George Orwell

Published: 1996-01-01

Background

George Orwell photo

George Orwell was the pen name of the English author, Eric Arthur Blair. Orwell was educated in England at Eton College. After service with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922 to 1927, he returned to Europe to become a writer. He lived for several years in poverty. His earliest experiences resulted in the book, Down and Out in Paris and London.

By 1936, Orwell had joined the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was critical of Communism but basically considered himself a Socialist. He was wounded in the fighting. Late in the war, Orwell fought the Communists and eventually had to flee Spain for his life. Orwell documented many of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War in his Homage to Catalonia.

Orwell's various experiences with totalitarian political regimes had a direct impact on his prose. Orwell's best-known books reflect his opposition to totalitarianism: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. In an article entitled, "Why I Write" Orwell would explain:

"Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death."
George Orwell

"Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism... Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole."

During the Second World War, Orwell wrote a weekly radio political commentary, designed to counter German and Japanese propaganda in India. His wartime work for the BBC gave him a solid taste of bureaucratic hypocrisy. Many believe that this experience provided the inspiration for his invention of "newspeak," the truth-denying language of Big Brother's rule in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Throughout his lifetime, the great English author continually questioned all "official" or "accepted" versions of history. At the conclusion of the war in Europe, Orwell expressed doubt about the Allied account of events and posed the following question in his book Notes on Nationalism, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear... Is it true about the gas ovens in Poland?"

Of all of Orwell's writings,1984 has had the most profound influence on historical revisionism. Revisionist pioneer, Harry Elmer Barnes wrote an important essay, "How 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' Trends Threaten American Peace, Freedom, and Prosperity," which documented the prophetic nature of Orwell's classic. Barnes would proclaim,

"Orwell's book is the keenest and most penetrating work produced in this generation on the current trends in national policy and world affairs. To discuss world trends today without reference to the Orwell frame of reference is not unlike writing on biology without reference to Darwin, Mendel, and De Vries..."

Orwell died in London at the early age of forty-seven of a neglected lung ailment. He left behind a substantial body of work and a reputation for greatness.

Biographical Information

Date of Birth:June 25,1903
Place of Birth:Motihari, India
Died:January 21, 1950

Partial Bibliography

  • Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
  • Burmese Days (1934)
  • A Clergyman's Daughter (1935)
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)
  • The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)
  • Homage to Catalonia (1938)
  • Coming up for Air (1939)
  • Inside the Whale, and Other Essays (1940)
  • Animal Farm (1945)
  • Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
  • Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays (1950)
  • Such, Such Were the Joys (1953)

Borrowing from Mr. Orwell's "newspeak," a collection known as the "ThoughtCrimes" has been established to document contemporary incidents of persecution against writers and historians who refuse to submit to Big Brother's version of history. On this website, you can find the entries in the category "(No) Freedom of Expression," including the subcategories "Free Speech & Censorship," "Persecution of Dissidents," and "Prosecution of Dissidents".

Additional information about this document

Author(s) Richard A. Widmann
Title George Orwell
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Dates published: 1996-01-01, first posted on CODOH: June 29, 1996, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
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