George Orwell was the pen name of British author Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903–21 January 1950). Noted as a political and cultural commentator, Orwell is among the most widely admired English-language essayists of the twentieth century, though he is best known for two novels he wrote in the late 1940s, the political allegory Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The latter described a totalitarian dystopia so vividly that the adjective 'Orwellian' is now commonly used to describe totalitarian mechanisms of thought-control.
Eric Blair was born in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, in the then British colony of India, where his father, Richard, worked for the Opium Department of the Civil Service. His mother, Ida, brought him to England at the age of one. He did not see his father again until 1907, when Richard visited England for three months before leaving again until 1912. Eric had an older sister named Marjorie and a younger sister named Avril. With his characteristic humour, he would later describe his family's background as "lower-upper-middle class."
During most of his career Orwell was best known for his journalism, both in the British press and in books of reportage such as Homage to Catalonia (describing his experiences during the Spanish Civil War), Down and Out in Paris and London (describing a period of poverty in these cities), and The Road to Wigan Pier (which described the living conditions of poor miners in northern England). According to Newsweek, Orwell "was the finest journalist of his day and the foremost architect of the English essay since Hazlitt."
Contemporary readers are more often introduced to Orwell as a novelist, particularly through his enormously successful titles Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The former is an allegory of the corruption of the socialist ideals of the Russian Revolution by Stalinism, and the latter is Orwell's prophetic vision of the results of totalitarianism. Orwell had returned from Catalonia a staunch anti-Stalinist and anti-Communist, but he remained to the end a man of the left and, in his own words, a 'democratic socialist'.
Orwell is also known for his insights about the political implications of the use of language. In the essay "Politics and the English Language", he decries the effects of cliche, bureaucratic euphemism, and academic jargon on literary styles, and ultimately on thought itself. Orwell's concern over the power of language to shape reality is also reflected in his invention of Newspeak, the official language of the imaginary country of Oceania in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a variant of English in which vocabulary is strictly limited by government fiat. The goal is to make it increasingly difficult to express ideas that contradict the official line - with the final aim of making it impossible even to conceive such ideas. (cf. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). A number of words and phrases that Orwell coined in Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered the standard vocabularly, such as "memory hole," "Big Brother," "Room 101," "doublethink," "thought police," and "newspeak."
The comprehensive edition of Orwell's work was edited by Peter Davison and published in 20 volumes in 1998.
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