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George Orwell (1903-1950) - pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair


English novelist, essayist and critic, famous for his political satires Animal Farm  (1945), an anti-Soviet tale, and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), an attack on totalitarianism and the metric system, which shows that the destruction of language is an essential part of oppression. Orwell was an uncompromising individualist and political idealist. V.S. Pritchett called him "the wintry conscience of a generation " Both the Left and Right have utilized Orwell's writings in ideological debate, either praising his work or damning it according to political winds.

"The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, than one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals." (in 'Reflections on Gandhi',  Shooting an Elephant, 1949)

George Orwell was born in Motihari, Bengal, India,  the second child of Richard Walmesley Blair and Ida Mabel Limonzin. His father was a civil servant in the opium department and his mother was the daughter of a tea-merchant in Burma. In 1904 Orwell moved with his mother and sister to England, where he attended Eton. His first writings Orwell published in college periodicals. During these years Orwell developed his antipathy towards the English class systems. Also Orwell's years at St Cyprian's Preparatory School in Easbourne were not happy.  For fear of libel action, his bitter account of his humiliations there, 'Such, Such Were the Joys', was not published until 1952 in Partisan Review.

At the age of seventeen Orwell had his first experiences as an "amateur tramp" in Plymouth, where he was stranded accidentally without much money. After  failing to win a scholarship to university, Orwell went in 1922 to Burma to serve in the Indian Imperial Police (1922-27) as an assistant superintendent. Like his colleagues, Orwell had a native mistresses. Eventually his mounting dislike of imperial rule led to his resignation; Orwell did not give any reason for his decision. Shooting an Elephant (1950) revealed the behaviour of the colonial officers. Perhaps the most harrowing example is portrayed in the essay 'A Hanging' (1931), in which a Hindu man is hanged in a hurry, but with a great routine. "An enormous relief had come upon us now that the job was done. One felt an impulse to sing, to break into a run, to snigger. All at once everyone began chattering gaily."

Orwell returned to Europe and lived as a tramp and beggar, working low paid jobs in England and France (1928-29), where his aunt lived. He picked hops in Kent as a migratory laborer and once Orwell tried to get himself arrested as a drunk to have some knowledge about life in prison. After forty-eight hours he was released. In 1928 he had decided to become a writer, but his first amateurish efforts arose smiles. A poet friend described him "like a cow with a musket." Orwell's experiences in poverty gave material for Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). However, the author was never a full-time vagrant, but he stayed every now and then with his older sister or with his parents, and plunged to the lower depths of society like an explorer. "The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people – people who ave fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behavior, just as money frees people from work." (in Down and Out in Paris and London) From 1930 Orwell contributed regularly to the New Adelphi. In 1933 he assumed the pseudonym by which he would sign all his publications – Orwell was the name of a small river in East Anglia, and George was definitely a British Christian name.

Unable to support himself with his writings, Orwell took up a teaching post at a private school, where he finished his first novel, Burmese Days  (1934). In 1936 Orwell married Eileen O'Shaugnessy, a doctor's daughter. Keep the Aspidistra Flying, the story of a young bookseller's assistant, came out in 1936. From 1936 to 1940 Orwell worked as a shopkeeper in Wallington, Hertfordshire. He was commissioned in 1936 by the publisher Victor Gollancz to produce a documentary account of unemployment in the North of England for the Left Book Club. The result, The Road to Wigan Pier, is considered a milestone in modern literary journalism.

In the1930s Orwell had adopted socialistic views. Like many other writers, he travelled to Spain to report on the Civil War. He fought alongside the United Workers Marxist Party militia and was shot through the throat by a Francoist sniper’s bullet. When Stalinists on their own side started to hunt down Anarchists and his friends were thrown into prison, Orwell escaped with his wife Eileen Blair from the chaos. The war made him a strong opposer of communism and an advocate of the English brand of socialism. Special Branch police had monitored Orwell since the late 1920s, but eventually the authorities decided that he was not a threat to the national security. Orwell's book on Spain, Homage to Catalonia (1938), was coldly received by left-wing intelligentsia, who regarded Communists as heroes of the war. In Orwell’s lifetime this work sold only about fifty copies a year.

Orwell opposed a war with Germany, but he condemned fascism. During World War II he served as a sergeant in the Home Guard and worked as a journalist for the BBC, Observer and Tribune, where he was literary editor from 1943 to 1945. Toward the end of the war, he wrote Animal Farm, which depicted the betrayal of a revolution. After the war, Orwell went to Germany as a reporter, but in his dispatches he sent to The Observer and The Manchester Evening News he did not mention the extermination camps or Auschwitz.

