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George Orwell (Non-fiction)

George Orwell (Non-fiction)

George Orwell was a 20th Century English writer and critic.

He is best known for presenting the Russian Revolution through talking farm animals in his allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945) and predicting a future controlled by mass surveillance and an oppressive totalitarian government in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

An allegory is a piece of art or literature where a character, location, or plot represents a hidden meaning.

Dystopian fiction is a literary genre which portrays an undesirable world.

Not only did Orwell create interesting literature, but he also lived a very interesting life! Let's dive in and find out a bit more about this author.

Did you know? George Orwell's real name is Eric Arthur Blair! George Orwell is his pen name.

Orwell wrote under a pen name for two reasons. The first was for anonymity, especially when Orwell published his book Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), which portrayed his experiences of living in poverty. The second reason was that he didn't like the name Eric as it reminded him of a 'prig' (someone who thinks that they are better than others)!

George Orwell biography

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, British India. His father worked in the Indian civil service, and his mother was born and raised in Burma (now known as Myanmar).

British India refers to the Indian subcontinent when it was under the imperial control and rule of the British Crown. This rule lasted from 1858 to 1947.

In 1904, Orwell moved with his mother and older sister Marjorie to Henley-on-Thames in England. Orwell attended a convent school from age five to eight before obtaining a scholarship to a private boarding school in East Sussex. Orwell later earned scholarships to Wellington and Eton. After one term at Wellington, Orwell moved to Eton, where he studied from May 1917 to December 1921. During his time at school, Orwell noticed how he was less wealthy and privileged than his peers; he commented on this in his essay 'Such, Such Were the Joys' (1952).

Here's a hint! As you read through this section, keep an eye out for essays by Orwell - they'll be in bold. We'll look at some of these essays in more depth later in the article!

After leaving school, Orwell followed in his father's footsteps and returned to India, where he joined the Imperial Police (Indian police service). Orwell worked in Burma (Myanmar), which was a province of British India.

Orwell returned to England in 1927 after contracting dengue fever. While on leave, Orwell decided to resign from his position with the Indian Imperial Police and become a writer. He did so on March 12th 1928. Orwell's time in Burma inspired his essays 'A Hanging' (1931) and 'Shooting an Elephant' (1936).

Once he returned to England, Orwell lived at his family home in Southwold before moving to Portobello Road in London. Inspired by American author Jack London, Orwell decided to experience the lives and struggles of the lower classes in London, exploring and living in the poorer parts of the city. Orwell detailed his experience of staying overnight in a workhouse near London in his essay 'The Spike' (1931). The essay, and the events described in it, are also included in Orwell's book Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).

After living in London, Orwell moved to Paris, where he lived in the rue du Pot de Fer. It was here that he began to write his novels. In February 1929, Orwell became seriously unwell and stayed at a free hospital used to train medical students called the Hôpital Cochin. From this experience came Orwell's essay 'How the Poor Die' (1946).

Orwell returned to England in December 1929, where he remained for five years. During this time, Orwell worked as a school teacher, writer, and part-time assistant in a second-hand bookshop.

In 1936 Orwell left for Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the left-wing Republican army. Orwell's first-hand experience of this conflict and how war impacts everyday people inspired Homage to Catalonia (1938), Animal Farm (1945), and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Orwell left Spain and returned to England in June 1937.

In 1938 Orwell's health deteriorated; he was sent to Preston Hall Sanatorium in March 1938 and remained there until September. In September 1938, Orwell travelled to Morocco, where he stayed until March 1939.

When World War Two broke out in September 1939, Orwell submitted his name to the Central Register for war work. However, due to the state of his health, he was declared 'unfit for any kind of military service'. Orwell remained at home and began writing his first collection of essays titled Inside the Whale (1940). In 1940 he joined the Home Guard, a voluntary militia of armed citizens which supported the British Army.

During World War Two, Orwell wrote for papers including The Listener, Tribune, and Partisan Review. Orwell also published his essay 'England Your England' (1941) and his pamphlet 'The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius' (1941). In August 1941, he began working full-time for the BBC's Eastern Service.

Orwell continued to write and publish work through World War Two up until his death in January 1950 at age 46. He was buried under his birth name Eric Arthur Blair at All Saints' parish churchyard in Oxfordshire.

