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A guide to… George Orwell

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An introduction to the novels of a 20th century master.

George Orwell is the author of several hundred published works of fiction, non-fiction, journalism and poetry, as well as plays, scripts, essays, literary criticism and assorted collections. One of England’s most famous writers and social commentators, he is most widely known for his classic 1945 political satire Animal Farm and the 1949 dystopian masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four. His writing is celebrated for its piercing clarity, purpose and wit and his books continue to be bestsellers all over the world.

Orwell is also renowned for inventive use of language, and is responsible for several widely-used neologisms, including ‘Big Brother’, ‘Thought Police’, ‘Newspeak’ and ‘thought crime’. Notably, his own name became the basis of the adjective ‘Orwellian’ – describing totalitarian and authoritarian modes of governmental control, which, increasingly, have become a cause of widespread societal concern. Seventy years since his untimely death from tuberculosis aged just 47 years old, Orwell’s novels remain as relevant today as their time of publication. To celebrate his birthday on 25 June, here we offer a brief introduction to these six incredibly impactful works.

Burmese Days (1934)
Based on his experiences as a policeman in Burma, George Orwell’s first novel presents a devastating picture of British colonial rule.

When Flory, a white timber merchant, befriends Indian Dr Veraswami, he defies this orthodoxy of imperial bigotry. The doctor is in danger: U Po Kyin, a corrupt magistrate, is plotting his downfall. The only thing that can save him is membership of the all-white Club, and Flory can help.

A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935)
Intimidated by her father, the rector of Knype Hill, Dorothy performs her submissive roles of dutiful daughter and bullied housekeeper. Suddenly her routine shatters and Dorothy finds herself down and out in London. In this landscape of unemployment, poverty and hunger, Dorothy’s faith is challenged by a social reality that changes her life.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)
Enlivened with vivid autobiographical detail, Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a tragic and witty account of the struggle to escape from a materialistic existence.

Gordon Comstock loathes dull, middle-class respectability and worship of money. He gives up a ‘good job’ in advertising to work part-time in a bookshop, giving him more time to write. But he slides instead into a self-induced poverty that destroys his creativity and his spirit. Only the ever-faithful Rosemary has the strength to challenge his commitment to his chosen way of life.

Coming Up for Air (1939)
George Bowling, forty-five, mortgaged, married with children, is an insurance salesman with an expanding waistline, a new set of false teeth – and a desperate desire to escape his dreary life. He fears modern times. So he decides to escape to the world of his childhood, to the village he remembers as a rural haven of peace and tranquillity. But his return journey to Lower Binfield may bring only a more complete disillusionment…

Animal Farm (1945)
Animal Farm is one of the most famous warnings ever written. Orwell’s immortal satire can be read on many levels, and has become required reading for schoolchildren and politicians alike. This fable of the steadfast horses Boxer and Clover, the opportunistic pigs Snowball and Napoleon, and the deafening choir of sheep remains an unparalleled masterpiece.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
The year is 1984, and life in Oceania is ruled by the Party. Under the gaze of Big Brother, Winston Smith yearns for intimacy and love – ‘thought crimes’ that, if uncovered, would mean imprisonment, or death. But Winston is not alone in his defiance, and an illicit affair will draw him into the mysterious Brotherhood and the realities of resistance.