The 21 January marks the 62nd anniversary of the death of the writer George Orwell. Author of the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and the allegorical novella Animal Farm, Orwell also wrote four other novels, three fictionalised documentaries based on his experiences and countless essays and pieces of journalism.
While usually known as George Orwell, in true Orwellian fashion that was actually Eric Arthur Blair’s pen name. Growing up, Orwell went to Eton school where he was briefly taught French by another dystopian novelist Aldous Huxley. After leaving Eton, Orwell spent time as a police officer in Burma and then lived in London, Paris, finally returning to his family home in Southwold, Suffolk. Orwell also fought in the Spanish civil war, something he describes in his novel Homage to Catalonia and as a result gave his name to a square in Barcelona.
In the second world war he worked supervising cultural broadcasts to India which were made to counter Nazi propaganda, but quit his job when he realised what little effect these broadcasts had. It was around this time, in 1943, that Orwell started work on Animal Farm, a novella that uses an animal allegory to represent the events of the Stalin era before the war.
Orwell’s final book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was finished in 1948, two years before his death, and the reversal of the final two digits of the year gave way to the iconic title of the novel. This dystopian novel is a vision of the future under a totalitarian regime, where even thoughts are policed, and describes what happens when the main character attempts to escape the tyranny of the state. As one of the most well-known dystopian novels it encapsulates Orwell’s fears about the breakdown of democracy and the disastrous effects that a revolution could have.
Nineteen Eighty-Four and its dystopian themes had a great impact on popular culture. Words such as thoughtcrime and doublethink are both terms coined from Nineteen Eighty-Four’s fictional language Newspeak and refer to how thoughts can be controlled by the state. The television show Big Brother also gets its title from Nineteen Eighty-Four, taken from the name of the dictator of the novel.
The impact of George Orwell’s life can still be felt now, not only through his contribution as a writer but through the minutiae of how society regards the state and even democracy.