Previously I bored you with a snippet from a 1983 newspaper article about the 35th anniversary of the publication of “1984” by George Orwell.
Today we have a brief sidebar from that article busting a few of the familiar myths about Orwell the man:
George Orwell: An eternal pessimist
George Orwell was born Eric Blair in Motihari, Bengal, in 1903, the only son of a minor official in the Indian Customs office.
But Eric Blair in the guise of Orwell would reject his middle class upbringing to live out much of his life as an ardent socialist.
Orwell earned a scholarship to Eton, but always seemed bitter about not being able to attend Oxford or Cambridge — the schools which opened doors to the professions and better paying jobs. Perhaps in retaliation, he affected the coarse style and clothing of the lower classes. He even hand rolled the 40 or so cigarettes he smoked a day.
He took the pen name George Orwell when he wrote “Down and Out in Paris and London” in 1933. It apparently referred to St. George and a river.
Orwell placed himself in his books. He evoked the smells of the poor in his books — the smells of smoke and boiled cabbage and decay.
“Animal Farm” can be seen as a parody of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War.
Orwell went to Spain to write newspaper articles, but he immediately joined the POUM, one of the left-wing militia fighting alongside the communists against the fascist forces of Franco.
While Orwell was recuperating from a wound to the throat, the POUM was denounced by the communists and its offices seized, its leaders jailed or killed. Some say the outcast pig in “Animal Farm” and the outcast Goldstein in “1984” are characters based on the leader of the POUM. Some have said the characters are based on Trotsky, who was cast out of the Communist Party.
In “1984” Room 101 becomes the most feared interrogation room, the room where one is confronted with his worst fears, in Winston Smith’s case — rats. During World War II, Room 101 was the BBC room where he produced propaganda.
The eternal pessimist, Orwell once wrote, “I had no money, I was weak, I was ugly, I was unpopular, I had a chronic cough, I was cowardly, I smelt … The conviction that it was not possible for me to be a success went deep enough to influence my actions till far into adult life. Until I was thirty I always planned my life on the assumption not only that any major undertaking was bound to fail, but that I could only expect to live a few years longer.”
The man who has been called a prophet of our age suggested to his publisher that he print only 10,000 copies of “1984” — a book that has since been translated into 60 languages.
Orwell carried with him a deep guilt over his experiences as a British colonial police officer in Burma. It apparently influenced his politics and his writing. He once wrote of this Burmese experience, “For five years I had been part of an oppressive system … I was conscious of an immense weight of guilt that I had to expiate.”
Dying of tuberculosis, Orwell went to the Isle of Jura off the coast of Scotland in 1946 to write “1984.” It was to be his last book and his most remembered. He died in January 1950, seven months after the book was published.