ENG. 101 Freshman Composition
December 11, 2011
Instructor: Prof. Daniel Linker
George Orwell: A Literary Genius Eric Arthur Blair, commonly known as George Orwell was born in India in 1903. His father was a minor British official. Throughout Orwell’s childhood he felt a deep sense of isolation, a factor that later influenced his writing. He attended St. Cyprian’s preparatory school and, later, Eton College. Having completed his education, Orwell then served as Assistant Superintendent of Police in Burma between 1922 and 1928. He resigned and returned to England in 1928 having grown to hate imperialism as shown by his first novel Burmese Days, published in 1934, and by such essays as “A Hanging”, and “Shooting an Elephant”. These were written, however, well after his resignation as a colonial officer.
Orwell lived for several years in poverty, sometimes homeless, sometimes doing itinerant work. He eventually found work as a schoolteacher until ill health forced him to give this up to work part-time as an assistant in a secondhand bookshop in Hampstead, an experience later recounted in the short novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
In many ways the political motivation of Orwell’s writing is traced to his experiences in Burma. Tyner quotes Orwell as Orwell explained that:
I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism. (Tyner 262)
He adopted his pen name in 1933, while writing for the New Adelphi. He chose a pen name that stressed his deep, lifelong affection for the English tradition and countryside: George is the patron saint of England, while the River Orwell in Suffolk was one of his most beloved English sites.
Soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Orwell volunteered to fight for the Republicans against Franco's Nationalist uprising. Orwell was shot in the neck in 1937, an experience he described in his short essay "Wounded by a Fascist Sniper", as well as in Homage to Catalonia.
Orwell began supporting himself by writing book reviews for the New English Weekly until 1940. During World War II in 1941 he began work for the BBC Eastern Service, mostly working to gain Indian and East Asian support for Britain's war efforts. He was well aware that he was shaping propaganda, and wrote that he felt like an orange that's been trodden on by a very dirty boot. Despite the good pay, he resigned in 1943 to become literary editor of Tribune.
Orwell died at the age of 46 from tuberculosis. 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.
Orwell, whose books have sold a phenomenal forty million copies in more than sixty languages, was the most influential prose stylist of the twentieth century. His primary ambition was to be a writer of fiction but wrote mostly on the real incidents of his life. Jeffrey Meyers points out, “Orwell found it difficult to invent fiction incidents and wanted to use the events of his life …..” (Meyers 99). Among his most powerful essays is the 1936 autobiographical essay "Shooting an Elephant”, which Orwell based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.
Orwell used his journalism to attack politician’s lies and tactics. His genius was to write more acutely about politics than anyone had ever done before. Meyers points out, “Orwell saw political writing not only as a powerful tool for conveying ideas, but also as a demanding and enthralling art with a moral imperative to search for truth” (Meyers 93). Orwell