Happy Birthday

george orwell
Associated Press

Happy Birthday, George Orwell, Author of “1984”

June 25, 2009
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
George Orwell holds a significant place in contemporary literature. His politically charged masterpieces, “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” introduced an entirely different approach to issues such as freedom and totalitarianism, and remain fresh and relevant today.

Early Days

Eric Arthur Blair, later known as George Orwell, was born on June 25, 1903, in Motihari, Bengal, then a British colony in India. As The Literature Network explains, his father, Richard Walmesley Blair, worked for the Indian Civil Service and his mother, Ida Mabel Limouzin, stayed at home with Eric and his two sisters, Marjorie and Avril.

The Blair family relocated to England when Eric was just one year old. When he was five years old, he enrolled in the Anglican parish school of Henley-on-Thames and transferred to St. Cyprian’s school in Sussex two years later. It was during his time at St. Cyprian’s that Eric wrote his first published poem, entitled “Awake! Young Men of England.” The Literature Network suggests that part of Eric’s resentment toward authority—which surfaces early in his work—stems from the corporal punishment he experienced at school, a common practice in British private schools at the time.

Between 1917 and 1921, Eric attended the prestigious Eton College on a scholarship. According to George-Orwell.org, “It is clear that he was disliked by some of his teachers, who resented what they perceived as disrespect for their authority.” Nonetheless, he was also able to forge lasting friendships with future intellectuals such as Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World,” who taught him French, The Literature Network writes.

Notable Accomplishments

After graduating from Eton, Orwell decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Indian Imperial Police in the British colony of Burma, the BBC explains. In 1927, however, he resigned to pursue a career in writing. According to the BBC, Eric moved to Paris in 1928 and worked in a series of odd jobs to support his writing. He described these hardships in his first book, “Down and Out in Paris and London” (1933), and took the name of George Orwell shortly before it was published. According to George-Orwell.org, Eric’s chosen pen name combined the name George, England’s patron saint, with that of the River Orwell in Suffolk, “one of his most beloved English sites.”

Soon after the Spanish Civil War began, Orwell volunteered to fight for the Republicans against Franco. In 1937, he was wounded, and he and his wife, Eileen, left Spain after “narrowly missing being arrested as ‘Trotskyites’ when the communists” moved in, according to George-Orwell.org. In 1941, Orwell worked for the BBC Eastern Service but resigned in 1943 to work as a literary editor for the newspaper Tribune. His anti-Stalinist sentiments led him to write the political fable “Animal Farm,” published in 1944. The book was received positively by readers and critics, and the royalties allowed Orwell to finally achieve financial comfort.

In 1949, Orwell published “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” his most acclaimed novel and one of the most renowned examples of the dystopian or negative utopian genre. In an article for The Observer, critic Robert McCrum describes the novel as “a story that remains eternally fresh and contemporary, and whose terms such as ‘Big Brother’, ‘doublethink’ and ‘newspeak’ have become part of everyday currency.”

The Rest of the Story

Orwell’s first wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy, died in 1945 after surgery, leaving Orwell in charge of their adopted son, Richard Horatio Blair. According to George-Orwell.org, he married Sonia Brownell in 1949. His health, however, continued to deteriorate after the publication of “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” and “[h]e was in and out of hospitals for the last three years of his life," the site reports. On Jan. 21, 1950, Orwell died at the age of 46 from tuberculosis.

In December 1984, a movie version of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” hit theaters. The movie starred John Hurt and Richard Burton, and was well received by the public.

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