George Orwell’s birthday!

Today is the birthday of English novelist, essayist, and critic George Orwell (books by this author), born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 in Motihari, British India. In childhood, Orwell was an avid reader, but a neglectful student: his parents decided he would be better off testing for a position on the Indian Imperial Police force. He chose a posting in Burma, where he was responsible for the security of more than 200,000 people and where he first started to see the consequences of poverty and oppression. It was in Burma that he began a physical, as well as political, metamorphosis: he grew a mustache and had a small blue circle tattooed on each knuckle, something the Burmese natives did to protect against bullets and snake bites. He contracted dengue fever and returned to England to recuperate in 1927, deciding to resign his post and become a writer. He used his experiences in Burma for his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Resolving to write about poverty in England and the “down and outers who inhabit it,” he began dressing as a tramp and living among the lower classes and the destitute, penning strident essays under the pen name P.S. Burton. He ended 1931 by getting drunk and trying to get himself jailed so he could write about it, but his state of drunkenness was deemed “insufficient” and he was sent home. The essays formed the basis of the book Down and Out in Paris and London(1933).

For a few years, he continued to write essays, while working as teacher and at the Booklovers’ Corner, a second-hand bookshop. He joined the Spanish Civil War and got shot in the throat by a sniper. In his essay “Why I Write,” he said: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art.”

In the early 1940s, Orwell began work on a novel about a group of farm animals who decide to stage an uprising against their tyrannical farmer called Animal Farm (1945). It was published near the end of the war, and became an international sensation. Then came the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, about a man losing his identity while living under a repressive regime.

Taken from Writer’s Almanac.