Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism and commitment to democratic socialism.
Commonly ranked as one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century and as one of the most important chroniclers of English culture of his generation, Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction and polemical journalism. He is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and the allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945), which together (as of 2009) have sold more copies than any two books by any other 20th-century author. His book Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, is widely acclaimed, as are his numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian – descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices – has entered the language together with several of his neologisms, including Cold War, Big Brother, thought police, Room 101, doublethink, and thoughtcrime.
Eric Arthur Blair was born on 25 June 1903, in Motihari, Bihar, in India. His great-grandfather Charles Blair was a wealthy country gentleman in Dorset who married Lady Mary Fane, daughter of Thomas Fane, 8th Earl of Westmorland, and had income as an absentee landlord of plantations in Jamaica. His grandfather, Thomas Richard Arthur Blair, was a clergyman. Although the gentility passed down the generations, the prosperity did not; Eric Blair described his family as “lower-upper-middle class”. His father, Richard Walmesley Blair, worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. His mother, Ida Mabel Blair (née Limouzin), grew up in Moulmein, Burma, where her French father was involved in speculative ventures. Eric had two sisters: Marjorie, five years older, and Avril, five years younger. When Eric was one year old, his mother took him and his older sister to England.
In 1904, Ida Blair settled with her children at Henley-on-Thames. Eric was brought up in the company of his mother and sisters, and apart from a brief visit in the summer of 1907, they did not see the husband and father Richard Blair until 1912. His mother’s diary from 1905 describes a lively round of social activity and artistic interests.
The family moved to Shiplake before the First World War, where Eric became friendly with the Buddicom family, especially their daughter Jacintha. When they first met, he was standing on his head in a field. On being asked why, he said, “You are noticed more if you stand on your head than if you are right way up.” Jacintha and Eric read and wrote poetry, and dreamed of becoming famous writers. He said that he might write a book in the style of H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia. During this period, he also enjoyed shooting, fishing and birdwatching with Jacintha’s brother and sister.
At the age of five, Eric was sent as a day-boy to a convent school in Henley-on-Thames, which Marjorie also attended. It was a Roman Catholic convent run by French Ursuline nuns, who had been exiled from France after religious education was banned in 1903. His mother wanted him to have a public school education, but his family could not afford the fees, and he needed to earn a scholarship. Ida Blair’s brother Charles Limouzin recommended St Cyprian’s School, Eastbourne, East Sussex. Limouzin, who was a proficient golfer, knew of the school and its headmaster through the Royal Eastbourne Golf Club, where he won several competitions in 1903 and 1904. The headmaster undertook to help Blair to win the scholarship, and made a private financial arrangement that allowed Blair’s parents to pay only half the normal fees. In September 1911 Eric arrived at St Cyprian’s. He boarded at the school for the next five years, returning home only for school holidays. He knew nothing of the reduced fees although he “soon recognised that he was from a poorer home”. Blair hated the school and many years later wrote an essay “Such, Such Were the Joys”, published posthumously, based on his time there. At St. Cyprian’s, Blair first met Cyril Connolly, who became a noted writer and, as the editor of Horizon, published many of Orwell’s essays.
As part of school work, Blair wrote two poems that were published in the Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard, He came second to Connolly in the Harrow History Prize, had his work praised by the school’s external examiner, and earned scholarships to Wellington and Eton Colleges. But an Eton scholarship did not guarantee a place, and none was immediately available for Blair. He chose to stay at St Cyprian’s until December 1916, in case a place at Eton became available.
In January, Blair took up the place at Wellington, where he spent the Spring term. In May 1917 a place became available as a King’s Scholar at Eton. He studied at Eton until December 1921, when he left at age 18½. Wellington was “beastly”, Orwell told his childhood friend Jacintha Buddicom, but he said he was “interested and happy” at Eton. His principal tutor was A. S. F. Gow, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who also gave him advice later in his career. Blair was briefly taught French by Aldous Huxley. Stephen Runciman, who was at Eton with Blair, noted that he and his contemporaries appreciated Huxley’s linguistic flair. Cyril Connolly followed Blair to Eton, but because they were in separate years, they did not associate with each other.
Blair’s academic performance reports suggest that he neglected his academic studies, but during his time at Eton he worked with Roger Mynors to produce a College magazine, The Election Times, joined in the production of other publications-College Days and Bubble and Squeak-and participated in the Eton Wall Game. His parents could not afford to send him to university without another scholarship, and they concluded from his poor results that he would not be able to win one. Runciman noted that he had a romantic idea about the East and the family decided that Blair should join the Imperial Police, the precursor of the Indian Police Service. For this he had to pass an entrance examination. His father had retired to Southwold, Suffolk by this time; Blair was enrolled at a crammer there called Craighurst, and brushed up on his classics, English and History. Blair passed the exam, coming seventh out of the 26 candidates who exceeded the pass mark.
In April 1932 Blair became a teacher at The Hawthorns High School, a prep school for boys in Hayes, West London. This was a small school offering private schooling for children of local tradesmen and shopkeepers, and had only twenty boys and one other master. While at the school he became friendly with the curate of the local parish church and became involved with activities there. Mabel Fierz had pursued matters with Moore, and at the end of June 1932, Moore told Blair that Victor Gollancz was prepared to publish A Scullion’s Diary for a £40 advance, through his recently founded publishing house, Victor Gollancz Ltd, which was an outlet for radical and socialist works.
At the end of the summer term in 1932, Blair returned to Southwold, where his parents had used a legacy to buy their own home. Blair and his sister Avril spent the summer holidays making the house habitable while he also worked on Burmese Days. He was also spending time with Eleanor Jacques, but her attachment to Dennis Collings remained an obstacle to his hopes of a more serious relationship.
“Clink”, an essay describing his failed attempt to get sent to prison, appeared in the August 1932 number of Adelphi. He returned to teaching at Hayes and prepared for the publication of his book, now known as Down and Out in Paris and London. He wished to publish under a different name in order to avoid any embarrassment to his family over his time as a “tramp”. In a letter to Moore (dated 15 November 1932), he left the choice of pseudonym to him and to Gollancz. Four days later, he wrote to Moore, suggesting the pseudonyms P. S. Burton (a name he used when tramping), Kenneth Miles, George Orwell, and H. Lewis Allways. He finally adopted the nom de plume George Orwell because, as he told Eleanor Jacques, “It is a good round English name.” Down and Out in Paris and London was published on 9 January 1933, as Orwell continued to work on Burmese Days. Down and Out was successful and was next published by Harper and Brothers in New York.
In the summer of 1933 Blair left Hawthorns to become a teacher at Frays College, in Uxbridge, West London. This was a much larger establishment with 200 pupils and a full complement of staff. He acquired a motorcycle and took trips through the surrounding countryside. On one of these expeditions he became soaked and caught a chill that developed into pneumonia. He was taken to Uxbridge Cottage Hospital, where for a time his life was believed to be in danger. When he was discharged in January 1934, he returned to Southwold to convalesce and, supported by his parents, never returned to teaching.
George Orwell – 1984 (read by Simon Prebble)
George Orwell – Animal Farm (read by Ralph Cosham)
George Orwell – Down And Out In Paris And London (read by Patrick Tull)
George Orwell – Homage To Catalonia (read by Frederick Davidson)
George Orwell – Burmese Days (read by Frederick Davidson)
George Orwell – Keep The Aspidistra Flying (read by Richard Brown)
George Orwell – The Road To Wigan Pier (read by Patrick Tull)
George Orwell – Coming Up For Air (read by Richard Brown)
George Orwell – Such, Such Were The Joys And Other Essays (read by Frederick Davidson)
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