Here’s the second installment of my “Spotlight On:…” blog post! If you haven’t read my previous one and you want to learn out more about Mary Shelley and her life, you can find it here!
This month’s post focuses on one of my favourite, and probably most-read, authors; George Orwell.
Like last time, the blog post will be divided into 6 different parts:
1. A little bit about their life
2. Their works I have read
3. Their works I am yet to read
4. Great film/TV adaptations based on their writing
6. An author biography recommendation
A Little Bit About Their Life
George Orwell, or Eric Arthur Blair, was born on 25th June 1903 in eastern India. He was the son of Richard Walmesley Blair, a British colonial civil servant, and Ida Mabel Blair. At the age of four, he returned back to England where the family settled in Henley, close to London. Orwell was raised almost exclusively by his mother when his father returned back to India.
Orwell was a very shy and studious child who attended St Cyprian’s preparatory school in Eastbourne. He later claimed that his experiences there determined his views on the English class system. From here, he won a scholarship to Eton College. Though studious in his younger years, at Eton he slacked and left the school in 1921 after only four and a half years. The following June, he passed the entrance examinations of the Indian Imperial Police and was accepted into the Burma division. He served from 1922 to 1927.
Orwell’s time in Burma is relatively unknown, though it did provide the material for two of his better known essays “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant”, as well as his novel “Burmese Days” (1934).
While home on leave in England, Orwell made the decision not to return to Burma, but to pursue writing. His resignation from the Indian Imperial Police became effective on January 1, 1928. Evidence suggests that Orwell finally came to understand the imperialism that he was serving, and absolutely rejected it.
It was in 1928 that he lived the life written about in “Down and Out in Paris and London”, working as a dishwasher in Paris, and living on the streets in London. Towards the end of 1929, Orwell suffered from pneumonia and returned back to his parents’ home.
Back in England, Orwell earned his living by teaching and by writing occasional articles, while he completed several versions of his first book, “Down and Out in Paris and London”. Because he was earning his living as a teacher when his novel was scheduled for publication, he preferred to publish it under a pseudonym. From a list of four possible names submitted to his publisher, he chose “George Orwell.”
In 1936, Orwell moved to Hertfordshire and worked in a Hampstead bookshop. Here he met his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy, and wrote a third novel, partly based on his book-trade experiences, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” (1936).
The Left Book Club commissioned Orwell to write a study on the lives of the poor and unemployed. “The Road to Wigan Pier” (1937) included an essay on class and socialism. This mared Orwell’s birth as a political writer, an identity that lasted for the rest of his life. Though perhaps the most defining political experience of his life was the six months that he spent in Spain in 1937 as a Republican volunteer against Franco. He was shot in the throat and, during his recovery, the militia was deemed illegal and he fled to France in 1937. His experiences in Spain made him a revolutionary socialist and made him “believe Socialism for the first time”, whilst instilling a hatred of totalitarian government. He published “Homage to Cataolinia” – an account of his experiences in Spain – in 1938. Orwell spent the most of his time recovering in England and Morocco from a life-threatening lung haemorrhage. During this time, he also wrote “Coming Up for Air” (1939).
Orwell wanted to enlist to fight in WW2, but was rejected as physically unfit. For a period of time, he served as a home guard and a fire watcher before the Orwell’s moved to London in 1940. In August 1941, Orwell joined the BBC as a producer, a job he came to dislike. Orwell described the BBC as “something between a girls’ school and a lunatic asylum, and all we are doing at present is useless, or slightly worse than useless”.
In 1943, Orwell’s mother died, he left the BBC and became editor of the Tribune. He finished Animal Farm in 1944, a satire of the Soviet experiment. Publishers’ timidity, and the covert pressure exerted by a Russian spy working for the Ministry of Information, delayed its appearance until August 1945. During this time, Orwell’s personal life had turned upside down; Eileen had died of heart failure. The couple had previously adopted a small boy, Richard Horatio Blair, whom Orwell, with the help of his sister Avril, determined to raise on his own.
In 1946, he settled on the Scottish island of Jura with his sister as his housekeeper. Much of Orwell’s later life was spent living in the Inner Hebrides, struggling against worsening health and racing against the clock to compete his final novel, “1984”. After finishing a final draft in 1948, he suffered a physical collapse and was taken away to a nursing home in the Cotswolds where it was revealed he was suffering from advanced tuberculosis. The novel’s success on publication in 1949 came too late for its author. He was transferred to University College Hospital in September and died there on 21 January 1950, aged 46. Before he died, he made a second marriage to Sonia Brownwell, an editorial assistant on the literary magazine Horizon.
Works I Have Read
As mentioned previously, I have read quite a few of George Orwell’s works and he is probably my most-read author.
I have read: 1984, Animal Farm, Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
There are still so many of his works to read…
Works I Am Yet to Read
I have a few other George Orwell books on my shelf waiting to be read, namely: Homage to Catalonia, Burmese Days and Coming Up for Air.
George Orwell was a fantastic essay writing – owing to his writing style being short, devoid of fancy and unncessary words, and to-the-point. There are quite a few essay collections of his that I am yet to read: Politics and the English Language, A Hanging, Why I Write, A Clergyman’s Daughter, A Nice Cup of Tea, Notes on Nationalism, All Art is Propaganda, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, Books v. Cigarettes, Orwell on Truth, Inside the Whale and Other Essays.
Great Film and TV Adaptations
I’ll admit that I haven’t actually watched many adaptations of Orwell’s work. I went to see a theatre adaptation of 1984 in London a few years back which was incredible. Nineteen Eighty-Four (released in 1984) is one of the most well-known adaptations and one that is definitely on my list to watch. There has also been talk of 1984 getting another rebooted adaptation in 2019/2020 (though I haven’t heard any news about this recently).
I would definitely love to see more adaptations of Orwell’s work. Let me know if you have any recommendations!
“If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.” – George Orwell, 1984
“Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry.” – George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” – George Orwell, 1984
“The stars are a free show; it don’t cost anything to use your eyes” – George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
There are many more amazing Orwell quotes that I couldn’t fit on here. Whichever book of his you read, fiction or non-fiction, you are sure to stumble across something profound, meaningful, and that makes you think.
A Biography Recommendation
If you want to read more about George Orwell’s interesting life and what inspired him to write such timeless and self-reflective novels, I would recommend reading “George Orwell: A Life” by Bernard Crick – probably the most well-known, reliable and truthful biography of Orwell.
I would also recommend “The Ministry of Truth: A Biography of Orwell’s 1984” by Dorian Lynskey if you want to read more specifically about Orwell’s 1984, the inner-meanings of it, and why it is still relevant today.
Thanks for reading! If you have any recommendations of authors you’d like me to focus on next, let me know in the comments below!
Love, Zoë xx