George Orwell

Image: Jan van der Zee


Considerations on the life and work of the English writer and journalist

Recognized worldwide for his revolutionary works, the journalist, critic and writer George Orwell, made famous in popular culture, especially in Brazilian society, as the coiner of terms such as “Big Brother”, and among contemporary intellectuals through the title “Orwellian”, commonly used to describe totalitarian and authoritarian dystopias. The constant resurgence of his works in the literary market has demonstrated that his legacy is guaranteed in the new millennium through his work of fiction, alongside several other prominent writers of the XNUMXth century.

Despite his rich writing style, his excellent use of a technique that was unusual for novelists of his time, makes it clear that his career was not always dedicated solely to fiction. Much of his style, reported by him in his article: “Politics and The English Language” (1946), later used by one of the prominent editors in chief of the newspaper The Observer, as a kind of editorial guide. Orwell defended the use of clear and succinct language, giving little space to metaphors or allegories, instigating the reader's immediate understanding.

To better understand her career and her passion for literature, however, we must first delve into her own history, which is often inherent in the development of her own fiction and non-fiction narratives.

Born on June 25, 1903, to a middle-class English family in colonial India, Eric Arthur Blair, later known by his namesake George Orwell. Shortly after his birth, he was taken with his sister to the interior of England, the land of origin of his parents, where they boasted a high status due to the position of the Blair family, which even figured in a position of little relevance in the police force of the English colonies, it still had a reputation among local families, despite the monetary deficit that had plagued them in recent years.

For the young Eric Blair, however, his social position did not prevent him from living a simple life alongside working-class children, and having a carefree childhood in the open fields of the British plains, until he was removed from the “lower classes” by his mother, from a French family, who, through a scholarship, inserted him into the student body at a Catholic convent school with his sister, where due to his performance at the age of 8 he was accepted at the preparatory school of St. Cyprian, which was dedicated to preparing young boys to enter public schools. During his time at the institution, little Blair was exposed to children of much higher monetary status than his own, and he soon realized his position as an outsider, being discriminated against not only by his peers, but also by the institution's deans, who did not hesitate to demonstrate their favoritism towards other students.

Still at boarding school, already discovering his taste for words, he published two authorial poems in a local newspaper. Already at the age of 14, thanks again to a scholarship guaranteed to him by family ties, he entered one of the most requested public institutions in England, the Eton College, where he once again found himself among an elite made up of royalty. Despite the harmful environment, Eric, despite not distinguishing himself as a surplus student, received more equal treatment from the teachers. It was during his time there that he came into contact with great authors such as HG Wells, Samuel Butler, and together with the later renowned Roger AB Mynors, he created the experimental journal in manuscript format, entitled Election Times, also interacting with other publications, of which there are no longer historical archives, such as: College Days e Bubble and Squeak, his first direct interaction with the world of journalism.

At the end of your stay in Eton College, the parents of 19-year-old Blair, did not believe in his potential to enter a public university through another scholarship. Therefore, due to family pressure, he ends up returning to the then English colony in India to work in the imperial police, continuing his father's legacy.

At your post in Myanmar, in India, their tasks included not only routine policing, but also accompanying priests through the countryside, tasked with catechizing the local population. Despite his resourcefulness at absorbing the local culture and language, Blair spent much of his time cooped up next to books. Living directly with the colonialist practices then imposed on the country by the British Raj, gave Eric the necessary impetus so that later, in 1927, he returned to his home country due to an infection with the dengue virus, he decided to reject his job. in the colonial police force.

His stay in India, however, would serve as inspiration for the creation of the novel. Burmese Days. , and the articles Hanging (1931), published in the literary magazine The Adelphi, a morbid and extremely detailed description of an act of execution witnessed by him. Besides, the most recognized, Shooting an Elephant (1936), first published in the literary magazine New Writing, an anti-fascist publication in book format, later also broadcast on BBC radio (1948). In the article still under the name of Eric Blair, he writes in the first person the act of, against his will, having to shoot an aggressive elephant under pressure from the local population. And he describes the death of the animal, considered by Buddhist legends as a sacred being that represents purity; as a slow and tortuous process. The article after his death has had several adaptations in books, and even movies. The work was marked as the origin of one of his most famous quotations: “When the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys".

After his return to England, young Blair decides to dedicate his life to writing, and against his parents' wishes, he moves to London, where he lives for about a year as a "tramp“, a kind of beggar, determined to experience life on the margins of society in his own country. His time on the streets and hostels of London culminated in the article The Spike (1931), published years later, in the magazine The Adelphi.

