Born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, Bengal, India, on June 25, 1903, George Orwell was the son of a British civil servant and belonged to what he considered “the lower-upper-middle class.” He returned to England with his mother in 1905 and attended a fashionable preparatory school before winning a scholarship to Eton, where he first demonstrated an apparent animosity toward convention and authority. Consequently, as a form of rebellion, Orwell decided against continuing his studies at either Oxford or Cambridge and instead enlisted with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, a decision that would permanently affect his philosophical perspective, political consciousness, and creative legacy.
Orwell returned to England in 1927, ostensibly on leave after serving overseas for five years. Within a month of his arrival he resigned his post, announcing to his parents his intention of becoming a writer. Attracted to a bohemian, artistic lifestyle, he traveled to Paris in 1928, where he lived for eighteen months. He started a career in journalism in Paris, but did not fully realize his literary potential until after his return to England. His work began to appear in The Adelphi, most notably with the publication in 1931 of his enduring and masterful essay “A Hanging.” His first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, was rejected by several publishers, including T. S. Eliot of Faber and Faber, before it was reluctantly accepted by Victor Gollancz and released under the pen name of George Orwell in January 1933. As a result, Orwell continued to use this pseudonym for the remainder of his life and literary career, never legally changing his given name, however.
Despite high praise from critics for a relatively unknown author, the book was commercially unsuccessful and disheartening to Orwell. Undaunted, he earned his livelihood as a journalist while continuing to publish both fiction and non-fiction. At this point Orwell left England on assignment to observe and fight in the Spanish Civil War, where he was seriously wounded, necessitating his return to England in 1938. Later that year, Orwell wrote about the experience with horrific realism and perception in Homage to Catalonia.
In 1939 Orwell published Coming Up for Air, the first of his novels to attain commercial success. This personal triumph, however, was soon overshadowed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Denied military service for reasons of health, Orwell was nonetheless active in civil defense.
During the war years Orwell originated the idea for Animal Farm, a novel that was initially rejected by British and American publishers, who feared the repercussions of promoting a work critical of the Soviet Union, then a military ally. When Animal Farm finally appeared in May 1945, however, it met with an unprecedented public reception. As a result, Orwell achieved overnight recognition and financial independence.
In 1947 Orwell settled on the island of Jura off the west coast of Scotland. Here, although physically ill and increasingly pessimistic about the state of the world, he completed Nineteen Eighty-Four, a work of immense critical and cultural importance. The novel was published in 1949 just months before Orwell’s premature death from a tubercular hemorrhage on January 23, 1950.