George Orwell in Morocco

George Orwell in Morocco

GEORGE ORWELL, the pen-name of Eric Arthur Blair, was born on 25 June 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, where his father, Richard Walmesley Blair, was working as an Opium Agent in the Indian Civil Service, into what – with the uncanny precision he brought to all social judgments – he described as ‘the lower-upper-middle classes’. In fact the Blairs were remote descendants of the Fane Earls of Westmoreland. Like many a child of the Raj, Orwell was swiftly returned to England and brought up almost exclusively by his mother. The Thames Valley locales in which the family settled provided the background to his novel Coming Up For Air (1939).

Happily for the family finances – never flourishing – Orwell was a studious child. From St Cyprian’s preparatory school in Eastbourne, a legendary establishment that also educated Cyril Connolly and Cecil Beaton, he won a King’s Scholarship to Eton College, arriving at the school in May 1917. Orwell left a caustic memoir of his time at St Cyprian’s (‘Such, Such Were The Joys’) but also remarked that ‘No one can look back on his schooldays and say with truth that they were altogether unhappy.’ At Eton he frankly slacked, leaving the school in December 1921 after only a term in the sixth form. The following June he passed the entrance examination of the Indian Imperial Police and was accepted into its Burma division.

Orwell’s five-year stint in Burma is often seen as a mournful period of parentally-ordained exile. However both sides of his family were professionally attached to the Eastern Empire, and his stated reason for applying for the Burma posting was that he had relatives there. Almost nothing is known of Orwell’s time in the province, other than that it offered the material for two of his best-known essays, ‘A Hanging’ and ‘Shooting an Elephant’ and his first novel Burmese Days (1934). It also ruined his health. Although disillusioned by the Imperial ‘racket’ he had helped to administer, he left Burma in June 1927 on a medical certificate. The decision to resign from the Burma Police was taken after his return.

For the next five years he led a vagrant life. Some of this time was spent at his parents’ home in Southwold, Suffolk. There were periods teaching in private schools, living in Paris and masquerading as a tramp, the background to his first published work, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). His professional alias, which combined the name of the reigning monarch with a local river, was adopted shortly before publication. His teaching career was brought to a close by a bout of pneumonia and at the end of 1934, having used a long, recuperative stay in Southwold to complete a second novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), he decamped to London to work in a Hampstead bookshop. This was a productive period. Here he met and married his first wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, and wrote a third novel, partly based on his book-trade experiences, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936).

The Orwells began their married life in a tiny cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire, where Orwell worked up the material gathered on a recent tour of the industrial north into The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). Although the book’s second half consists of a long, inflammatory polemic on Socialism, Orwell’s political views were still not fully formed. The defining political experience of his life, alternatively, was the six months he spent in Spain, in 1937, as a Republican volunteer against Franco. He was wounded in the throat – the bullet passing within a few millimetres of his carotid artery – and was present in Barcelona when Soviet-sponsored hit-squads attempted to suppress the Trotskyist POUM militia, of which he had been a member. Spain made Orwell ‘believe in Socialism for the first time’, as he put it, while instilling an enduring hatred of totalitarian political systems.

Homage to Catalonia, an account of his time in Spain, was published in April 1938. He spent most of the next year recuperating, both in England and Morocco, from a life-threatening lung haemorrhage. At this stage Orwell was determined to oppose the looming international conflict, only changing his mind on the announcement of the Russo-German pact in August 1939. Initially Orwell had high hopes of the war, which he believed would instil a sense of Socialist purpose: this view was developed in the pamphlet essay The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941). Rejected for military service on health grounds, he became a talks producer in the BBC’s Eastern Service, a job he came to dislike. The BBC’s atmosphere, he complained, ‘is something between a girls’ school and a lunatic asylum, and all we are doing at present is useless, or slightly worse than useless’. In 1943 he secured a more congenial billet as literary editor of the left-wing weekly magazine Tribune, to which he also contributed a column under the heading ‘As I Please’.

