure. For the next four years, Orwell mixed journalistic
work—mainly for Tribune, The Observer and the Manchester Evening News, though he also
contributed to many small-circulation political and literary magazines—with writing his
best-known work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published in 1949. In the year following Eileen’s death he published
around 130 articles and a selection of his Critical Essays, while remaining active in
various political lobbying campaigns. He employed a housekeeper, Susan Watson, to look after
his adopted son at the Islington flat, which visitors now described as “bleak”. In September
he spent a fortnight on the island of Jura in the Inner Hebrides and saw it as a place
to escape from the hassle of London literary life. David Astor was instrumental in arranging
a place for Orwell on Jura. Astor’s family owned Scottish estates in the area and a fellow
Old Etonian Robin Fletcher had a property on the island. In late 1945 and early 1946
Orwell made several hopeless and unwelcome marriage proposals to younger women, including
Celia Kirwan (who later became Arthur Koestler’s sister-in-law), Ann Popham who happened to
live in the same block of flats and Sonia Brownell, one of Connolly’s coterie at the
Horizon office. Orwell suffered a tubercular haemorrhage in February 1946 but disguised
his illness. In 1945 or early 1946, while still living at Canonbury Square, Orwell wrote
an article on “British Cookery”, complete with recipes, commissioned by the British
Council. Given the post-war shortages, both parties agreed not to publish it. His sister
Marjorie died of kidney disease in May and shortly after, on 22 May 1946, Orwell set
off to live on the Isle of Jura. Barnhill was an abandoned farmhouse with outbuildings
near the northern end of the island, situated at the end of a five-mile (8 km), heavily
rutted track from Ardlussa, where the owners lived. Conditions at the farmhouse were primitive
but the natural history and the challenge of improving the place appealed to Orwell.
His sister Avril accompanied him there and young novelist Paul Potts made up the party.
In July Susan Watson arrived with Orwell’s son Richard. Tensions developed and Potts
departed after one of his manuscripts was used to light the fire. Orwell meanwhile set
to work on Nineteen Eighty-Four. Later Susan Watson’s boyfriend David Holbrook arrived.
A fan of Orwell since school days, he found the reality very different, with Orwell hostile
and disagreeable probably because of Holbrook’s membership of the Communist Party. Susan Watson
could no longer stand being with Avril and she and her boyfriend left.
Orwell returned to London in late 1946 and picked up his literary journalism again. Now
a well-known writer, he was swamped with work. Apart from a visit to Jura in the new year
he stayed in London for one of the coldest British winters on record and with such a
national shortage of fuel that he burnt his furniture and his child’s toys. The heavy
smog in the days before the Clean Air Act 1956 did little to help his health about which
he was reticent, keeping clear of medical attention. Meanwhile, he had to cope with
rival claims of publishers Gollancz and Warburg for publishing rights. About this time he
co-edited a collection titled British Pamphleteers with Reginald Reynolds. As a result of the
success of Animal Farm, Orwell was expecting a large bill from the Inland Revenue and he
contacted a firm of accountants of which the senior partner was Jack Harrison. The firm
advised Orwell to establish a company to own his copyright and to receive his royalties
and set up a “service agreement” so that he could draw a salary. Such a company “George
Orwell Productions Ltd” (GOP Ltd) was set up on 12 September 1947 although the service
agreement was not then put into effect. Jack Harrison left the details at this stage to
junior colleagues.Orwell left London for Jura on 10 April 1947. In July he ended the lease
on the Wallington cottage. Back on Jura he worked on Nineteen Eighty-Four and made good
progress. During that time his sister’s family visited, and Orwell led a disastrous boating
expedition, on 19 August, which nearly led to loss of life whilst trying to cross the
notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan and gave him a soaking which was not good for his health.
