On this day in 1950, the acclaimed English writer George Orwell died in London aged 46. He was born in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, India, as his father was a colonial civil servant there, though moved to England while still an infant. The aspiring writer penned his first poem when he was four years old, and had his first poem published in a newspaper at age eleven. Blair studied at the prestigious Eton school, and went on to work for the imperial police in Burma. After he returned to England, he adopted the pseudonym George Orwell and published his first book – Down and Out in Paris and London – in 1933.
Even in his early works Orwell demonstrated a keen interest in political issues, and offered a sharp critique of the British class system and colonialism. In 1936 he joined the international brigades fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans, against the fascist Francisco Franco. He was injured in the fighting in Spain, and his health didn’t improve when he returned to England, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
He continued to write, and worked for the BBC for a couple of years as a propagandist during the Second World War, before resigning in 1943. It was after he left the BBC that Orwell wrote his two most famous works – Animal Farm (1945), and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
The former is an allegorical satire of the Soviet Union, as while a socialist himself, Orwell had become disillusioned with Stalin’s betrayal of communist ideals. The latter is a dystopian novel, set only thirty-five years after it was written, that envisioned a world characterised by excessive government control and curtailment of civil liberties.
This novel introduced several phrases into the lexicon that are still used today, including ‘Big Brother’, ‘doublethink’, ‘Room 101’, and ‘thought-police’. Orwell achieved great success with these two works, but sadly lost his ongoing struggle with tuberculosis in 1950.
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” - George Orwell, Animal Farm