George Orwell facts

Now that you know the details of Orwell's life, here are some interesting facts about him:

  • Orwell could speak a total of seven languages; French, Burmese, Greek, Spanish, Latin, and German.
  • While living in the poorer areas of London in the late 1920s, Orwell tried to be sent to prison so he could write about the experience. He got extremely drunk in an attempt to be arrested; however only spent 48 hours in custody.
  • During his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell was spied on by a Soviet Union undercover agent.1
  • Although Animal Farm is one of Orwell's most famous works, he originally had trouble publishing it! The novella was rejected by Faber and Faber and Jonathan Cape before it was accepted by publisher Fredric Warburg.
  • Orwell coined the term 'cold war' in his 1945 essay 'You and the Atom Bomb'. Orwell also coined the term 'Orwellian', which refers to writings or situations that are similar to the dystopian and totalitarian societies described in Orwell's work.

Totalitarianism refers to a system of government which operates as a dictatorship, completely controlling its citizens.

George Orwell achievements

As we've seen, Orwell lived a short yet incredible life! Although Orwell was a critically acclaimed writer, ranking second on the Times' list of 'The 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945' (2008), he didn't win many awards for his work.

In 1946, Animal Farm received the Retro Hugo Award for Best Novella. And in 1984, Orwell received the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for his work Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell received a second Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2011 for Animal Farm.

Books by George Orwell

Orwell wrote a number of famous fiction books during his lifetime, including:

  • A Clergyman's Daughter (1934)
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)
  • Animal Farm (1945)
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

You can find out more about Orwell's fiction books in our article here!

Alongside writing a number of famous works of fiction, Orwell wrote several non-fiction books and articles.

Orwell's non-fiction works include;

  • Down and Out In Paris and London (1933). This work presents Orwell's experiences of living in the poorer areas of Paris and London.
  • The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). The first half of this work documents Orwell's investigations into the living conditions of the working class in the industrial north of England. The second half covers Orwell's own upbringing in a middle-class family and how he came to be in favour of socialism.
  • Homage to Catalonia (1938), which is a personal account of Orwell's experiences fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

During his lifetime, two books of Orwell's essays were published; Inside the Whale and Other Essays (1940) and Critical Essays (1946). In 1950, following Orwell's death Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays was published, followed by England Your England and Other Essays in 1953.

George Orwell Essays

Let's take a look at some of Orwell's essays!

'A Hanging' (1931)

In this short essay, Orwell describes the execution of a criminal in Burma (Myanmar). The essay is narrated in the first person; however, the narrator does not take part in the hanging.

Neither the narrator nor the criminal is named. All involved in the hanging appear to find it an unpleasant experience and are relieved when they leave the scene.

The narrator considers 'what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man', becoming aware that the man is 'alive just as' he and his colleagues 'are alive'.

Although Orwell never admitted it, it is likely that this story is based on his own experiences when working in India.

'England Your England' (1941)

This essay opens Orwell's 1941 pamphlet 'The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius'. Orwell wrote the essay during The Blitz in 1941, when German bombers attacked London. He described the situation as one in which;

highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.

The essay was inspired by Orwell's concern that Nazi Germany would decimate England, its culture, and its people. He attempted to capture the nation's people and culture to preserve England's legacy in the eyes of the greater world. Although Orwell critiqued the patriotism present in England, he also argued that England was a highly democratic country which would not become a fascist state unless the country was destroyed.

'How the Poor Die' (1946)

This essay is a short story on Orwell's experience at a French hospital in the late 1920s. In the essay, Orwell referred to the hospital as 'Hôpital X' to avoid it being discovered by readers.

During the essay, Orwell recounts the way in which the staff treated their patients. Orwell described the treatment as rough and indifferent, comparing it to his more pleasant experience in an English cottage hospital.

Alongside recounting his own experiences in a public French hospital, Orwell considered the medical history behind hospitals, stating;

Hospitals began as a kind of casual ward for lepers and the like to die in, and they continued as places where medical students learned their art on the bodies of the poor.

George Orwell quotes

'The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius' (1940)

It is a fact that any rich man... has less to fear from Fascism than either Communism or democratic Socialism.

In this pamphlet, Orwell discussed the political and social climate in Britain during World War Two. He argued that Britain's class system was damaging the war effort by creating systemic inequality amongst its population. Based on this, Orwell pushed for a socialist revolution in England to create a stronger and more equal society. Orwell highlighted how those in power, the upper classes, would oppose such a revolution more than they opposed the fascist regimes in Germany and Italy, as socialism would reduce their power and control over the British people.

'Politics and the English Language' (1946)

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.