In December a chest specialist was summoned from Glasgow who pronounced Orwell seriously
ill and a week before Christmas 1947 he was in Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride, then
a small village in the countryside, on the outskirts of Glasgow. Tuberculosis was diagnosed
and the request for permission to import streptomycin to treat Orwell went as far as Aneurin Bevan,
then Minister of Health. David Astor helped with supply and payment and Orwell began his
course of streptomycin on 19 or 20 February 1948. By the end of July 1948 Orwell was able
to return to Jura and by December he had finished the manuscript of Nineteen Eighty-Four. In
January 1949, in a very weak condition, he set off for a sanatorium at Cranham, Gloucestershire,
escorted by Richard Rees. The sanatorium at Cranham consisted of a series
of small wooden chalets or huts in a remote part of the Cotswolds near Stroud. Visitors
were shocked by Orwell’s appearance and concerned by the short-comings and ineffectiveness of
the treatment. Friends were worried about his finances, but by now he was comparatively
well-off. He was writing to many of his friends, including Jacintha Buddicom, who had “rediscovered”
him, and in March 1949, was visited by Celia Kirwan. Kirwan had just started working for
a Foreign Office unit, the Information Research Department, set up by the Labour government
to publish anti-communist propaganda, and Orwell gave her a list of people he considered
to be unsuitable as IRD authors because of their pro-communist leanings. Orwell’s list,
not published until 2003, consisted mainly of writers but also included actors and Labour
MPs. Orwell received more streptomycin treatment and improved slightly. In June 1949 Nineteen
Eighty-Four was published to immediate critical and popular acclaim.===Final months and death===Orwell’s health had continued to decline since
the diagnosis of tuberculosis in December 1947. In mid-1949, he courted Sonia Brownell,
and they announced their engagement in September, shortly before he was removed to University
College Hospital in London. Sonia took charge of Orwell’s affairs and attended him diligently
in the hospital, causing concern to some old friends such as Muggeridge. In September 1949,
Orwell invited his accountant Harrison to visit him in hospital, and Harrison claimed
that Orwell then asked him to become director of GOP Ltd and to manage the company, but
there was no independent witness. Orwell’s wedding took place in the hospital room on
13 October 1949, with David Astor as best man. Orwell was in decline and visited by
an assortment of visitors including Muggeridge, Connolly, Lucian Freud, Stephen Spender, Evelyn
Waugh, Paul Potts, Anthony Powell, and his Eton tutor Anthony Gow. Plans to go to the
Swiss Alps were mooted. Further meetings were held with his accountant, at which Harrison
and Mr and Mrs Blair were confirmed as directors of the company, and at which Harrison claimed
that the “service agreement” was executed, giving copyright to the company. Orwell’s
health was in decline again by Christmas. On the evening of 20 January 1950, Potts visited
Orwell and slipped away on finding him asleep. Jack Harrison visited later and claimed that
Orwell gave him 25% of the company. Early on the morning of 21 January, an artery burst
in Orwell’s lungs, killing him at age 46.Orwell had requested to be buried in accordance with
the Anglican rite in the graveyard of the closest church to wherever he happened to
die. The graveyards in central London had no space, and fearing that he might have to
be cremated against his wishes, his widow appealed to his friends to see whether any
of them knew of a church with space in its graveyard. David Astor lived in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire,
and arranged for Orwell to be interred in the churchyard of All Saints’ there. Orwell’s
gravestone bears the simple epitaph: “Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born June 25th 1903,
died January 21st 1950”; no mention is made on the gravestone of his more famous pen name.
Orwell’s son, Richard Horatio Blair, was brought up by Orwell’s sister Avril. He maintains
a public profile as patron of the Orwell Society. He gives interviews about the few memories
he has of his father. In 1979, Sonia Brownell brought a High Court
action against Harrison when he declared an intention to subdivide his 25 percent share
of the company between his three children. For Sonia, the consequence of this manoeuvre
would be to have made getting overall control of the company three times more difficult.
She was considered to have a strong case, but was becoming increasingly ill and eventually
was persuaded to settle out of court on 2 November 1980. She died on 11 December 1980,
aged 62.==Literary career and legacy==
During most of his career, Orwell was best known for his journalism, in essays, reviews,
columns in newspapers and magazines and in his books of reportage: Down and Out in Paris
and London (describing a period of poverty in these cities), The Road to Wigan Pier (describing
the living conditions of the poor in northern England, and class division generally) and
Homage to Catalonia. According to Irving Howe, Orwell was “the best English essayist since
Hazlitt, perhaps since Dr Johnson.”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 degeneration in the Soviet Union after
the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism; 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 where the state machine exerts complete
control over social life. In 1984, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit
451 were honoured with the Prometheus Award for their contributions to dystopian literature.
In 2011 he received it again for Animal Farm. Coming Up for Air, his last novel before World
War II, is the most “English” of his novels; alarms 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”.===Literary influences===
In an autobiographical piece that Orwell sent to the editors of Twentieth Century Authors
in 1940, he wrote: “The writers I care about most and never grow tired of are: Shakespeare,
Swift, Fielding, Dickens, Charles Reade, Flaubert and, among modern writers, James Joyce, T.
S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. But I believe the modern writer who has influenced me most
is W. Somerset Maugham, whom I admire immensely for his power of telling a story straightforwardly
and without frills.” 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 to investigate the lives of the poor in London.
In his essay “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels” (1946)
Orwell 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.”
Orwell was an admirer of Arthur Koestler and became a close friend during the three years
that Koestler and his wife Mamain spent at the cottage of Bwlch Ocyn, a secluded farmhouse
that belonged to Clough Williams-Ellis, in the Vale of Ffestiniog. Orwell reviewed Koestler’s.