Aftewr the war Orwell lived mostly on the remote island of Jura in the Western Isles of Scotland. With Eileen he had adopted a little boy. His wife died in 1945 after a botched hospital operation  – "Yes, she was a good old stick," Orwell said to his friend, but actually he was almost wordless by the loss. Without success, he proposed marriage to Celia Kirwan. She was the sister-in-law of Arthur Koestler and worked at the IRD, a secretly funded anti-communist propaganda unit attached to the Foreign Office. Orwell gave her a list of "crypto-Communists & fellow-travellers", which he had in his notebook.  The list included such names as  Isaac Deutscher, J.B. Priestley, Gordon Childe, Charles Chaplin, and Katharine Hepburn.

1949 Orwell married Sonia Brownell (1918-1980), who had been an editorial assistant on Cyril Connolly’s magazine Horizon; she was known there as "Buttocks Brownell". Orwell himself was not immune to to antifeminist sentiments, writing in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, partly tongue-in-cheek: "This woman business! What a bore it is! What a pity we can't cut it right out, or at least be like animals  – minutes of ferocious lust and months of icy chastity!" Brownell's marriage to Orwell lasted only three months. Orwell died from tuberculosis in London University Hospital on January 21, 1950, soon after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The biting satire of Communist ideology in The Animal Farm made Orwell for the first time prosperous. Another world wide success was Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of the classical works of science fiction along with Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and H.G. Wells novels Time Machine, War of The World and Invisible Man. Animal Farm was a satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution, particularly directed against Stalin's policies. Orwell's famous works were naturally forbidden in the Soviet Union, but nowadays the novels have been translated even into Chinese.

Led by the pigs, the Animals on Mr Jones's farm revolt against their human masters. After their victory they decide to run the farm themselves on egalitarian principles. Inspired by the example of Boxer, the hard-working horse, the cooperation prosper. The pigs become corrupted by power and a new tyranny is established under Napoleon (Stalin). "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Snowball (Trotsky), an idealist, is driven out. The final betrayal is made when the pigs engineer a rapprochement with Mr Jones. The book was originally rejected for publication in 1944 at Faber and Faber by T.S. Eliot, who said: "After all, your pigs are far more intellectual than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm—in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue) was not more communism but more public spirited pigs." Since its appearance the book has gained a status of a classic. Its film adaptation from 1955 was a faithful rendition of Orwell's original work, but watered in the end the satire, and presented a socialist viewpoint: the system is good, but the individuals are corruptible.

1984, written the bleak postwar limbo, was a bitter protest against the nightmarish future and corruption of truth and free speech of the modern world. In the story, Britania has become Airstrip One in the superstate Oceania, which is controlled by Big Brother and the Party. "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power." (in Nineteen Eighty-Four) The Party's agents constantly rewrite history. The official language is Newspeak, and the society is dominated by such slogans as "War is Peace", "Freedom is Slavery", "Ignorance is Strength." Goldstein with his book is supposedly plotting against Oceania, and a target of a hate period. The hero, Winston Smith, a minor Party operative, rewrites the past at the Ministry of Truth. He keeps a secret diary and has a brief love affair with a girl named Julia. He believes that O'Brien, a member of the Inner Party, is not sympathetic to Big Brother. O'Brien enrolls him and Julia in a conspiracy. One day Winston is arrested by the Thought Police, tortured and brainwashed. O'Brien directs Winston's breakdown and rehabilitation and tells that Goldstein is the invention of the Party. His spirit broken, Winston learns to love Big Brother. Winston and Julia meet briefly one day, they both have gone through the process and have lost their former love for each other. Some critics have related Smith's sufferings to those the author underwent at preparatory school – Winston is finally broken by rats. Orwell has said that the book was written "to alter other people's idea of the kind of society they should strive after."

In 1998 Martin Seymour-Smith listed Orwell's dystopia among 100 most influential books ever written. It has inspired less or more directly a number of other science fiction novels, among them Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Orwell himself implicitly acknowledged his debt to Evgeny Zamyatin's (1884-1937) novel We (in Russia My), which was written in 1920 and translated into English 1924. Although Orwell is best-known as a novelist, his essays are among the finest of the 20th-century. He also produced newspaper articles and forgettable film reviews, written for money, but he carefully crafted his other essays for such journals as Partisan Review, Adelphi, and Horizon. Without hesitation he accused that Yeats is a fascist, H.G. Wells was out of touch with reality, Salvador Dali he found decadent, but he defended P.G. Wodehouse. In 'Why Write?' and 'Politics and the English Language' (1948) Orwell argued that writers have an obligation of fighting social injustice, oppression, and the power of totalitarian regimes. Noteworthy, he showed little curiosity about American culture, but he once proposed himself as Mark Twain's biographer, and hailed in 1949 Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead as "the best war book of the last war yet." 