In 1928 he decides to move to Paris, living close to one of his aunts on his mother's side, however, rejecting the financial support of his family in England, he lives as a dishwasher in restaurants, publishing some articles in local newspapers in his free time, like Monde, a communist publication, in which he debuted his career in France with the article La Censorship in Angleterre. As well as some successive articles to the Le Progress Civique, denouncing the then already latent lack of employment, and the precarious living conditions of beggars in London according to their experiences on the streets of European metropolises. Later, his experience among the poor and homeless would lead to the formulation of his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London.

In it, the author proposes to make a direct description of the realities experienced by the marginalized population, which constantly varies between first-person narrations, and transcripts of stories told by homeless people and all the colors of individuals with whom they lived in their temporary jobs in restaurants. and hotels, as well as in hostels and inns. Including shocking reports of situations, often portrayed by the characters with amazing naturalness.

The most relevant value of the work is perhaps found in its description of the social dynamics inherent to poverty and its consequences on the individual's mentality, such as the effects of hunger, the shame caused by old and dirty clothes in public places; effects that invariably entail the segregation of the lower class among their superiors. On the other hand, it demonstrates in rare reports, the power that the profession of journalist exercised in the popular imagination of the beginning of the century. XX, perhaps it still resists a little of the pride with which professionals in the area were seen in the current century. His subsequent works, whether fiction or non-fiction, would demonstrate his obsession with poverty and the commonly marginalized population of society.

After his journey through poverty, in an attempt to return to some of the comforts he enjoyed, he manages to return to the small town where his parents reside, where he spends five years writing and working as a private teacher. However, he did not stop sending his work to the newspapers, in 1931 he had an article entitled Hop Picking published by New Statesman, where thanks to the editorial team the following year he got his first literary agent, Leonard P. Moore. The initial version of Down and Out in Paris and London, however, was rejected twice, including by the distinguished editor and writer TS Elliot.

Still dedicated to his adventures with the less fortunate, Eric was deliberately arrested at the end of 1931, hoping to spend the festive dates in jail, however, he was released after two days on the grounds that “bad behavior and drunkenness” were not fair. cause for a serious penalty. Your failed attempt would lead to the production of the article Clink, published the following year by The Adelphi.

Returning to his parents' home, the following year, he returned to teaching at small private institutions, until the literary agent Leonard Moore indicated to Blair that Victor Gollancz, founder of the Left Book Club, and a prestigious publishing house that still bears his name; he was prepared to publish his first book under the name of A Scullion's Dairy. To prevent his image as an outsider from tarnishing his family name, Eric Blair sent a letter to his agent and publisher suggesting four different pseudonyms, among them George Orwell. Inspired by the patron saint of England St. George, as well as the name of the river of one of his favorite inland spots, the Orwell River.

At worst in Paris and London, was then published for the first time in 1933, earning good reviews even from the then reverent literary supplement of the newspaper The Times, soon after being published by Harper & Brothers in the United States. Depending on a side job, Orwell was willing to teach at an elementary school in London. During this period, however, he developed a case of pneumonia from exposure to the elements, and after fully recovering only the following year, with the approval of his family, he never taught again.

Still in London, on the recommendation of one of her aunts, she got a job at the bookstore Booklover's Corner, living with his employers, had time to write and prepare his next release: Burmese Days. , a non-fiction book detailing the darker aspects of the British Raj in India, and A Clergyman's Daughter, a story of manipulation and corruption of religious power, for the control of an innocent girl, who after suffering abuse at the hands of a man of few scruples, suffers from amnesia and is forced due to the emergence of rumors that tarnish her image. to work in the fields and live among the marginalized, both still dealing with the themes of poverty and social injustice, and domination and abuse of power; while she maintained direct contact with several of the writers of the The Adelphi.

In 1935 he managed to publish both stories through Gollancz's publishing house, resulting in great reviews by the New Statesman. In the same year, he met the woman who would become his wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy, studying for a master's degree in psychology. Independent Labor Party. At this time the author did not demonstrate the political conviction that he would demonstrate later in life. Also in the same year he began to work constantly with reviews and literary criticism for the magazine The New English Weekly, dedicated primarily to literary evaluations, as well as the discussion of current affairs, already in the mid-twentieth century, Orwell publishes an article defending the cultivation of organic food.

Leaving his job in 1936, for financial reasons, forced to move again from London, Orwell wrote to the then renowned author Jack Hilton in search of a guide, or even a possible stay; unable to help him, the author recommended the city of Wigan. Traveling by the cheapest means, Orwell on reaching the city, sleeping in hostels; he began roaming the neighborhood questioning the quality of life for the town's coal mine workers, visiting the mine and researching the town's history at the local library.