Darkness at Noon for the New Statesman in 1941, saying: Brilliant as this book is as a novel, and
a piece of brilliant literature, it is probably most valuable as an interpretation of the
Moscow “confessions” by someone with an inner knowledge of totalitarian methods. What was
frightening about these trials was not the fact that they happened – for obviously
such things are necessary in a totalitarian society – but the eagerness of Western intellectuals
to justify them. Other writers admired by Orwell included:
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 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. He had a similarly ambivalent attitude to G. K. Chesterton, whom he regarded as a
writer of considerable talent who had chosen to devote himself to “Roman Catholic propaganda”,
and to Evelyn Waugh, who was, he wrote, “ab[ou]t as good a novelist as one can be (i.e. as
novelists go today) while holding untenable opinions”.===Orwell as literary critic===
Throughout his life Orwell continually supported himself as a book reviewer, writing works
so long and sophisticated they have had an influence on literary criticism. He wrote
in the conclusion to his 1940 essay on Charles Dickens,
When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing
a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer.
I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray,
Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do
not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the
case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens’s photographs, though
it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high
colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity.
It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open
and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry – in other words, of
a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the
smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls. George Woodcock suggested that the last two
sentences also describe Orwell.Orwell wrote a critique of George Bernard Shaw’s play Arms
and the Man. He considered this Shaw’s best play and the most likely to remain socially
relevant, because of its theme that war is not, generally speaking, a glorious romantic
adventure. His 1945 essay In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse contains an amusing assessment of
Wodehouse’s writing and also argues that his broadcasts from Germany (during the war) did
not really make him a traitor. He accused The Ministry of Information of exaggerating
Wodehouse’s actions for propaganda purposes.===Food writing===
In 1946, the British Council commissioned Orwell to write an essay on British food as
part of a drive to promote British culture abroad. In the essay titled British Cookery,
Orwell described the British diet as “a simple, rather heavy, perhaps slightly barbarous diet”
and where “hot drinks are acceptable at most hours of the day”. He discusses the ritual
of breakfast in the UK, “this is not a snack but a serious meal. The hour at which people
have their breakfast is of course governed by the time at which they go to work.” He
wrote that high tea in the United Kingdom consisted of a variety of savoury and sweet
dishes, but “no tea would be considered a good one if it did not include at least one
kind of cake.” Orwell also added a recipe for marmalade, a popular British spread on
bread. However, the British Council declined to publish the essay on the grounds that it
was too problematic to write about food at the time of strict rationing in the UK. In
2019, the essay was discovered in the British Council’s archives along with the rejection
letter. The British Council issued an official apology to Orwell over the rejection of the
commissioned essay.===Reception and evaluations of Orwell’s
works===Arthur Koestler said that Orwell’s “uncompromising
intellectual honesty made him appear almost inhuman at times.” Ben Wattenberg stated:
“Orwell’s writing pierced intellectual hypocrisy wherever he found it.” According to historian
Piers Brendon, “Orwell was the saint of common decency who would in earlier days, said his
BBC boss Rushbrook Williams, ‘have been either canonised – or burnt at the stake'”. Raymond
Williams in Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review describes Orwell as a
“successful impersonation of a plain man who bumps into experience in an unmediated way
and tells the truth about it.” Christopher Norris declared that Orwell’s “homespun empiricist
outlook – his assumption that the truth was just there to be told in a straightforward
common-sense way – now seems not merely naïve but culpably self-deluding”. The American
scholar Scott Lucas has described Orwell as an enemy of the Left. John Newsinger has argued
that Lucas could only do this by portraying “all of Orwell’s attacks on Stalinism [–] as
if they were attacks on socialism, despite Orwell’s continued insistence that they were
not.” Orwell’s work has taken a prominent place
in the school literature curriculum in England, with Animal Farm a regular examination topic
at the end of secondary education (GCSE), and Nineteen Eighty-Four a topic for subsequent
examinations below university level (A Levels). Alan Brown noted that this brings to the forefront
questions about the political content of teaching practices. Study aids, in particular with
potted biographies, might be seen to help propagate the Orwell myth so that as an embodiment
of human values he is presented as a “trustworthy guide”, while examination questions sometimes
suggest the “right ways of answering” in line with the myth.Historian John Rodden stated:
“John Podhoretz did claim that if Orwell were alive today, he’d be standing with the neo-conservatives
and against the Left. And the question arises, to what extent can you even begin to predict
the political positions of somebody who’s been dead three decades and more by that time?”In
Orwell’s Victory, Christopher Hitchens argues: “In answer to the accusation of inconsistency
Orwell as a writer was forever taking his own temperature. In other words, here was
someone who never stopped testing and adjusting his intelligence”.John Rodden points out the
“undeniable conservative features in the Orwell physiognomy” and remarks on how “to some extent
Orwell facilitated the kinds of uses and abuses by the Right that his name has been put to.
In other ways there has been the politics of selective quotation.” Rodden refers to
the essay “Why I Write”, in which Orwell refers to the Spanish Civil War as being his “watershed
political experience”, saying: “The Spanish War and other events in 1936–37, turned
the scale. Thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written
since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and for Democratic
Socialism as I understand it.” (emphasis in original) Rodden goes on to explain how, during
the McCarthy era, the introduction to the Signet edition of Animal Farm, which sold
more than 20 million copies, makes use of “the politics of ellipsis”: If the book itself, Animal Farm, had left
any doubt of the matter, Orwell dispelled it in his essay Why I Write: ‘Every line of
serious work that I’ve written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against
Totalitarianism … dot, dot, dot, dot.’ “For Democratic Socialism” is vaporised, just like
Winston Smith did it at the Ministry of Truth, and that’s very much what happened at the
beginning of the McCarthy era and just continued, Orwell being selectively quoted.