Animal Farm, his bitter satire of the Soviet experiment, was written by the middle of 1944. Publishers’ timidity, and the covert pressure exerted by a Russian spy working for the Ministry of Information, delayed its appearance until August 1945. By this time Orwell’s personal life was in ruins. Five months previously Eileen had died of heart failure during a routine operation. The couple had previously adopted a small boy, Richard Horatio Blair, whom Orwell, with the help of his sister Avril, determined to raise on his own.

Through his friend David Astor, he had already begun to explore the possibility of living on the remote Scottish island of Jura. Much of the last half-decade of his life was spent in the Inner Hebrides struggling against worsening health to complete his final novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. After finishing a final draft at the end of 1948 he suffered a complete physical collapse and was taken away to a nursing home in the Cotswolds suffering from advanced tuberculosis. The novel’s enormous international success, on publication in June 1949, came too late for its author. He was transferred to University College Hospital in September and died there on 21 January 1950, aged 46. Shortly before his death he made an unexpected second marriage to Sonia Brownell, an editorial assistant on the literary magazine Horizon. Sitting down to read his obituaries on the day of his funeral, his friend Malcolm Muggeridge thought that he saw in them ‘how the legend of a human being is created’.

D. J. Taylor

21 Responses to Biography

  1. Luciano Marrocu says:

    Very interesting

  2. manigeh says:

    I like his stories such as the vilage of animals.and i have been road several time.I would like conect with him

  3. MRL says:

    Great literature is,indeed,timeless…It is SOOOOOOOOO amazing how 1984 is our present world’s reality…Bravo,Orwell ,the Visionary !!!

  4. MRL says:


  5. Anthony says:

    Having read about many people who have changed our world, one way or the other, a commonality among most of them have been the harrowing lives that they have lived. It seems that the human mind and spirit thrives most when digging oneself out of a grave.

    Orwell was no different. What a great mind.

    Thank you for this blog.

  6. Nan L. Glass says:

    Reading the diaries and the biography by D.J. Taylor makes me want to read more by Orwell and know more about the man. Thank you for making me aware that he was more than an answer to a trivia quiz.


  7. Pingback: Non c’è più religione. « Taccuino di traduzione 2.0

  8. Jeanne says:

    I liked that Chris, very interesting..good reading

  9. Moira says:

    “Animal farm” foi editado em Portugal c/ o título “O triunfo dos porcos” e foi um grande sucesso.

  10. Iva says:

    Great author!
    His work is highly appreciated by readers all over the world.
    What I can say about ”1984” is that it is an incredible book, but it is definetely NOT our reality.It has some ideas that can be nitoced in some sociaties, but, fortunately it is not reality, it is only a ”terror” which should not to become our reality!

    Actually, 1984 is one of my favourite books!!!

  11. Pierre says:

    Great author and great man also. For those interested, I recommend the biography written by Bernard Crick.

    For Iva : I am not quite sure that 1984 is not our reality. We could speak about CCTV camera everywhere. But, most of all, talk about the application of “Novlangue”. In his postface to 1984, Orwell has written one of the most interesting text about the link between language and thoughts, and the methods (so well used today) to impoverish thoughts by a use of language…

  12. Andrea Catastini says:

    what about Orwell in spanish civil war? Why did he go there to fight or to witness the opportunity for common people to get a new era of self fulffilment as it can be understood from Coming up for Air?

  13. utsab Thapa says:

    its very impressive biography that so l love it iam waithing again this type of biography.

  14. Copa says:

    “Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” — Winston Churchill, 11 novembre 1947.

    George Orwell was maybe right in his “1984” essay, or novel was it ? Let us not believe democracy is a nirvana, it is but a lesser hell than other regimes, and has in common what power has in common, that is to use the system’s weakness wherever it be, and democracy remains weak when it assumes lies as truth, institutions as a guarantee of freedom. Like Orwell, let us see facts and fight blindness in the face of emphasis.

    A great author, and many thanks to this Orwelldiaries.

  15. Paul says:

    Some of my earliest memories are of sitting talking with my grandfather, who, regardless of the fact he was a life long Conservative voter, admired and often quoted Orwell to me as I was growing, and indeed, both my grandparents urged me with dire warnings that the price of freedom is vigilance and that we would live in a total surveillance society.

