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Blair, Eric Arthur (Orwell, George)

Portrait
Born: 1903 AD
Died: 1950 AD, at 46 years of age.

Nationality: English
Categories: Essayists, Novelists, Satirists

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1903 - Blair was born on June 25, 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, India.

 

1908 - At the age of five, Blair was sent to a small Anglican parish school in Henley-on-Thames, which his sister had attended before him.

 

1910 - Blair was recommended to the headmaster of one of the most successful preparatory schools in England at the time: St. Cyprian's School, in Eastbourne, Sussex. Blair attended St Cyprian's on a scholarship that allowed his parents to pay only half of the usual fees. However, in his time at St. Cyprian's, the young Blair successfully earned scholarships to both Wellington and Eton.

 

1917-1921 - After a year at Wellington, Blair moved to Eton, where he was a King's Scholar for four years. Later in life he wrote that he had been "relatively happy" at Eton, which allowed its students considerable independence, but also that he ceased doing serious work after arriving there. Reports of his academic performance at Eton vary; some assert that he was a poor student, while others claim the contrary. He was clearly disliked by some of his teachers, who resented what they perceived as disrespect for their authority. During his time at the school, Blair made lifetime friendships with a number of future British intellectuals such as Cyril Connolly, the future editor of the Horizon magazine, in which many of Orwell's most famous essays were originally released.

 

1922 - After Blair finished his studies at Eton, his family could not pay for university and he had no prospect of winning a scholarship, so he joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma.

 

1927 - He came to hate imperialism, and when he returned to England on leave, he decided to resign and become a writer.

 

1928 - Blair moved to Paris, where his aunt lived, hoping to make a living as a freelance writer. But his lack of success forced him briefly into taking menial jobs - which he later described in his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, although there is no indication that he had the book in mind at the time.

 

1929 - Blair moved back to England, using his parents' house in Southwold, Suffolk, as a base. Writing what became Burmese Days, he made frequent forays into tramping as part of what had by now become a book project on the life of the underclass. Meanwhile, he became a regular contributor to John Middleton Murry's New Adelphi magazine.

 

1932 - Blair completed Down and Out, and it was published early the next year while he was working briefly as a schoolteacher at a private school in Hayes, Middlesex. Blair adopted the pen-name George Orwell just before Down and Out was published. It is unknown exactly why he chose this name. He knew and liked the River Orwell in Suffolk and apparently found the plainness of the first name George attractive. He rejected three other possible pen-names: Kenneth Miles, H Lewis Allways, and PS Burton.

 

1936-1937 - Orwell was commissioned by Victor Gollancz of the Left Book Club to write an account of poverty among the working class in the depressed areas of northern England, which appeared in 1937 as The Road to Wigan Pier. The first half of the book is a social documentary of his investigative touring in Lancashire and Yorkshire, beginning with an evocative description of work in the coal mines. The second half of the book, a long essay in which Orwell recounts his personal upbringing and development of political conscience, has a very strong denunciation of what he saw as irresponsible elements of the left. Gollancz feared that the second half would offend Left Book Club readers, and inserted a mollifying preface to the book while Orwell was in Spain. Soon after completing his research for the book, Orwell married Eileen O'Shaughnessy. In December 1936, Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War against Francisco Franco's Nationalist uprising. Although he travelled alone to Spain, he became part of the Independent Labour Party contingent, a group of some 25 Britons who joined the militia of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), a revolutionary socialist party with which the ILP was allied. The POUM, along with the radical wing of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT (the dominant force on the left in Catalonia), believed that Franco could be defeated only if the working class in the Republic overthrew capitalism - a position fundamentally at odds with that of the Spanish Communist Party and its allies, which (backed by Soviet arms and aid) argued for a coalition with bourgeois parties to defeat the Nationalists. In the months after July 1936 there was a profound social revolution in Catalonia, Aragon and other areas where the CNT was particularly strong. Orwell sympathetically describes the egalitarian spirit of revolutionary Barcelona when he arrived in Homage to Catalonia. By his own admission, Orwell joined the POUM rather than the Communist-run International Brigades by chance - but his experiences, in particular his narrow escape from the communist suppression of the POUM in June 1937, made him sympathetic towards the POUM and turned him into a lifelong anti-Stalinist. During his military service, Orwell was shot through the neck and nearly killed. He wrote in Homage to Catalonia that people frequently told him he was lucky to survive, but that he personally thought "it would be even luckier not to be hit at all."

 

1941 - Orwell took a job at the BBC Eastern Service, mostly working on programs to gain Indian and East Asian support for the United Kingdom's war efforts. He was well aware that he was engaged in propaganda, and wrote that he felt like "an orange that's been trodden on by a very dirty boot". The wartime Ministry of Information, based at Senate House (University of London), was the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nonetheless, Orwell devoted a good deal of effort to his BBC work, which gave him an opportunity to work closely with such figures as T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Mulk Raj Anand, and William Empson. Orwell's decision to resign from the BBC followed shortly upon a report confirming his fears about the broadcasts: there were very few Indians tuning in to listen. He also seems to have been impatient to begin work on the book which would become Animal Farm.

 

1943 - Despite the good pay, he resigned to become literary editor of Tribune, the left-wing weekly then edited by Aneurin Bevan and Jon Kimche.

 

1944 - Orwell finished his anti-Stalinist allegory Animal Farm, which was published the following year with great critical and popular success. The royalties from Animal Farm were to provide Orwell with a comfortable income for the first time in his adult life. While Animal Farm was at the printer, Orwell left Tribune to become (briefly) a war correspondent for The Observer. He was a close friend of the Observer's editor/owner, David Astor, and his ideas had a strong influence on Astor's editorial policies.

 

1948 - Orwell mixed journalistic work - mainly for Tribune, the Observer and the Manchester Evening News, though he also contributed to many small-circulation political and literary magazines - with writing his best-known work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published in 1949.

1949 - Orwell was approached by a friend, Celia Kirwan, who had just started working for a Foreign Office unit, the Information Research Department, which had been set up by the Labour government to publish pro-democratic and anti-communist propaganda. He gave her a list of 37 writers and artists he considered to be unsuitable as IRD authors because of their pro-communist leanings. Orwell's list was also accurate: the people on it had all, at one time or another, made pro-Soviet or pro-communist public pronouncements. In October 1949, shortly before his death, he married Sonia Brownell.

 

1950 - Orwell died in London at the age of 46 from tuberculosis, which he had probably contracted during the period described in Down and Out in Paris and London. He was in and out of hospitals for the last three years of his life. Having requested burial in accordance with the Anglican rite, he was interred in All Saints' Churchyard, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire with the simple epitaph: Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born June 25th, 1903, died January 21st, 1950.

 

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