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George Orwell Biography

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1984 Author/Context

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, born on June 25, 1903, in Motihari, India, to British parents. Eric had one older sister, Marjorie, and one younger sister, Avril.

The family moved to England from India when Orwell was very young. He was educated at a succession of boarding schools - first St. Cyprian's and then Eton. He did not do well enough in school to apply to University. Instead he applied to join the British Imperial Police and was stationed in Burma. He disliked police work and disapproved of the cruelties of the imperial system. After five years he resigned his commission.

Orwell decided he wanted to write and lived in rooms in London and Paris over the next few years. His first professional articles were published in 1928 - for the rest of his life he continued a flourishing career writing articles and reviews. He was a hard, conscientious worker and produced an almost unbelievable volume of output.

Around this time he began an odd practice of "tramping." He wanted to learn about the living conditions of the poorest of the poor, and so he would acquire old, shabby clothes, dress up as a tramp and go to seedy areas where he would mix with rough characters including sailors and unemployed laborers, sleeping in workhouses with the homeless.

In 1931 he finished his first novel, Down and Out in Paris and London, a description of his tramping in England and his experiences living on a shoestring in Paris. It was published in 1933.

His next novel was Burmese Days (1934), based on his experiences in Burma. In 1935 A Clergyman's Daughter was published and he wrote Keep the Aspidistra Flying. He met and became deeply involved with Eileen O'Shaughnessy. He wanted to research unemployment and poverty in the north of England and spent two months investigating conditions and speaking to miners. What he experienced had a profound effect on Orwell and was instrumental in developing his socialist ideas. On his return he wrote his most successful book to date, The Road to Wigan Pier. He and Eileen married on June 9, 1936.

Orwell was very upset over the threat Fascism posed to liberty in Europe and when the Spanish Civil War broke out, he went to Spain to fight against the fascists. On his return to England, Orwell wrote Homage to Catalonia, based on his war experiences. His next book was Animal Farm, which became his first major success. He and Eileen adopted a baby boy, Richard, in 1943. On March 29, 1945, Eileen died of cardiac arrest during an operation, leaving Orwell devastated. He retired to a remote island, along with Richard and a housekeeper/nanny. Here he wrote his final masterpiece, 1984.

The lung problems which plagued Orwell all his life, worsened, and he was finally diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis in 1948. He spent most of the rest of his life in hospitals and sanatoriums, but married again on October 13 1949, in his hospital room. Orwell and his second wife, Sonia Brownell, had decided to marry essentially because he trusted her to manage his estate and deal with editors and copyright lawyers after his death. He died on January 21, 1950.

Bibliography

Buddicom, Jacintha. Eric and Us: a Remembrance of George Orwell. London: Frewin, 1974.

Shelden, Michael. Orwell: The Authorized Biography. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1991.

Steinhoff, William. George Orwell and the Origins of 1984. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975.

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