George Orwell (1903-1950) was a British novelist and literary critic best known for the novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
Born on June 25, 1903, he was originally named Eric Arthur Blair. Orwell spent his first year in India, where his father, Richard Walmesley Blair, was a minor British government official. His mother, Ida Limouzin Blair, returned to England with her daughter and son in 1904.
They settled in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, where they were joined by Orwell's father after his retirement in 1912. Orwell was educated at Sunnylands, a local Anglican school, and later sent to St. Cyprian's, a boarding school in Eastbourne, Sussex. He was withdrawn and unhappy, as he later recounted in his autobiographical Such, Such Were the Joys (1953).
Orwell was awarded a scholarship to Eton School, where he completed his secondary education in 1921. He decided not to pursue higher education, but to become an official in the British Empire like his father. He accordingly took the India Office examinations and joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1922.
In 1927 Orwell resigned from his post and, much to his parents' chagrin, decided to become a writer. During his time in Burma he had developed an antipathy for British rule and was frustrated by the racism and superiority he had witnessed. He moved to London, and then to Paris in 1928. Orwell worked as a dishwasher and published articles, short stories, and reviews in local newspapers.
After two years in France, Orwell returned to England at the end of 1929. He continued to write short stories and reviews. His famous essay "The Hanging," describing the execution of a criminal in Burma, appeared in 1931. He taught for a year at a private school in Hayes, Middlesex.
Orwell published his first book, the nonfiction Down and Out In Paris and London (1933), based on his experiences living among the working classes. The book appeared under "George Orwell," the first time he used the pen name. All of his subsequent writings would be written under this name.
During the following seven years, Orwell produced a prolific number of books: Burmese Days (1934), A Clergyman's Daughter (1935), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Homage to Catalonia (1938), Coming Up for Air (1939), Inside the Whale, and Other Essays (1940), and The Lion and the Unicorn (1941).
The famous essay "Shooting an Elephant" appeared in 1936. It was the story of a British official killing an elephant in Burma and having to witness the animal's slow and gruesome death. The story was a metaphor for Orwell's view of the British Empire.
Orwell married Eileen O'Shaughnessy in 1936. The following year he set out for Spain, where the Civil War was underway. Passionately dedicated to the Republican cause, he fought on the front lines and was wounded in the throat. Orwell returned to England to recover. By the following year he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and he spent time in Morocco in hopes that the dry air would relieve him.
Because of his poor health, Orwell was not recruited into World War II. Instead, he worked at the British Broadcasting Corporation from 1941 to 1943. Unable to have children, he and his wife adopted an infant son, Richard, in 1944. The following year, Eileen died while undergoing an operation.
Orwell published Animal Farm (1945) and Critical Essays (1946). During his final years he struggled with tuberculosis, spending much of his time at hospitals and sanatoriums. He completed his final book, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in between hospitals stays. Orwell married his second wife, Sonia Brownell, just three months before his death on January 21, 1950. He was forty-six.