Eric Arthur Blair was one of the most profile writers of the 20th century. He was a novelist, a critic, and a journalist. He wrote about his experiences as an Imperial Police Officer in Burma, social and political issues of the day, and satire of totalitarian regimes he knew during his life. Two of his most successful books created their own subculture, including new concepts like Big Brother, thought crime, and double think. There is even an instance when Stalinist Russia gets ragged (I use that term lightly) on via farm animals. Smart guy right? Although the name Eric Arthur Blair sounds good, it doesn’t quite pack the punch he wanted to represent his work. It makes sense then that he would write the oeuvre of his works under the nom-de-plume of George Orwell….Actually, he picked the psydonuem so that he wouldn’t bring shame to his family while he was slumming on the streets of London and Paris (for a book of course). A gentlemen and a scholar. 

 

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George Orwell was born in British occupied India on June 25th, 1903, later moving with his family back to England. He was apparently a lax student, mainly because he was so damn smart already that he didn’t need that school stuff anyway. The one time Orwell was really interested was while he was at Eton. It was here that two literary titans would cross paths in a completely unrelated situation, long before they were well known. This was when Orwell took French from none other than Aldous Huxley, at the time an undisciplined hot mess of a language professor. Apart from this fact, Orwell and his colleagues were quite taken by Huxleys' deft linguistic skills. No one knew that these two people, Orwell and Huxley, would both become famous for their takes on dystopian society in their novels “1984” and “Brave New World" (albeit how different each take was). While finishing at Eton, Orwell had rather romantic ideas of the East, and having some family in the region, joined the Imperial Police and relocated to Burma. It was here that Orwell first encountered the darker side of British Colonialism, to which he based his novel Burmese Days on. He would eventually leave the service for good, returning to Europe for good.
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Enter London, 1927. It's night, the impoverished of the East End are trying to find some scraps to feed on and find somewhere to sleep. We come upon a man in tattered clothing, but he seems more intrigued in his surroundings than he does in finding food. Is that a notebook in his pocket? Yes it is. And yes, this is indeed what George Orwell was doing back in England in 1927. Orwell became obsessed with the life and struggles of the poor in the city. He would also explore the life of the impoverished on the streets of Paris, working menial jobs and waiting in breadlines. At the same time, Orwell would write essays for different publications, giving a first hand look into the world we could never understand. Orwell even got drunk once and tried to get arrested so that he could experience Christmas in prison. All of this would eventually be turned into Orwell’s first book, “Down and Out in Paris and London.” Think about that for a second- the man lived on the streets to experience what it meant to be hungry, work for pennies, and slum for a living.  Dedication for your craft, solidarity for your people.
Orwell moved around quite a lot during these years, living in several different towns and holding several different positions. Some of these included working in a bookstore, teaching, and contributing reviews to journals. Between 1932-1936, Orwell wrote three novels, “The Clergyman’s Daughter”, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”, and “The Road to Wigan Pier.” It was in 1936 that he became embroiled in the Spanish Civil War, taking side with the Republicans in Catalonia. His time here would later be written in his book, “Homage to Catalonia.” In short, Orwell went to join the cause to defeat fascism, but in the end became disheartened by the in-fighting amongst the rebels, primarily by the twisted turns the Soviet-backed Communist took during the war. Orwell was wounded in action, barley escaping with his life, and fled with his wife back to England. We begin to see a pattern here, with the romanticization of an idea and the horrors of what actually happens; first in Burma and then during the Spanish Civil War.
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There are many more aspects of Orwell’s life that we could look into, the above just being some that many people don’t know about. Many of us do know his two most famous works, “Animal Farm” and “1984.” What was it that made these books in particular so popular? I would leave that for you, the readers, to decide. But here is my opinion. These two books combated ideas that were terrifying in the days in which they were written. "Animal Farm" is a satire on the rise of Stalinist-Communisim. “1984” is a a tale of a dark, dystopian world that is set in a world in which Russia went on to conquer all of Europe. Orwell was, in his own right, a Social Democrat. To the uninformed today, this sends red flags nowadays but it does not mean the same thing as Communism, and most certainly not the tyrannical Communism Stalin implemented. He firmly believed in Democracy and social justice, and wrote about the hypocrisy in the political systems he was surrounded by. Orwell always stood up for what he believed in and was extremely influential in the way he was able to convey them, whether it was in his essays or in his novels. For always standing up for his beliefs, and for opening many of us to new ways to look at the world, I’d like to take a moment and wish a very happy birthday to George Orwell. May we make him proud and not let 2+2=5.
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