For further reading: George Orwell by L. Brander (1954); The Crystal Spirit by G. Woodcock (1966); Orwell by Raymond Williams (1971); The Unknown Orwell by Peter Stansky (1972); Road to Miniluv by C. Small (1975); George Orwell: The Critical Heritage, ed. Jeffrey Meyers (1975); A Reader's Guide to George Orwell, ed.  Jeffrey Meyers (19757); George Orwell: A Life by B. Crick (1981); A George Orwell Companion by J.R. Hammond (1982); The Language of 1984 by W.F. Bolton (1984); George Orwell, ed.  Courtney T. Wemyss and Alexej Ugrinsky (1987); Orwell by Michel Shelden (1991); Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation by Jeffrey Meyers (2000); Orwell's Victory by Christopher Hitchens (2002; US title Why Orwell Matters); George Orwell and the Betrayal of Dissent by Scott Lucas (2003); George Orwell by Gordon Bowker (2003); Orwell: The Life by D.J. Taylor (2003); Orwell: Life and Art by Jeffrey Meyers (2010)  - See also: Franz Kafka. Suom.: Suomennettu myös valikoima Esseitä (1984) - Other writers witnessing the Spanish Civil War: Ernest Hemingway, Federico Garcia Lorca, André Malraux, Langston Hughes

Selected works:

  • Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933
    - Puilla paljailla Pariisissa ja Lontoossa (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1985)
  • Burmese Days, 1934
  • A Clergyman's Daughter, 1935
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying, 1936
    - Eläköön tuonenkielo! (suom. Raija Mattila, 1998)
    - Film: A Merry War / Comstock and Rosemary (1997), dir.  Robert Bierman, screenplay by Alan Plater, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Jim Carter, Harriet Walter
  • The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937
    - Tie Wiganin aallonmurtajalle (suom. Leevi Lehto, 1986)
  • Homage to Catalonia, 1938 (introduction by L. Trilling)
    - Katalonia, Katalonia (suom. Taisto Nieminen, 1974)
  • Coming Up for Air, 1939
  • Inside the Whale, and Other Essays, 1940
  • The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, 1941
  • Talking to India, 1943 (ed.)
  • Animal Farm: A Fairy Story, 1945
    - Eläinten vallankumous (suom. Panu Pekkanen, 1969)
    - Film adaptations: animated movie 1954, prod. Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films, dir.  Joy Batchelor & John Halas; TV film 1999, dir.  John Stephensen, starring Kelsey Grammer and Julia Ormond;
  • Critical Essays, 1946
  • James Burnham and the Managerial Evolution, 1946
  • The English People, 1947
  • Politics and the English Language, 1947
  • British Pamphleteers: 1. From the Sixteenth Century to the French Revolution, 1948 (ed. with R. Reynolds)
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949
    - Vuonna 1984 (suom. Oiva Talvitie, 1950; Raija Mattila, 1999)
    - Film adaptations: 1956, dir.  Michael Anderson, starring Edmund O'Brien, Michael Redgrave, Jan Sterling, David Kossoff; Nineteen Eighty-Four, dir. by Michael Radford, starring John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, Cyril Cusack; 1984, dir.  Michael Radford, featuring John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, Cyril Cusack, Gregor Fisher, James Walker; Brazil, 1985, dir.  Terry Gillam, featuring Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins
  • Shooting and Elephant, and Other Essays, 1950
    - 'Kun ammuin norsun' (suom. Jukka Kemppinen,  teoksessa Kun ammuin norsun ja muita esseitä, 1984)
  • England, Your England and Other Essays, 1953 (the London edition omits 'Such, Such Were the Joys' and adds two excerpts from The Road to Wigan Pier; US title: Such, Such Were The Joys, 1953)
  • A Collection of Essays, 1954
  • The Orwell Reader:  Fiction, Essays, and Reportage, 1956 (with an introd. by Richard H. Rovere)
  • Selected Essays, 1957
  • Selected Writings, 1958 (edited by George Bolt)
  • Collected Essays, 1961
  • Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays, 1965
  • The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, 1968 (4 vols., ed.  Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus)
    - Kun ammuin norsun ja muita esseitä (valinnut ja suomentanut Jukka Kemppinen, 1984)
  • The Penguin Essays of George Orwell, 1984
  • The Complete Works, 1984 (17 vols.)
  • Orwell: The Lost Writings, 1985 (edited with an introduction by W.J. West)
  • Orwell: The War Broadcasts, 1985 (edited with an introduction by W.J. West)
  • The Complete Works of George Orwell, 1998 (20 vols., edited by  Peter Davison, assisted by Ian Angus, and Sheila Davison)
  • Our Job Is To Make Life Worth Living: 1949-50, 2002 (edited by Peter Davison)
  • It Is What I Think: 1947-48, 2002 (rev. and updated ed., edited by Peter Davison)
  • Orwell in Tribune: "As I Please" and Other Writings, 1943-7, 2006 (compiled and edited by Paul Anderson)
  • All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays, 2008 (compiled by George Packer; with an introduction by Keith Gessen)
  • Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays, 2008 (compiled and with an introduction by George Packer)
  • A Life in Letters, 2010 (selected and annotated by Peter Davison)
  • Diaries, 2012 (edited by Peter Davison, introduction by Christopher Hitchens)

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