Fyvel wrote about Orwell: “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.”In October 2015 Finlay Publisher,
for the Orwell Society, published George Orwell ‘The Complete Poetry’, compiled and presented
by Dione Venables.===Influence on language and writing===
In his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), Orwell wrote about the importance
of precise and clear language, arguing that vague writing can be used as a powerful tool
of political manipulation because it shapes the way we think. In that essay, Orwell provides
six rules for writers: Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure
of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday
English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything
outright barbarous. Andrew N. Rubin argues that “Orwell claimed
that we should be attentive to how the use of language has limited our capacity for critical
thought just as we should be equally concerned with the ways in which dominant modes of thinking
have reshaped the very language that we use.”The adjective “Orwellian” connotes an attitude
and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation
of the past. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell described a totalitarian government that controlled
thought by controlling language, making certain ideas literally unthinkable. Several words
and phrases from Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered popular language. “Newspeak” is a
simplified and obfuscatory language designed to make independent thought impossible. “Doublethink”
means holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. The “Thought Police” are those who suppress
all dissenting opinion. “Prolefeed” is homogenised, manufactured superficial literature, film
and music used to control and indoctrinate the populace through docility. “Big Brother”
is a supreme dictator who watches everyone. Orwell may have been the first to use the
term “cold war” to refer to the state of tension between powers in the Western Bloc and the
Eastern Bloc that followed World War II in his essay, “You and the Atom Bomb”, published
in Tribune on 19 October 1945. He wrote: We may be heading not for general breakdown
but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham’s
theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications
– this is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that
would probably prevail in a State which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state
of ‘cold war’ with its neighbours.===Modern culture===
In 2014, a play written by playwright Joe Sutton titled Orwell in America was first
performed by the Northern Stage theatre company in White River Junction, Vermont. It is a
fictitious account of Orwell doing a book tour in the United States (something he never
did in his lifetime). It moved to Off-Broadway in 2016.Orwell’s birthplace, a bungalow in
Motihari, Bihar, India, was opened as a museum in May 2015.===Statue===A statue of George Orwell, sculpted by the
British sculptor Martin Jennings, was unveiled on 7 November 2017 outside Broadcasting House,
the headquarters of the BBC. The wall behind the statue is inscribed with the following
phrase: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they
do not want to hear”. These are words from his proposed preface to Animal Farm and a
rallying cry for the idea of free speech in an open society.==Personal life=====Childhood===
Jacintha Buddicom’s account, Eric & Us, provides an insight into Blair’s childhood. She quoted
his sister Avril that “he was essentially an aloof, undemonstrative person” and said
herself of his friendship with the Buddicoms: “I do not think he needed any other friends
beyond the schoolfriend he occasionally and appreciatively referred to as ‘CC'”. She could
not recall his having schoolfriends to stay and exchange visits as her brother Prosper
often did in holidays. Cyril Connolly provides an account of Blair as a child in Enemies
of Promise. Years later, Blair mordantly recalled his prep school in the essay “Such, Such Were
the Joys”, claiming among other things that he “was made to study like a dog” to earn
a scholarship, which he alleged was solely to enhance the school’s prestige with parents.
Jacintha Buddicom repudiated Orwell’s schoolboy misery described in the essay, stating that
“he was a specially happy child”. She noted that he did not like his name because it reminded
him of a book he greatly disliked—Eric, or, Little by Little, a Victorian boys’ school
story. 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, John Vaughan Wilkes, his former headmaster’s
son recalled that “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 orangutan to frighten a woman
passenger out of the compartment. At Eton, he played tricks on John Crace, his Master
in College, 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 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 of 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.===Relationships and marriage===
Buddicom and Blair lost touch shortly after he went to Burma and she became unsympathetic
towards him. She wrote that it was because of the letters he wrote complaining about
his life, but an addendum to Eric & Us by Venables reveals that he may have lost her
sympathy through an incident which was, at best, a clumsy attempt at seduction.Mabel
Fierz, who later became Blair’s 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 rendezvous or planning future ones in London and Burnham Beeches.When Orwell
was in the sanatorium 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 O’Shaughnessy, but their later correspondence hints at a
complicity. Eileen at the time was more concerned about Orwell’s closeness to Brenda Salkield.
Orwell had 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.In June 1944, Orwell and Eileen adopted a three-week-old boy they named Richard
Horatio. According to Richard, Orwell was a wonderful father who gave him devoted, if
rather rugged, attention and a great degree of freedom. After Orwell’s death Richard went
to live with Orwell’s sister and her husband.Blair was very lonely after Eileen’s death in 1945,
and desperate for a wife, both as companion for himself and as mother for Richard. He
proposed marriage to four women, including Celia Kirwan, and eventually Sonia Brownell
accepted. Orwell had met her when she was assistant to Cyril Connolly, at Horizon literary
magazine. They were married on 13 October 1949, only three months before Orwell’s death.
