Many of the conclusions at which he arrived were negative, but it was with the positive enjoyment of a true moralist that he plunged into experience after experience, that he plumbed the depths of our existence for real values and that, equipped with first-hand information, he told his contemporaries that they were rushing to their own destruction in a headlong stampede.
He was not to live long enough to witness the ordeal of that year “1984” which he had visualised in the gloomy prophecies of his last novel which came to thousands of readers as the biggest literary shock of recent years.
Just, as in his previous success, “Animal Farm” (the fable of silly creatures which under the spur of quasi-nationalistic slogans submit themselves to totalitarian slavery), he used fiction in “1984” as a guise for a comprehensive lecture.
He turned against all that he considered “fakes of modernity” – political systems and the vaunted technical inventions of our age.
He had a deep-seated, passionate hatred of all autocratic governments and he condemned as stultifying bribes such devices as radio, television and movies.
His wide fame as an author is comparatively recent. Earlier he was better known as a book reviewer and as essayist, although he had achieved considerable literary standing with “The Clergyman’s Daughter”, “Burmese Days,” “Down And Out In Paris And London,” “Homage To Catalonia” – all works which strongly reflected his own past.
His real name was Eric Blair. He was born in Bengal where his father was stationed as an officer of the Indian Army. When fourteen years old he was sent to Eton where he remained on a scholarship until he was about 18. He then became a member of the Imperial Police in Burma, but resigned after five years, partly because the climate was ruining his health, but chiefly because he disapproved of British imperialism.
On his return to Europe he became successively a dishwasher in Paris, a schoolteacher, a hop-picker and the proprietor of a small country store.
At the end of 1936 he went to Spain to take part in the civil war and served four months with the P.O.U.M. (anti-Franco) militia and was severely wounded.
Summing up his experiences he wrote: “What I saw in Spain and what I have seen since of the inner workings of left-wing political parties have given me a horror of politics … In sentiment I am definitely ‘left,’ but I believe that a writer can remain honest only if he keeps free of party labels.”
Orwell’s favourite writers were Shakespeare, Swift, Fielding, Dickens, Charles Reade, Samuel Butler, Zola, Flaubert, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. But Somerset Maugham was the writer who influenced him most. Orwell admired the older man “for his power of telling a story straightforwardly and without frills.”