His research took him to several other mining towns, where he participated in communist meetings mixed with anti-Semitic premises, even including members of the group entitled with Blackshirts, a British fascist league. Without having a fixed address, the author again sought help from his aunt who had a small residence in the village of Wallington, where the author wrote the book. Keep the Aspidistra Flying, depicting the life of a poetry writer who needs money for his son's surgery, but would rather prostitute his own wife than tarnish his image by returning to his job as a promotional content writer, the title refers to a fragile plant, then common in the homes of the bourgeoisie in England, which came to represent the pride of the middle class, published by the publishing house Victor Gollancz Ltd. in 1936.

Residing at her aunt's house, while taking care of some basic supply stores, production of the non-fiction book began. The Road to Wigan Pier, a document considered autobiographical that portrays the life of the miners, in which Orwell openly defends socialism for the first time, which the author argues would be the only solution for the deplorable conditions of the workers. The work was largely the reason for controversy, because in a second section, the author lists what he believes to be the reasons why the common people did not defend socialism, and ended up looking for more radical models such as fascism. After its publication, with a certain reservation on the part of the publisher Gollancz, in the same year, Orwell began to be investigated by the Special Branch, a British police faction devoted to anti-terrorism, an operation that continued for much of the remainder of his life.

In the same year, he married, but shortly after the event, with the news of war emerging in Spain, and the formation of the Nazi state, Orwell decides to leave his peaceful life in the village and will fight in the Spanish Civil War alongside the democrats. . In December 1936 he traveled to Spain and enlisted among the avid anti-fascist fighters. After many trips back and forth fronts of battle, and even a visit from his wife, Orwell continues to fight until he is hit by a shotgun blast in the neck, declared incapacitated for combat. Returning with his wife to England in July 1937, to recover from the wound, which by millimeters did not end his life.

Soon coming into conflict with the publisher Gollancz, due to the author's criticism of the communists in Catalonia, after coming into direct contact with the most relevant members of the party and the revolutionary front in the war, and witnessing their methods and tactics of manipulation through propaganda. The disagreement ended up bringing him closer to the publisher that would publish his most recognized works, through the editor Fredric Warburg of the then Secker & Warburg, still active today under the name of Harville Secker. Returning to his aunt's house, wishing to move to India to work in the newspaper The Pioneer, active to the present day under the name of The Daily Pioneer.

However, health complications led to his hospitalization on suspicion of tuberculosis, which prevented him from making the trip, keeping him away from the world of journalism for a while. Devoting himself to writing about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, resulting in the work: Homage to Catalonia, which was published in 1938 by Secker & Warburg, did not achieve publicity success until after the author's death.

Due to his fragile health, Orwell ended up anonymously receiving at the end of 1938, from the writer Leopold H. Meyers, a paid trip of 5 months to Morocco, so that he could recover his health away from the English winter. There the author wrote the book Coming Up for Air, a first-person narrative of a trader who, after profiting from his services, decides to return to his homeland in the interior of England, but upon arrival, discovers that everything has changed due to capitalist dynamics, except for the church and the vicarage. It was published as soon as he returned from his trip through Victor Gollancz Ltd., despite having a direct criticism of the communist discussions that took place in the Left Book Club.

With the arrival of the 2nd World War, his wife, Eileen, begins to work in the censorship department of the Ministry of Information in London, while Orwell, again interested in fighting on the front lines, enrolled his name for service, but was rejected on grounds of their pulmonary complications. Returning to his aunt's residence, taking advantage of his time to write the articles published in the collection Inside the Whale, returning to dive headlong into the journalistic universe by writing reviews of books and movies for the then New Adelphi, as well as magazines The Listener from the BBC, and the Time and Tide, then one of England's first feminist literary journals.

In 1940, he began his long-lasting career at the newspaper Tribune, of socialist precepts created by two members of parliament with anti-fascist positions, in support of the war. Just like the magazine Horizon, also of a leftist political nature, and still determined to contribute to the army, Orwell signed up for the local militia Home Guard, where he wrote documents that served as a kind of guide for British soldiers. As well as articles defending England's political position in the European conflict, such as the article "The Lion and The Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius”, published in the first edition of a series of books entitled Searchlight BooksIn 1941.

In the same year he began to contribute to the North American magazine Partisan Review, published by the New York Communist Party, in August 1941 was hired by the news bulletin Eastern Service BBC radio, working in the Nazi counter-propaganda section for India, a job he considered essential. In 1942 he was invited to write for the newspaper The Observer, a by-product of The Guardian, these jobs would be where Orwell's most important contributions to journalism would come from, both arising from the government's need to control the population through the use of propaganda in the conflicts of World War II.

Now maintaining a network of contacts full of political activists of the left, Orwell was completely dedicated to his social and political world view, and later, in the year 1943, he left his job at the BBC, not only to work on his project of what it would be one of his most famous books Animal Farm, but also because he said he believed that his program had low ratings in India, where it had more relevance. Toward the end of 1943 he was promoted to editor of the Tribune, starting your own column.