Some maintain that Sonia was the model for Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four.===Social interactions===
Orwell was noted for very close and enduring friendships with a few friends, but these
were generally people with a similar background or with a similar level of literary ability.
Ungregarious, he was out of place in a crowd and his discomfort was exacerbated when he
was outside his own class. Though representing himself as a spokesman for the common man,
he often appeared out of place with real working people. His brother-in-law Humphrey Dakin,
a “Hail fellow, well met” type, who took him to a local pub in Leeds, said that he was
told by the landlord: “Don’t bring that bugger in here again.” Adrian Fierz commented “He
wasn’t interested in racing or greyhounds or pub crawling or shove ha’penny. He just
did not have much in common with people who did not share his intellectual interests.”
Awkwardness attended many of his encounters with working-class representatives, as with
Pollitt and McNair, but his courtesy and good manners were often commented on. Jack Common
observed on meeting him for the first time, “Right away manners, and more than manners
– breeding – showed through.”In his tramping days, he did domestic work for a time. His
extreme politeness was recalled by a member of the family he worked for; she declared
that the family referred to him as “Laurel” after the film comedian. With his gangling
figure and awkwardness, Orwell’s friends often saw him as a figure of fun. Geoffrey Gorer
commented “He was awfully likely to knock things off tables, trip over things. I mean,
he was a gangling, physically badly co-ordinated young man. I think his feeling [was] that
even the inanimate world was against him.” When he shared a flat with Heppenstall and
Sayer, he was treated in a patronising manner by the younger men. At the BBC in the 1940s,
“everybody would pull his leg” and Spender described him as having real entertainment
value “like, as I say, watching a Charlie Chaplin movie.” A friend of Eileen’s reminisced
about her tolerance and humour, often at Orwell’s expense.One biography of Orwell accused him
of having had an authoritarian streak. In Burma, he struck out at a Burmese boy who,
while “fooling around” with his friends, had “accidentally bumped into him” at a station,
resulting in Orwell falling “heavily” down some stairs. One of his former pupils recalled
being beaten so hard he could not sit down for a week. When sharing a flat with Orwell,
Heppenstall came home late one night in an advanced stage of loud inebriation. The upshot
was that Heppenstall ended up with a bloody nose and was locked in a room. When he complained,
Orwell hit him across the legs with a shooting stick and Heppenstall then had to defend himself
with a chair. Years later, after Orwell’s death, Heppenstall wrote a dramatic account
of the incident called “The Shooting Stick” and Mabel Fierz confirmed that Heppenstall
came to her in a sorry state the following day.Orwell got on well with young people.
The pupil he beat considered him the best of teachers and the young recruits in Barcelona
tried to drink him under the table without success. His nephew recalled Uncle Eric laughing
louder than anyone in the cinema at a Charlie Chaplin film.In the wake of his most famous
works, he attracted many uncritical hangers-on, but many others who sought him found him aloof
and even dull. With his soft voice, he was sometimes shouted down or excluded from discussions.
At this time, he was severely ill; it was wartime or the austerity period after it;
during the war his wife suffered from depression; and after her death he was lonely and unhappy.
In addition to that, he always lived frugally and seemed unable to care for himself properly.
As a result of all this, people found his circumstances bleak. Some, like Michael Ayrton,
called him “Gloomy George,” but others developed the idea that he was an “English secular saint.”Although
Orwell was frequently heard on the BBC for panel discussion and one-man broadcasts, no
recorded copy of his voice is known to exist.===Lifestyle===Orwell was a heavy smoker, who rolled his
own cigarettes from strong shag tobacco, despite his bronchial condition. His penchant for
the rugged life often took him to cold and damp situations, both in the long term, as
in Catalonia and Jura, and short term, for example, motorcycling in the rain and suffering
a shipwreck. Described by The Economist as “perhaps the 20th century’s best chronicler
of English culture”, Orwell considered fish and chips, association football, the pub,
strong tea, cut price chocolate, the movies, and radio among the chief comforts for the
working class.Orwell enjoyed strong tea – he had Fortnum & Mason’s tea brought to him in
Catalonia. His 1946 essay, “A Nice Cup of Tea”, appeared in the London Evening Standard
article on how to make tea, with Orwell writing, “tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation
in this country and causes violent disputes over how it should be made”, with the main
issue being whether to put tea in the cup first and add the milk afterward, or the other
way round, on which he states, “in every family in Britain there are probably two schools
of thought on the subject”. He appreciated English beer, taken regularly and moderately,
despised drinkers of lager and wrote about an imagined, ideal British pub in his 1946
English Standard article, “The Moon Under Water”. Not as particular about food, he enjoyed
the wartime “Victory Pie” and extolled canteen food at the BBC. He preferred traditional
English dishes, such as roast beef and kippers. His 1945 essay, “In Defence of English Cooking”,
included Yorkshire pudding, crumpets, various British cheeses and Oxford marmalade. Reports
of his Islington days refer to the cosy afternoon tea table.His dress sense was unpredictable
and usually casual. In Southwold, he had the best cloth from the local tailor but was equally
happy in his tramping outfit. His attire in the Spanish Civil War, along with his size-12
boots, was a source of amusement. David Astor described him as looking like a prep school
master, while according to the Special Branch dossier, Orwell’s tendency to dress “in Bohemian
fashion” revealed that the author was “a Communist”.Orwell’s confusing approach to matters of social decorum—on
the one hand expecting a working-class guest to dress for dinner, and on the other, slurping
tea out of a saucer at the BBC canteen—helped stoke his reputation as an English eccentric.==Views=====Religion===Orwell was an atheist who identified himself
with the humanist outlook on life. Despite this, and despite his criticisms of both religious
doctrine and of religious organisations, he nevertheless regularly participated in the
social and civic life of the church, including by attending Church of England Holy Communion.
