George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in Bengal in 1903 and was brought to England as a child. He was educated at Eton, then returned to Asia to serve in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922 to 1927. It is a rather surprising start for the author of Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1936), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and the journalism and pamphleteering that left no one in doubt of his leftist politics.
Orwell’s novels and other writings follow the trajectory of his life, from Burmese Days, describing his experience in the police force in Burma from which he resigned ‘to escape, not merely from imperialism, but from every form of man’s dominion over man’. There followed lean years, working in menial jobs in Paris and London, then as a journalist and a frustrated, unpublished author, before the commission to write about the North of England resulted in a classic of literary journalism, The Road to Wigan Pier.
In 1936 Orwell married Eileen O'Shaughnessy and the couple went together to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, which became the subject of Homage to Catalonia (1938). While in Spain, Orwell found himself on a Soviet NKVD hit list and had to escape across the border, a circumstance that must have intensified his growing hatred of Stalin.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Orwell tried but failed on medical grounds to join the military and channelled his energies into journalism, editing and writing for the Tribune, and broadcasting for the BBC’s eastern service. Animal Farm was written during these years, but unpublished while Stalin’s USSR, so powerfully satirized in the novel, remained an ally. With the beginning of the Cold War – a term coined by Orwell in a Tribune article of 1945 – his prophetic warnings of the threat of totalitarianism, Animal Farm and Nineteen-Eighty-Four, brought Orwell international success.
Eileen, his first wife, died in 1945; Orwell remarried in 1949 but died of TB the following year.