In his essay 'Politics and the English Language', Orwell argued that the English language, and its use in writing, was suffering due to a poor political climate. He highlighted the use of fluff words, abstract language, and clichés in propaganda intended to control the masses.

'Why I Write' (1946)

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.

In his essay 'Why I Write', Orwell discussed his journey to becoming a writer, detailing his 'four great motives for writing'. These motives are; 'sheer egoism', 'aesthetic enthusiasm', 'historical impulse', and 'political purpose'. Orwell highlighted in this essay how his experiences during the Spanish Civil War influenced his personal politics, which he reflected in his writings.

George Orwell - Key takeaways

  • George Orwell was an English writer and critic who lived from 1903 to 1950.
  • Orwell was born in India; however, he grew up and attended school in England. After leaving secondary school, Orwell returned to India, where he worked in the police force until 1928.
  • Orwell lived in London and Paris for a period of time, experiencing the poorer areas of these cities. Orwell wrote Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) based on these experiences.
  • Orwell wrote a number of books during his lifetime, including; A Clergyman's Daughter (1934), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), Animal Farm (1945), and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
  • Orwell is known for both his fiction and non-fiction writing. He produced a number of non-fiction essays based on his life experiences and political views.

References

  1. Gordon Bowker, George Orwell, 2004.

Frequently Asked Questions about George Orwell (Non-fiction)

George Orwell was a 20th Century English writer and critic who lived from 1903 to 1950.

In 1949 Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four. In this work Orwell warned of a dystopian future controlled by a totalitarian government through surveillance and propaganda.

Orwell died of tuberculosis in 1950.

George Orwell was a socialist. In his essay 'Why I Write' (1946) Orwell stated that 'every line of serious work' he had written since the Spanish Civil War was 'directly or indirectly...for democratic socialism'.

George Orwell is best known for his novella Animal Farm (1945) and his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

Final George Orwell (Non-fiction) Quiz

Question

Who wrote Down and Out in Paris and London?

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Answer

George Orwell.

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What genre is Down and Out in Paris and London?

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Answer

Memoir.

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What year was Down and Out in Paris and London published?

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Answer

1933.

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Is Down and Out in Paris and London fictional or non-fiction?

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Answer

It is a fictionalised version of true events.

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Question

What is George Orwell's real name?

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Answer

Eric Arthur Blaire.

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In which city is the narrator a dishwasher?

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Answer

Paris.

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Who is the narrator's Russian roommate and friend?

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Answer

Boris.

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In which city is the narrator a 'tramp' or homeless person?

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Answer

London.

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Who is the narrator's guide to the charitable organisations and 'spikes' in London?

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Answer

Paddy Jaques.

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What are some themes in Down and Out in Paris and London?

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Answer

Cycles of poverty, oppression and social inequalities are some themes in Down and Out in Paris and London.

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True or false: George Orwell's real name is Arthur Eric Blair.

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Answer

False! Orwell's real name is Eric Arthur Blair. George Orwell is his pen name. 

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Which country was Orwell born in?

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Answer

India

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True or false: Orwell studied at Eton College. 

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Answer

True! Orwell completed his secondary studies at Eton College on a scholarship. 

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What did Orwell do after he left school?

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Answer

He moved to India where he worked in the Indian Imperial Police.

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Which two essays did Orwell write on his time in Burma?

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Answer

'A Hanging' (1931) and 'Shooting an Elephant' (1936).

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What event did Orwell write his essay 'How the Poor Die' (1946) on?

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Answer

His experience at the Hôpital Cochin.

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True or false: Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War.

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Answer

True! In 1936 Orwell left for Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the left-wing Republican army. 

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Which of these texts was not inspired by Orwell's experiences during the Spanish Civil War?

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Answer

Burmese Days (1934)

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True or false: Orwell fought in World War Two.

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Answer

False! Orwell submitted his name to the Central Register for war work. However, due to the state of his health he was declared 'unfit for any kind of military service'. 

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Question

Complete the sentence: Orwell's first collection of essays was titled Inside the ___ (1940).

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Answer

Whale

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When did Orwell die?

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Answer

1950

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How many languages did Orwell speak?

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Answer

Seven

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Which term did Orwell coin in his 1945 essay 'You and the Atom Bomb'?

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Answer

Cold war

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True or false: Orwell received two Prometheus Hall of Fame Awards after his death.

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Answer

True! Orwell received the first Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1984 for Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the second in 2011 for Animal Farm. 

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Question

When did Orwell publish 'England Your England'?

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Answer

1941

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