George Orwell’s name has lived on long after his death, partly due to his incredible works of literature and the way they have affected our views of government and its power. Through pieces such as "Animal Farm" and "1984," Orwell has remained a prominent figure in the public consciousness. Despite the number of people that can recognize the books, far fewer can identify the person behind the words. Orwell disliked publicity, writing to a friend later in his life that he yearned to escape from the public’s attention after Animal Farm’s success. So who was George Orwell really?
Born to Richard and Ida Blair, his birth name was Eric Arthur Blair. His father worked in the Indian Civil Service and never formed a close bond with his only son. When Eric was about one year old, his mother moved to Oxfordshire with Eric and his older sister Marjorie, leaving his father behind in civil service in India. He was not a frequent visitor and retired to join the family in 1912. Eric's younger sister Avril was born in 1908.
First enrolled in a convent school and then St Cyprians School in Eastbourne, East Sussex, Orwell's childhood schooling was bleak. His essay "Such, Such Were The Joys" was a commentary on these dull years. Publishing two poems during his time at St Cyprian, he won scholarships to Wellington and Eton, two English Boarding schools. He accepted a place at Wellington while waiting for an opening at Eton. He later told a childhood friend that his time at Wellington was awful, but that he enjoyed Eton. Despite his involvement in many literary activities at the school, his grades were too poor to gain entrance into a university, so Orwell and his family decided that he would join the Imperial Police in India.
Orwell was content in his place for a time but was somewhat of an outsider with the other officers. He found police life dull and was always looking for small ways to escape the monotony of a job he increasingly disliked. He also began to feel guilty because of his role in continuing a global superpower's oppression. His position was later recounted in pieces like "Burmese Days," "Shooting An Elephant," and "A Hanging." He retired after a little more than five years of civil service in 1927.
After returning to England, Orwell decided to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. To gain a better perspective on the world he then lived in, he ventured into East London, adopted a different name and worked humble jobs. His first book, "Down And Out In Paris and London," explored these experiences in further detail. Between Paris and London, Orwell continued his explorations into poverty first-hand for half a decade.
In 1928, Orwell moved to Paris, living in a working-class area and finding burgeoning success as a journalist. However, after a bout of illness and a subsequent theft in 1929, he resumed the menial work he had done previously, both to gather material as well as regain his balance financially. Still, he did not remain in Paris for long, and eventually returned to England in December of 1929.
After his return to England, Orwell spent time tutoring and writing before taking an official teaching position at The Hawthorns High School in West London. He later took another position at Frays College in Middlesex. After a dangerous bout of pneumonia in 1934, Orwell stopped teaching and moved to London later that year. Between his job at a bookstore in London and his personal investigations into social conditions in England, Orwell continued his literary career for several years. He was married to Eileen O’Shaughnessy in 1936, while tensions in Spain were boiling over. Orwell paid close attention to these tensions and left to take part in the Spanish Civil War later that year.
Orwell was determined to play his part in the fight against fascism, and his involvement in the Spanish Civil War greatly affected his political views. While he began the war with nonchalant views onwards communists, the distortion of facts and lies from the communist press made a lasting impact on Orwell. He desired to fight personally on the Madrid front but was not there long before being shot in the throat. He was later declared unfit for service and forced to retreat into hiding with his wife as the communist media ramped up attacks against him and the organization he was previously a part of, the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification. He and his wife eventually escaped back to London.
Unable to serve in WWII, Orwell put his attention and focus into the novel "Animal Farm" as well as war-related activities. He eventually secured a BBC post that he held for two years. In 1944 Orwell and his wife adopted a baby boy, naming him Richard. In 1945 “Animal Farm” was released, and shortly after Orwell was offered an opportunity to become a war correspondent in Paris and Cologne. Tragedy touched Orwell’s life when Eileen died there during surgery, leaving Orwell alone to care for Richard.
For the next few years after “Animal Farm,” Orwell achieved global success and worked in both journalism and personal writing. He eventually retreated to the island of Jura to complete Nineteen Eight-Four. He wrote feverishly during this time, literally and metaphorically. He was frequently ill, having suffered from a weak chest since childhood. He’d been aware of his suspected tuberculosis for a time but hid the illness until much later, when a boating incident forced him to see a doctor and confirm the disease. He was given a radical and debilitating treatment that ‘eradicated’ the disease for a time, allowing him to return to Jura to finish the draft of his most famous book; “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was published in June of 1949.
In 1950, after several years of battling disease, George Orwell’s tuberculosis bested him. His fiancée, Sonia Brownell, cared for him while he was at the University College Hospital in London but on January 21, 1950, Orwell succumbed to his tuberculosis. He is buried in All Saints’ parish courtyard, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire.
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