Acknowledging this contradiction, he once said: “It seems rather mean to go to HC [Holy
Communion] when one doesn’t believe, but I have passed myself off for pious & there is
nothing for it but to keep up with the deception.” Orwell was also extremely well-read in Biblical
literature and could quote lengthy passages from the Book of Common Prayer from memory.
His extensive knowledge of the Bible came coupled with unsparing criticism of its philosophy,
and as an adult he could not bring himself to believe in its tenets. He said in part
V of his essay, “Such, Such Were the Joys”, that “Till about the age of fourteen I believed
in God, and believed that the accounts given of him were true. But I was well aware that
I did not love him.” Despite this, he had two Anglican marriages and left instructions
for an Anglican funeral. Orwell directly contrasted Christianity with secular humanism in his
essay “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool”, finding the latter philosophy more palatable and less
“self-interested.” Literary critic James Wood wrote that in the struggle, as he saw it,
between Christianity and humanism, “Orwell was on the humanist side, of course—basically
an unmetaphysical, English version of Camus’s philosophy of perpetual godless struggle.”Orwell’s
writing was often explicitly critical of religion, and Christianity in particular. He found the
church to be a “selfish […] church of the landed gentry” with its establishment “out
of touch” with the majority of its communicants and altogether a pernicious influence on public
life. In their 1972 study, The Unknown Orwell, the writers Peter Stansky and William Abrahams
noted that at Eton Blair displayed a “sceptical attitude” to Christian belief. Crick observed
that Orwell displayed “a pronounced anti-Catholicism”. Evelyn Waugh, writing in 1946, acknowledged
Orwell’s high moral sense and respect for justice but believed “he seems never to have
been touched at any point by a conception of religious thought and life.” His contradictory
and sometimes ambiguous views about the social benefits of religious affiliation mirrored
the dichotomies between his public and private lives: Stephen Ingle wrote that it was as
if the writer George Orwell “vaunted” his unbelief while Eric Blair the individual retained
“a deeply ingrained religiosity”.===Politics===
Orwell liked to provoke arguments by challenging the status quo, but he was also a traditionalist
with a love of old English values. He criticised and satirised, from the inside, the various
social milieux in which he found himself—provincial town life in A Clergyman’s Daughter; middle-class
pretension in Keep the Aspidistra Flying; preparatory schools in “Such, Such Were the
Joys”; colonialism in Burmese Days, and some socialist groups in The Road to Wigan Pier.
In his Adelphi days, he described himself as a “Tory-anarchist.”In 1928, Orwell began
his career as a professional writer in Paris at a journal owned by the French Communist
Henri Barbusse. His first article, “La Censure en Angleterre” (“Censorship in England”),
was an attempt to account for the “extraordinary and illogical” moral censorship of plays and
novels then practised in Britain. His own explanation was that the rise of the “puritan
middle class,” who had stricter morals than the aristocracy, tightened the rules of censorship
in the 19th century. Orwell’s first published article in his home country, “A Farthing Newspaper”,
was a critique of the new French daily the Ami de Peuple. This paper was sold much more
cheaply than most others, and was intended for ordinary people to read. Orwell pointed
out that its proprietor François Coty also owned the right-wing dailies Le Figaro and
Le Gaulois, which the Ami de Peuple was supposedly competing against. Orwell suggested that cheap
newspapers were no more than a vehicle for advertising and anti-leftist propaganda, and
predicted the world might soon see free newspapers which would drive legitimate dailies out of
business.Writing for Le Progrès Civique, Orwell described the British colonial government
in Burma and India: The government of all the Indian provinces
under the control of the British Empire is of necessity despotic, because only the threat
of force can subdue a population of several million subjects. But this despotism is latent.
