The greatest writer of the Twentieth Century.
Born in India in 1903, he had a public school upbringing at Eton before joining the Imperial Police Force in Burma. It was there that he experienced first hand the reality of British colonialism, an experience which led to his lifelong alliegance to socialism. However, it was socialism of a typically independent sort. In 1928 he returned to England and, after a succession of jobs began to write, full time.
His early books such as Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London are first hand accounts of suffering and hardship – and, by their definition, implicit criticisms of those left-wing intellectuals who were more interested in theory than reality.
In 1936 he joined the Republican army in the Spanish Civil War and his book Homage to Catalonia is the only account of the Communist suppression of the Trotskyite militia. Since most British socialists were toeing the party line and condemning the Trotskyists Orwell came under considerable criticism and personal attack. His stance culminated in his best known book Animal Farm, is a stinging indictment of Stalinism at a time when it was more fashionable among British socialists to praise, or at least excuse the dictator.
Likewise, he used his column in Tribune and articles in periodicals to praise such ‘un-socialist’ writers as Dickens and Kipling, and to rail against political censorship and revisionism.
1984, perhaps his greatest book, is a condemnation of Totalitarianism. Although frequently cited as a criticism of Communism, it is totalitarianism in all its forms that Orwell writes against. (It was not, of course, about 1984, but about 1948. Orwell simply reversed the numerals.)
He remained a very English socialist: addicted to beer and bookshops, tea and toast. For my own part, I think his essays represent the best of his writing. The style is taut and simple, the language as lucid and clear as ice. Everyone – especially anyone who wants to write – should read ‘Politics and the English Language’, but the four volume Collected Essays and Letters are required reading for anyone who cares about language, England, honesty, or about civilisation.
There’s also a 20 volume collected works out, for anyone who is extremely rich. However, they are superb – the last word in Orwell scholarship.
Newly redesigned, with some great links – including a link to a site which ‘translates’ modern newspapers into ‘newspeak’.