|Full Name||Eric Arthur Blair|
|Pen Name||George Orwell|
|Born||June 25, 1903, Motihari, Bengal, British India|
|Died||January 21, 1950 (aged 46), London, England|
|Notable Works||Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London|
|Spouse(s)||Eileen O‘Shaughnessy (m. 1936–1945), Sonia Brownell (m. 1949–1950)|
|Influences||Aldous Huxley, Jack London, H.G. Wells, James Joyce, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Dickens|
Early Life and Upbringing
George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, British India to a middle-class English family. His father, Richard W. Blair, worked for the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. His mother, Ida Mabel Blair, moved the family back to England when Orwell was still a toddler.
Orwell had an unhappy childhood as he did not get along with his authoritarian father. At the age of 8, he was sent to a boarding school called St Cyprian‘s where students were treated harshly. Orwell described his time there as "days of horror" which fueled his lifelong distrust of authoritative institutions. However, he shone academically and earned scholarships to continue his education.
Eton and Burma: Developing a Social Conscience
At the elite Eton College, Orwell trained to join the Indian Imperial Police against his family‘s wishes. Aldous Huxley was one of his teachers at Eton and influenced Orwell‘s later literary style. After graduating Eton, Orwell served in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma from 1922 to 1927.
Witnessing the effects of British imperialism shaped Orwell‘s political conscience and made him skeptical of authority. "I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing," Orwell later wrote. His experiences from this period inspired his novel Burmese Days.
Embracing Poverty to Become a Writer
After resigning from his post in Burma in 1927, Orwell returned to England. He chose to immerse himself in the life of the working class by becoming a vagrant. He roamed the slums of East London and went hop picking in Kent to experience poverty first-hand. This period inspired his famous memoir Down and Out in Paris and London.
In 1933, Orwell took the bold step of quitting stable work to pursue his passion for writing full-time. He published his novel Burmese Days in 1934, followed by A Clergyman‘s Daughter in 1935. Of his early novels, he said “I was consciously writing propaganda, but I knew it was a sort of revenge." Orwell started using his pen name at this time to prevent embarrassing his family.
Fighting Fascism in the Spanish Civil War
In 1936, Orwell travelled to Spain to join the Republican militia in the Spanish Civil War aiming "to write truthful propaganda for the Reds and counter Fascist lies." But he became disillusioned by the revolution‘s suppression by Soviet forces. He was forced to flee for his life after being shot in the neck.
Orwell described his experiences in his memoir Homage to Catalonia. "There was much in it I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for,” he wrote about revolutionary Barcelona.
The Success of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four
During World War II, Orwell worked as a propagandist for the BBC. He started working on Animal Farm in 1943, which satirized the Soviet Union under Stalin‘s rule using talking animals on a farm. It was published in 1945 and brought Orwell widespread acclaim.
Orwell wrote his most famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four between 1946-1948 as his health declined from tuberculosis. It centered around a dystopian future where the totalitarian government controlled citizens‘ thoughts and heavily censored information. Orwell popularized terms like Big Brother, Thought Police, Newspeak, doublethink, and Room 101 in this novel.
His Enduring Legacy as a Writer and Public Intellectual
Orwell is regarded as one of the most important English writers and thinkers of the 20th century. His unique prose style influenced generations of writers. Orwell broke rules and eliminated extravagance in language, favoring simple declarative sentences. As he wrote in his essay Politics and the English Language, “Never use a long word where a short one will do."
Orwell was one of the first writers to criticize both fascism and totalitarian communism. His books discussed evergreen themes about abuse of power, objective truth, dangers of totalitarianism, and the importance of plain language. He left behind an enduring legacy of speaking truth to power and defending democratic socialism and freedom of thought. The ideas and warnings in Orwell‘s novels remain hugely relevant today, over 70 years after his death at just 46.