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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.
As a child, Orwell had believed in God, but towards the end of WW I he had no affection for Christian religion. However, he never stopped debating religious issues. 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 the 1930s 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.
After 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, Richard Horatio Blair. 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.
In 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.
Not surprisingly, he left most of his possessions and the copyrights to
his works to his wife. In addition, Orwell provided money for the
education of his adopted son. At the time of death, Sonia was
penniless. The copyrights went to Richard Blair.
The Animal Farm was written between November 1943 and February 1944, while the war was still going on. This "fairy story," as the author himself called his work, made Orwell for the first time prosperous. However, the manuscript was first rejected by the left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz, and then by Faber & Faber; its right-wing editor T.S. Eliot said in his letter that "we have no conviction . . . that this is the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation at the present time." (Literature, Culture, and Society by Andrew Milner, 1996, p. 103) Eventually the book was published by Secker & Warburg, on August 17, 1945. 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. Its two scheming pigs, named Napoleon and Snowball, were unmistakably modelled after Stalin and Trotsky. "Nothing has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of socialism as the belief that Russia is a Socialist country and every act of its rulers must be excused, if not imitated," Orwell wrote in his introduction to the Ukrainian edition published after the war. (As a twist of fate, a truck load of copies of the Ukrainian edition, translated by Ihor Ševčenko under the psedomym of Ivan Chernyatinskii, was impounded by American soldiers in Germany, and turned to the Soviet authorities.) Orwell's famous literary attacks on totalitarianim were naturally forbidden in the Soviet Union, but nowadays his novels have been translated even into Chinese.
Since its appearance Animal Farm has gained a status of a
Its animated version from 1954 was a faithful rendition of the
original idea, but watered in the end the satire, putting all the blame
of the corruption on the pigs, especially on the power-hungry
Napoleon; moreover, the other animals launch a successful revolt
against them. In Orwell's work, the hated pigs and humans join
together, to carry on the business as normal: "The creatures outside
looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again;
but already it was impossible to say which was which." Many reviewers
criticized the movie's happy ending, some
found it artistically justified – "despair is no programme and the
screen no place for such nullity," argued C.A. Lejeune in the Observer. ('Pig Business,' Observer, January 16, 1955)
Following the public's reaction to Animal Farm in the U.S., where it sold nearly 600,000 copies in four years, the CIA became interested in using the book, and was secretly involved in the making of the film adaptation, by providing the funding "that allowed the legendary filmmaker Louis de Rochemont to employ to British animators John Halas and Joy Batchelor to fashion a work that was part of America's Cold War propaganda campaign." (Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm by Daniel J. Leab, 2007, p. 45)
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 never visited the United States, 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."
Writing of Henry Miller's Tropic of
Cancer he said that "the American language is less
flexible and refined than the English, but it has more life in it,
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); The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell by Hilary Spurling (2003); Orwell: The Life by D.J. Taylor (2003); Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm by Daniel J. Leab (2007); Orwell: Life and Art by Jeffrey Meyers (2010); George Orwell: English Rebel by Robert Colls (2013); George Orwell and Religion by Michael G. Brennan (2016); Political and Cultural Perceptions of George Orwell: British and American Views by Ian Williams (2017) - 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