    Much of the wisdom that my grandparents and Orwell’s generation possessed is being lost to the populous, even though many of those dire warnings appear to becoming actualities.

    Thank you for helping bringing back such precious memories.

    Right! Were did I put that copy of ‘Shooting an Elephant’?

  16. A NON FARMER says:

    While I’ve read many books about animal husbandry it has me confused how this bloke has confused politics for procreation.
    That is, in the real world a fair amount of asses do sit on the fence as a way of avoiding responsibility.
    Then some poor ass, or was it a donkey, became the symbol for the US Democrats. (I’m 55 now and believe I’ve finally got it right)
    After all, an elephant sitting on a fence would appear somewhat inelegant, you’d agree?
    To continue. This reliance on animalistic transsubstantiation, as it were, does none of us much good.
    Mr Eric Arthur Blair’s (Arthur is such a cosy sounding name) early experience in a police force should have educated him. Some professing humanity do act as pigs. Some of certain religious persuasions are averse to pigs.
    Then in other parts of the world; piggery and thuggery go hand in hand.
    I live in Queensland Australia and know this for a fact.
    So while ‘George Orwell’ did his best to educate us about how not to behave – in actual fact his prime effort has been used as a textbook example of how to cause more grief to infinitely more people throughout every society on the face of this planet.
    Just bend corporate psychopathy at an early age towards an industrial process. Isolate the majority for long enough until they become inured.
    It works.

  17. A NON FARMER says:

    I’m reasonably convinced that accidents did happen.
    This Eric Blair was undoubtedly a creature of Empire.
    His own works disclosed that.
    The events of his age betrayed that.

    As Empire untwined – so did the beliefs of those involved.
    Those betrayed; disenfranchised by the collapse of profound belief tended to look for other causes, invented, then invested in other causes; or when all else failed, wanted to make allegorical statements about what went wrong, then eulogise for the rest of their natural about the result of the world falling apart about their ears. Let’s not mention the Mitfords.
    Given the attitudes of the plutocracy then, the outcome would not have been too difficult to predict.

    Welcome to the modern world!
    The sometime winners of raffles – professional gamblers – I do mean those who temporarily win office by election, want to claim too much power after winning their game of chance.
    If in office long enough, the hint of scandal might make for a few extra books sold, or at least a year or two more on the toastmaster’s circuit.
    It has all made an industry of what was once the family business of the select few.

    Back in Eric Blair’s day it was more of a family business condoned by entrenched and unelected power. The secrets were held close and only shared with trusted friends.
    Now that another Blair’s efforts have turned to dust it reaches the stage where a person wonders which pathway contained the greater virtue.
    I was intending to say, stupidly, that, at least, the old sort tended only to stuff about their own kind.
    Then, fortunately or unfortunately, I remembered the Somme, Passchendaele, Arnhem, and Coventry, Liverpool, Dresden and Hamburg, Caenne – and worse as the years roll on – the harvesting and liquidation of innocents, or those unfortunate enough just to be there.

  18. warren says:

    I am deeply indebted to Orwell for his insights into the violent and authoritarian nature of modern nation states (democratic or not). Yes, he is one of our great visionaries.

  19. George Orwell’s cynical realism has inspired me all my life!

    As a tribute to this truely great writer, I wrote a follow-up to the story called “Animal Farm Revisted”. This little story looks at how different things could have been if only the animals had believed in the seven noble ideals
    ·Fighting the just war
    ·Democracy, equality & fraternity
    ·Progress and enlightenment
    ·Justice always triumphs
    ·Nothing but the truth
    ·Viva free enterprise
    ·Never lose faith

    Totalitarian communism may not have been an answer. But how much better is democratic capitalism?

    You can find Animal Farm Revisited online at

  20. Andrew says:

    To A Non Farmer:

    You are certainly a non writer. Are you also drunk?

  21. Chiara Marsan says:

    Ciò che vorrei sottolineare è la coerenza nelle scelte di vita che ha sempre caratterizzato la vita di George Orwell : un esempio per tutti noi, un uomo che non si è mai venduto.

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