It hides behind a mask of democracy…Care is taken to avoid technical and industrial
training. This rule, observed throughout India, aims to stop India from becoming an industrial
country capable of competing with England…Foreign competition is prevented by an insuperable
barrier of prohibitive customs tariffs. And so the English factory-owners, with nothing
to fear, control the markets absolutely and reap exorbitant profits. The Spanish Civil War played the most important
part in defining Orwell’s socialism. He wrote to Cyril Connolly from Barcelona on 8 June
1937: “I have seen wonderful things and at last really believe in Socialism, which I
never did before.” Having witnessed the success of the anarcho-syndicalist communities, for
example in Anarchist Catalonia, and the subsequent brutal suppression of the anarcho-syndicalists,
anti-Stalin communist parties and revolutionaries by the Soviet Union-backed Communists, Orwell
returned from Catalonia a staunch anti-Stalinist and joined the British Independent Labour
Party, his card being issued on 13 June 1938. 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. In Part 2 of The Road to Wigan Pier,
published by the Left Book Club, Orwell stated that “a real Socialist is one who wishes – not
merely conceives it as desirable, but actively wishes – to see tyranny overthrown.” Orwell
stated in “Why I Write” (1946): “Every line of serious work that I have written since
1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic
socialism, as I understand it.” Orwell was a proponent of a federal socialist Europe,
a position outlined in his 1947 essay “Toward European Unity,” which first appeared in Partisan
Review. According to biographer John Newsinger: The other crucial dimension to Orwell’s socialism
was his recognition that the Soviet Union was not socialist. Unlike many on the left,
instead of abandoning socialism once he discovered the full horror of Stalinist rule in the Soviet
Union, Orwell abandoned the Soviet Union and instead remained a socialist – indeed he
became more committed to the socialist cause than ever.
In his 1938 essay “Why I joined the Independent Labour Party,” published in the ILP-affiliated
New Leader, Orwell wrote: For some years past I have managed to make
the capitalist class pay me several pounds a week for writing books against capitalism.
But I do not delude myself that this state of affairs is going to last forever … the
only régime which, in the long run, will dare to permit freedom of speech is a Socialist
régime. If Fascism triumphs I am finished as a writer – that is to say, finished in
my only effective capacity. That of itself would be a sufficient reason for joining a
Socialist party. Towards the end of the essay, he wrote: “I
do not mean I have lost all faith in the Labour Party. My most earnest hope is that the Labour
Party will win a clear majority in the next General Election.”Orwell was opposed to rearmament
against Nazi Germany and at the time of the Munich Agreement he signed a manifesto entitled
“If War Comes We Shall Resist” – but he changed his view after the Molotov–Ribbentrop
Pact and the outbreak of the war. He left the ILP because of its opposition to the war
and adopted a political position of “revolutionary patriotism”. In December 1940 he wrote in
Tribune (the Labour left’s weekly): “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.” During the war,
Orwell was highly critical of the popular idea that an Anglo-Soviet alliance would be
the basis of a post-war world of peace and prosperity. In 1942, commenting on journalist
E. H. Carr’s pro-Soviet views, Orwell stated that “all the appeasers, e.g. Professor E.H.
Carr, have switched their allegiance from Hitler to Stalin.”On anarchism, Orwell wrote
in The Road to Wigan Pier: “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.” He continued and argued that
“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.” In his reply (dated 15 November 1943) to an
invitation from the Duchess of Atholl to speak for the British League for European Freedom,
he stated that he did not agree with their objectives. He admitted that what they said
was “more truthful than the lying propaganda found in most of the press”, but added that
he could not “associate himself with an essentially Conservative body” that claimed to “defend
democracy in Europe” but had “nothing to say about British imperialism.” His closing paragraph
stated: “I belong to the Left and must work inside it, much as I hate Russian totalitarianism
and its poisonous influence in this country.”Orwell 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. On 1 September 1944, about the Warsaw uprising, Orwell expressed
in Tribune his hostility against the influence of the alliance with the USSR over the allies:
“Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Do not imagine
that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the sovietic
regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to honesty and reason. Once a whore,
always a whore.” According to Newsinger, although Orwell “was always critical of the 1945–51
Labour government’s moderation, his support for it began to pull him to the right politically.
