Orwell: Prose

Orwell: Prose

Big Brother. Thought Police. War is Peace. The writing of George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) has a unique feel. A distinct style of prose that doesn't come from the hand of a genius but from the hand of a committed ideologue who never attempted to aggrandise himself or to define himself as an artist of ability. His literature comes from a place so ordinary as to be a familiar story to many who were born in England in the first years of the 20th century. Orwell was from an upper lower middle-class background and educated at numerous private schools. His family's fortunes rapidly diminished throughout his early life and by his late teens Orwell felt he was from a visibly poorer background than the one he was born into. Towards the end of his education Orwell considered going onto university but his family couldn't afford the scholarship. Instead, Orwell joined the Imperial Police, choosing a posting in Burma that would alter the direction of his life. Orwell was clearly deeply influenced by his time in Burma writing the novel Burmese Days and two essays, A Hanging and Shooting an Elephant about his life in the country.

In 1927 Orwell returned to England wanting to become a writer. He took lodgings at Portobello Road in London and began spending time amongst the poor and downtrodden of the East End. A year later he moved to Paris taking menial jobs in restaurants and hotels. Orwell fell seriously ill while in Paris and wrote about his experiences of ill health in his essay, How the poor Die. After nearly two years in Paris, Orwell returned to England and went to stay with his parents in Suffolk. In 1933 Orwell published his first book, Down and out in Paris and London, documenting his experiences of poverty and exploitation in the cities.

Homage to Catalonia has gone down as arguably Orwell's most influential work of non-fiction. The Spanish Civil War was one of the most significant events of Orwell's lifetime. The elected Republican Government was fighting against the Fascist forces of General Franco and Orwell knew he had to go and volunteer to fight. Defending the Spanish government had become a cause celebre for world leftists with thousands going to Spain to fight the fascists. With the help of the ILP (Independent Labour Party) Orwell joined the POUM militia and was sent to the Aragon front. After returning to Barcelona on leave Orwell wanted to be sent to the Madrid front where the fighting was more intense. Eventually Orwell returned to the Aragon front and was wounded when a sniper's bullet ripped through his neck. After being wounded Orwell wanted to leave Spain and after securing the required documentation, he and his wife left the country. Orwell published Homage to Catalonia in 1938 describing his experiences during the Spanish Civil War.

1984 has gone down in literary and political history as one of the major works published in the 20th century. The novel, with its partner book Animal Farm, put down in literary style the corruption and abuses of the Russian Revolution. Winston Smith lives a lonely and isolated life as a minor party member in London. Surrounded by false history and a manipulated present he longs for truth and to experience life in human form. He meets Julia, another party member, and they start an affair. Eventually they join the resistance, but their contact turns out to be an agent of the Thought Police and Smith is arrested. 1984 is a seminal classic of modern literature. Orwell is denouncing Stalinism in fiction just like he denounced Imperialism in Burmese Days. 1984 is even more remarkable as Orwell wrote the novel when he was dying. Writing 1984 was so important to him that he struggled through the pain and suffering to finish it.

George Orwell died of tuberculosis in January 1950. His legacy has a truly unique quality in both fiction and non-fiction. His essay Politics and the English Language is a must read for any budding writer. Homage to Catalonia is one of the most important pieces of war reporting ever written and 1984 is an era defining novel. Stalinism exposed by fiction. Orwell's body of work is now very nearly reaching their centenary but their power, and importance, have never been so necessary to anyone who wishes to write.