In 1944 The Animal Revolution, as the title came to be translated in Brazil, was ready for publication, however sending it to Gollancz, the publisher refused to publish it due to its criticism of communist Russia. The same happened with several other publishers, until the publication by Secker & Warburg in 1945, despite an incident that caused yet another publisher about to send it to the presses to refuse, after a visit by Orwell to an agent of the then British Ministry of Information, who rejected publication, it later turned out, ironically , that he was a Soviet agent.

Animal Farm, one of his most referenced works still alive, deals with a farm in poor condition where the animals, after an impassioned speech inspired by the dream of the pig known to the other animals as Major, organize a revolution against their human farmer, but end up ending with the farm in a worse state than the initial one, under a dictatorship imposed by the pigs whose leader had taken the title from Napoleon; the story is a direct satire of the Russian Revolution that led to Stalin's dictatorship, and therefore received wide attention from leading figures in the government of England who were already concerned about the possibility of a direct conflict with the communist powerhouse of the Soviet Union.

In the meantime, Orwell and his wife Eileen decided to adopt a child, already in an apartment in London, in 1945 the author received the proposal to work as a war correspondent for the newspaper The Observer, a job he had wanted since the beginning of the battles, and traveled to Italy and Germany after his liberation by the Allies. While traveling, his wife decided to undergo surgery to remove the uterus, and ended up dying during anesthesia, leaving Orwell and the newly adopted baby alone. Returning to London to cover the 1945 elections, the year following his wife's death was one of the periods in which he contributed most to the various news media that employed him, totaling more than 130 articles. He also became the central figure of a club of journalists, including leftist men and women, immigrants from many of the countries affected by Nazism, called the Shanghai Club.

Hiding his recurrent lung health crises, and wishing to get away from the routine of the city, especially the great metropolis of London, in 1946 Orwell moves to Jura, a small Scottish island, also leaving aside his intense journalistic career for a while. Living on a small country estate with his sister Avril, as well as a nanny responsible for the care of his son, Orwell began his most acclaimed work. 1984. In the same year, however, now a writer of great fame, he had to return to London to deal with copyright problems with both of the publishers that had published his most successful books.

Returning the following year to the Isle of Jura, to work on his next major publication; unfortunately a boat trip with his family ended up leading to an accident, which although not fatal, led the author to develop a serious case of tuberculosis at the end of 1947. an experimental drug, his case would later lead to his death. Finishing the manuscript of 1984 in December 1948 he had to be interned the following year in a small village called Cranham. Even hospitalized and unable to move alone, Orwell still married Sonia Brownell, who even served as a direct inspiration for one of the protagonists of 1984.

In June 1949, 1984 was published as a success among critics, dealing with a dystopia where the world was dominated by three great superpowers, where the protagonist Winston Smith, unable to change historical records according to the will of the “party” and eliminate any remaining true record, living under the constant surveillance of the ambiguous figure of the “Big-Brother” who, supposedly, leads the superstate of Britania composed of the junction of England with the American continents, or at least that is what the party says. The plot is a summary of his life's work, exploring the power of propaganda, and the scope of state domination over the lives of the individuals that compose it, changing the facts, putting the population in a condition of constant fear through a war without end with an opponent, who despite changing frequently, is always seen as the same.

On January 21, 1950, the author died due to his illness, leaving a last message in an interview with the BBC, where he says he imagines that a totalitarian state like the one described in his work will probably never come to pass, it is nevertheless inevitable that our society is increasingly moving towards something very similar to totalitarianism, inconsequential to human emotions. Today we see Orwell's dystopia materialize through the mechanisms of Artificial Intelligence, in the opposite way to that described by the author, using as a basis not only fear, but pleasure.

His early career in journalism was largely limited to literary work, while his books contained the core of his political position. Over time, however, particularly with the wars in which he avidly sought to participate, his involvement in journalism, like his works of fiction, became increasingly political. As is clear in his article “Why I Write":"The Spanish War and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it".

We will never know what other stories could emerge from his genius, it is true, that his legacy did not leave anything to be desired, and considering that in his autobiographical article, being remembered was undoubtedly one of his motivations, certainly the same as that of so many other authors, the what sets him apart, however, is his courage to admit it, added to his detachment from himself. In his last days while formulating his inheritance he included a request that they not write any form of biographies about him. And by sheer irony, his name was soon immortalized by one of his first biographers, Prof. Sir. Bernard Crick, who used the money raised from the work to create the institution to support young writers: The Orwell Foundation.

*Hugo S. de Oliveira is majoring in journalism at Unesp.


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