This did not lead him to embrace conservatism, imperialism or reaction, but to defend, albeit
critically, Labour reformism.” Between 1945 and 1947, with A. J. Ayer and Bertrand Russell,
he contributed a series of articles and essays to Polemic, a short-lived British “Magazine
of Philosophy, Psychology, and Aesthetics” edited by the ex-Communist Humphrey Slater.Writing
in early 1945 a long essay titled “Antisemitism in Britain,” for the Contemporary Jewish Record,
Orwell stated that antisemitism was on the increase in Britain and that it was “irrational
and will not yield to arguments.” He argued that it would be useful to discover why anti-Semites
could “swallow such absurdities on one particular subject while remaining sane on others.” He
wrote: “For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence
of Dachau and Buchenwald. […] Many English people have heard almost nothing about the
extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own anti-Semitism has
caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness.” In Nineteen Eighty-Four, written
shortly after the war, Orwell portrayed the Party as enlisting anti-Semitic passions against
their enemy, Goldstein. Orwell publicly defended P. G. Wodehouse against
charges of being a Nazi sympathiser—occasioned by his agreement to do some broadcasts over
the German radio in 1941—a defence based on Wodehouse’s lack of interest in and ignorance
of politics.Special Branch, the intelligence division of the Metropolitan Police, maintained
a file on Orwell for more than 20 years of his life. The dossier, published by The National
Archives, states that, according to one investigator, Orwell had “advanced Communist views and several
of his Indian friends say that they have often seen him at Communist meetings.” MI5, the
intelligence department of the Home Office, noted: “It is evident from his recent writings
– ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ – and his contribution to Gollancz’s symposium The Betrayal
of the Left that he does not hold with the Communist Party nor they with him.”===
Sexuality===Sexual politics plays an important role in
Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, people’s intimate relationships are strictly governed
by the party’s Junior Anti-Sex League, by opposing sexual relations and instead encouraging
artificial insemination. Personally Orwell disliked what he thought as misguided middle-class
revolutionary emancipatory views, expressing disdain for ‘every fruit-juice drinker,
nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniacs.Orwell was also openly against homosexuality, at
a time when such prejudice was common. Speaking at the 2003 George Orwell Centenary Conference,
Daphne Patai said: “Of course he was homophobic. That has nothing to do with his relations
with his homosexual friends. Certainly, he had a negative attitude and a certain kind
of anxiety, a denigrating attitude towards homosexuality. That is definitely the case.
I think his writing reflects that quite fully.”Orwell used the homophobic epithets “nancy” and “pansy”,
notably in his expressions of contempt for what he called the “pansy Left”, and “nancy
poets”, i.e. left-wing homosexual or bisexual writers and intellectuals such as Stephen
Spender and W. H. Auden. The protagonist of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Gordon Comstock,
conducts an internal critique of his customers when working in a bookshop, and there is an
extended passage of several pages in which he concentrates on a homosexual male customer,
and sneers at him for his “nancy” characteristics, including a lisp, which he identifies in detail,
with some disgust. Stephen Spender “thought Orwell’s occasional homophobic outbursts were
part of his rebellion against the public school”.==Biographies of Orwell==
Orwell’s will requested that no biography of him be written, and his widow, Sonia Brownell,
repelled every attempt by those who tried to persuade her to let them write about him.
Various recollections and interpretations were published in the 1950s and ’60s, but
Sonia saw the 1968 Collected Works as the record of his life. She did appoint Malcolm
Muggeridge as official biographer, but later biographers have seen this as deliberate spoiling
as Muggeridge eventually gave up the work. In 1972, two American authors, Peter Stansky
and William Abrahams, produced The Unknown Orwell, an unauthorised account of his early
years that lacked any support or contribution from Sonia Brownell.
Sonia Brownell then commissioned Bernard Crick, a professor of politics at the University
of London, to complete a biography and asked Orwell’s friends to co-operate. Crick collated
a considerable amount of material in his work, which was published in 1980, but his questioning
of the factual accuracy of Orwell’s first-person writings led to conflict with Brownell, and
she tried to suppress the book. Crick concentrated on the facts of Orwell’s life rather than
his character, and presented primarily a political perspective on Orwell’s life and work.After
Sonia Brownell’s death, other works on Orwell were published in the 1980s, with 1984 being
a particularly fruitful year. These included collections of reminiscences by Coppard and
Crick and Stephen Wadhams.In 1991, Michael Shelden, an American professor of literature,
published a biography. More concerned with the literary nature of Orwell’s work, he sought
explanations for Orwell’s character and treated his first-person writings as autobiographical.
Shelden introduced new information that sought to build on Crick’s work. Shelden speculated
that Orwell possessed an obsessive belief in his failure and inadequacy.Peter Davison’s
publication of the Complete Works of George Orwell, completed in 2000, made most of the
Orwell Archive accessible to the public. Jeffrey Meyers, a prolific American biographer, was
first to take advantage of this and published a book in 2001 that investigated the darker
side of Orwell and questioned his saintly image. Why Orwell Matters (released in the
United Kingdom as Orwell’s Victory) was published by Christopher Hitchens in 2002.In 2003, the
centenary of Orwell’s birth resulted in biographies by Gordon Bowker and D. J. Taylor, both academics
and writers in the United Kingdom. Taylor notes the stage management which surrounds
much of Orwell’s behaviour and Bowker highlights the essential sense of decency which he considers
to have been Orwell’s main motivation.==Ancestry====Bibliography=====Novels===
1934 – Burmese Days 1935 – A Clergyman’s Daughter
1936 – Keep the Aspidistra Flying 1939 – Coming Up for Air
1945 – Animal Farm 1949 – Nineteen Eighty-Four===Nonfiction===
1933 – Down and Out in Paris and London 1937 – The Road to Wigan Pier
1938 – Homage to Catalonia==Notes====See also==
George Orwell portal

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