Thursday, June 25, 2009

Happy Birthday George Orwell

photo lifted from Martin Frost

It's the birthday of the novelist and essayist George Orwell, (books by this author) born Eric Arthur Blair in Bengal, India (1903). He grew up in England in what he described as the "lower-upper-middle class," in a family that acted as if it were from the upper class but didn't really have much money. He was sent off to private boarding schools, which he hated. After graduation, he wanted to get as far away from England as possible, so he joined the British Imperial Police in Burma, which he hated just as much. He saw that the system was unjust, and he was forced to act as one of the oppressors. So he went back to England, and he said, "I felt that I had got to escape not merely from imperialism but from every form of man's dominion over man. I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed, to be one of them and on their side against the tyrants." He worked for a while as a dishwasher, then a teacher, and then he decided to try writing. He used his experiences of being poor and unemployed, and he wrote Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).

He worked as a journalist, and he was sent to cover the Spanish Civil War. In Barcelona, he observed a communist utopia, and he said, "Many of the normal motives of civilized life — snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. — had simply ceased to exist. … I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for." But then he watched communism and fascism turn into extremist ideologies, and he decided that idealism was always dangerous in the extreme. He continued as a journalist, but he said, "Only the mentally dead are capable of sitting down and writing novels while this nightmare is on."

But then one day he saw a boy leading a horse down the road, and he wondered what would happen if domesticated animals banded together to stage a revolution, and he wrote one of his most famous novels, Animal Farm (1945), modeled on the Bolshevik Revolution. Over the next few years, while he was suffering from tuberculosis, he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). He died a few months after it was published, and today it is considered one of the best dystopian novels ever written, and even people who have never read Nineteen Eighty-Four probably use the phrase "Big Brother is watching you."

He said, "Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers."

Lifted from the Writer's Almanac


Patsy said...

My third favorite author - 1984 - !My first and second (today at least) Arthur C. Clark and Aldous Huxley. Who would have thought that?

Melita said...

i love it that you put so much info up about these guys! thanks for doing this.