The Side of Orwell That You Might Not Know

As George Orwell’s 1984 celebrates its 70th birthday this month, we turned to The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, our four-volume collection of Orwell’s nonfiction work, to gain better insight into the life of the author himself. While today Orwell is best known for the dystopian novel, he also spent much of his career chronicling the world around him, and these other writings are often just as relevant to contemporary society, if not more. Writer Scott Bradfield speaks to Orwell’s personal development and the importance of his earlier work in this excerpt from the L.A. Times below.

Orwell went on to become a consistently radical critic of his world who always appreciated the conventional pleasures of middle-class and working-class life; his novels and essays are thick with appreciations for everything from drinking tea and smoking cigarettes to the novels of Dickens and Kipling — and the “naughty” seaside postcards of Donald McGill. After skidding along unillustriously as a “scholarship” boy at Eton College, he joined the Imperial Police in Burma, where he quickly learned what it felt like to wear a uniform — and how it could make you think and feel things you might consider repugnant when you weren’t wearing it. (Check out his great personal essays about that period, “A Hanging” or “Shooting an Elephant” — for Orwell, the horror of totalitarianism was not that someone would impose it on you, but rather that you might be all-too-prepared to submit.) Eventually, he went to London, where he wrote productively for the left-wing press — while never missing an opportunity to criticize its failures – and after a brief adventure fighting Franco in the Spanish Civil War, secured a full-time job working for the BBC, a monolithically imposing cultural force that Orwell later satirized as “The Ministry of Truth.”

In many ways, Orwell’s genius was best exemplified by his essays and journalism — and the success of his most famous novels (it may be impossible to avoid either “1984” or “Animal Farm” in most high school curricula) has often obscured the impact of the things he said. For example, he wasn’t — as students are often mis-taught — concerned simply with the oppressive forces of Stalin or “socialism,” but rather with almost every “ism” that manipulated truth through the misuse of language and political propaganda.

from “Why ‘1984’ is still relevant today – but not for the reason you may expect”, Scott Bradfield, L.A. Times

You can find the full article here.