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Orwell Centenary: George Orwell, 1903-1950

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George Orwell was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. On the hundredth anniversary of his birth we examine the controversy around his work and his legacy for today. The facts of Orwell's life.
Issue 276

25 June 1903
Eric Arthur Blair born in the Indian village of Motihari, son of a minor official in the opium department of the Indian civil service.

The Blairs return to England.

Eric sent to St Cyprian’s preparatory school in Sussex.

Wins a scholarship to Eton.

Joins the Indian imperial police. Stationed in Burma from January 1922.

Resigns post to pursue writing. Returns to Europe. Tramps around the rural south east of England and becomes a dishwasher in Paris to investigate the lives of the poor.

Poverty forces him to become a teacher in a private school in Middlesex.

Down and Out in Paris and London published by Victor Gollancz. Blair adopts the pseudonym ‘George Orwell’, fearing that a poor critical reception will damage his literary ambitions.

Burmese Days, a semi-autobiographical novel portraying British colonialism, is released, though only after editorial changes to offset libel fears.

Orwell’s second novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter, published. Orwell becomes a bookshop assistant in Hampstead and acquainted with several Independent Labour Party (ILP) members.

Gollancz commissions Orwell to report from depressed areas of the industrial north for a long essay for the publisher’s Left Book Club. Orwell writes The Road to Wigan Pier, his most socialist work to date.

Orwell marries Eileen O’Shaughnessy, with whom he travels to Barcelona to support the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Joins up with the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (the POUM) militia.

Orwell wounded by a sniper’s bullet, left temporarily unable to speak and partially paralysed in one arm. During his convalescence the Communist Party begins witch-hunting the POUM, forcing him to flee to England via France.

Publication of Homage to Catalonia, a compelling description of his time in Spain.

Despite becoming ill with pulmonary tuberculosis, which he would suffer with for the rest of his life, Orwell writes Coming Up For Air, his last novel for six years.

Inside the Whale – a collection of his essays – published. Turned down on health grounds when he tries to enlist. Joins the Home Guard instead. Spends increasing time on newspaper and magazine articles and begins working as a broadcaster to India for the BBC Eastern Service (later to be one of his inspirations for Nineteen Eighty-Four).

The Lion and the Unicorn published.

Orwell resigns from the BBC to become literary editor of Tribune magazine.

While Orwell is abroad as a war correspondent for the Observer, Eileen Blair dies during a routine operation. After 18 months in limbo because Gollancz refused to publish it, Animal Farm is released to widespread acclaim. Orwell goes to the Scottish Hebrides with his young adopted son Richard, where they settle in 1946.

Critical Essays released.

Orwell’s most famous work – Ninety Eighty-Four – published, an instant success. Despite failing health, Orwell marries Sonia Brownwell.

21 January 1950
Orwell dies of complications arising from chronic tuberculosis.

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