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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 characterised by lucid prose, social criticism, opposition to totalitarianism, and support of democratic socialism.
Orwell produced literary criticism and poetry, fiction and polemical journalism. He is known for the allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945) and the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His non-fiction works, including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), documenting his experience of working-class life in the industrial north of England, and Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences soldiering for the Republican faction of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), are as critically respected as his essays on politics and literature, language and culture.
Blair was born in India, and raised and educated in England. After school he became an Imperial policeman in Burma, before returning to Suffolk, England, where he began his writing career as George Orwell—a name inspired by a favourite location, the River Orwell. He lived from occasional pieces of journalism, and also worked as a teacher or bookseller whilst living in London. From the late 1920s to the early 1930s, his success as a writer grew and his first books were published. He was wounded fighting in the Spanish Civil War, leading to his first period of ill health on return to England. During the Second World War he worked as a journalist and for the BBC. The publication of Animal Farm led to fame during his life-time. During the final years of his life he worked on 1984, and moved between Jura in Scotland and London. It was published in June 1949, less than a year before his death.
Orwell’s work remains influential in popular culture and in political culture, and the adjective “Orwellian”—describing totalitarian and authoritarian social practices—is part of the English language, like many of his neologisms, such as “Big Brother”, “Thought Police”, “Room 101”, “Newspeak”, “memory hole”, “doublethink”, and “thoughtcrime”. In 2008, The Times ranked George Orwell second among “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
In an autobiographical piece that Orwell sent to the editors of Twentieth Century Authors in 1940, he wrote: “The writers I care about most and never grow tired of are: Shakespeare, Swift, Fielding, Dickens, Charles Reade, Flaubert and, among modern writers, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. But I believe the modern writer who has influenced me most is W. Somerset Maugham, whom I admire immensely for his power of telling a story straightforwardly and without frills.” Elsewhere, Orwell strongly praised the works of Jack London, especially his book The Road. Orwell’s investigation of poverty in The Road to Wigan Pier strongly resembles that of Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, in which the American journalist disguises himself as an out-of-work sailor to investigate the lives of the poor in London. In his essay “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels” (1946) Orwell wrote: “If I had to make a list of six books which were to be preserved when all others were destroyed, I would certainly put Gulliver’s Travels among them.” On H. G. Wells he wrote, “The minds of all of us, and therefore the physical world, would be perceptibly different if Wells had never existed.”
Orwell was an admirer of Arthur Koestler and became a close friend during the three years that Koestler and his wife Mamain spent at the cottage of Bwlch Ocyn, a secluded farmhouse that belonged to Clough Williams-Ellis, in the Vale of Ffestiniog.
Other writers admired by Orwell included: Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Gissing, Graham Greene, Herman Melville, Henry Miller, Tobias Smollett, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, and Yevgeny Zamyatin. He was both an admirer and a critic of Rudyard Kipling, praising Kipling as a gifted writer and a “good bad poet” whose work is “spurious” and “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting,” but undeniably seductive and able to speak to certain aspects of reality more effectively than more enlightened authors. He had a similarly ambivalent attitude to G. K. Chesterton, whom he regarded as a writer of considerable talent who had chosen to devote himself to “Roman Catholic propaganda”, and to Evelyn Waugh, who was, he wrote, “ab[ou]t as good a novelist as one can be (i.e. as novelists go today) while holding untenable opinions”.