Who can forget reading Orwell’s 1984 for the first time?
Tackling social issues with an original wit and flair, Orwell had much to say about European society.
Born in 1903, as Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell was a brilliant satirical fiction writer. He was best known for two masterworks: 1984 and Animal Farm. Many of his works drew from his personal convictions about the political forces of his time, especially communism and fascism.
Orwell spent his early years in Bengal, India, where his father was a British civil servant. He was later sent to boarding school in England, where he found inspiration in works by H.G. Wells and Rudyard Kipling. Orwell won a scholarship to Eton, but when money dried up, he accepted work with the Imperial Police Force in Burma. After five years, he left, returning to England to pursue a career as a writer, moving between Paris and London in search of work.
In 1933, he published his first major work, Down and Out in Paris and London, which drew heavily on his own biography. Not wishing to embarrass his family with tales of his poverty and transient lifestyle, he took the pen name George Orwell. His next book, Burmese Days, was published in 1934. the book was critical of British imperialism.
Orwell and his wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy, traveled to Spain in 1936, where he volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War against General Franco. He was badly injured during the war. He and his wife were later charged with treason in Spain, but they were able to flee the country. Orwell contracted tuberculosis during this time, a disease he battled for the remainder of his life.
After he returned, Orwell became a successful literary critic. During World War II, however, Orwell was called to write propaganda for the BBC, a job he hated. He left after a year, accepting a job as an editor for a socialist periodical.
Orwell’s Animal Farm, a biting satirical anti-Soviet work portraying Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky as pigs, achieved commercial and critical success. In 1949, just a few months before his death, he published 1984, another hugely successful work. Unfortunately, Orwell never knew the extent of his critical acclaim and financial success; he died on January 21, 1950, from tuberculosis.
Here are some of his prized quotes about the art and craft of writing:
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
“So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.”
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
“One can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality.”
“Good prose is like a windowpane.”
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
“I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons.”
“I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued.”
“I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life.”
“Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.”
“The writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea-leaves blocking a sink.”
“I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the worldview that I acquired in childhood.”
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.”
“The best books… are those that tell you what you know already.”
“For a creative writer possession of the ‘truth’ is less important than emotional sincerity.”
“On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.”
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?”
What’s your favorite Orwell quote?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.