George Orwell: Battling Big Brother (Oxford Portraits)

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9780195121858: George Orwell: Battling Big Brother (Oxford Portraits)
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George Orwell (1903-1950) is remembered mainly as the author of two of the most powerful, cogent social critiques ever written: Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1948). Less known is the turbulent life story of the popular novelist, from his birth in India as Eric Arthur Blair to his struggle to complete 1984 while suffering from tuberculosis, the disease that would kill him two years after the book's publication.

An original, independent spirit, Orwell chose an unusual career for an Eton graduate--he joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. Five years later, he came back to Europe and lived in both Paris and London, investigating the lives of the underprivileged and often sharing their experiences firsthand by living as a tramp. He fought against Fascism in the Spanish Civil War and simultaneously honed his writing skills while working as a journalist. Eventually he turned to writing as a full-time occupation, drawing on his varied experiences to recreate the precise details for which his novels are famous. Tanya Agathocleous's concise biography is enhanced by sidebars and picture captions which include numerous excerpts from Orwell's journalistic and literary writings. A final chapter explores Orwell's cultural legacy--his lasting contributions to freedom of thought throughout the world.

Oxford Portraits are informative and insightful biographies of people whose lives shaped their times and continue to influence ours. Based on the most recent scholarship, they draw heavily on primary sources, including writings by and about their subjects. Each book is illustrated with a wealth of photographs, documents, memorabilia, framing the personality and achievements of its subject against the backdrop of history.

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About the Author:

Tanya Agathocleous is at Rutgers University.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A concise account of a tireless political writer’s adventures and education.The publication of Orwell’s novel 1984 serves as the endpoint for this pocket biography, insofar as everything in the writer’s rich life seems to have contributed to that masterpiece. Agathocleous (English/Rutgers) argues that Orwell’s status as a scholarship boy at Eton awakened his sense of class consciousness early on. Working in the Imperial Police in Burma introduced him to the injustices of colonialism. Posing as a derelict in London and Paris, he began his literary career as a participatory journalist, seeing first-hand the economic failures of the prosperous West. These stories are well known, of course, and the author does not add much to them. Chapters devoted to Orwell’s experience in the Spanish Civil War and as a BBC correspondent in London during WWII are more informative: Orwell was frustrated by the censors and the bureaucrats of the BBC, and these lesser difficulties compared unfavorably with his charged, egalitarian experiences in Spain (where he fought bravely and suffered injuries). Eventually he quit the BBC to write for leftist journals and engage in the political infighting of the day, bucking popular opinion—and elite dogma—in his criticisms of the USSR. In due time that struggle bore fruit: in 1945 he published his fable Animal Farm, a manifesto against the abuse of political power that was also his first critical and financial success. Three years later, with the war over and Stalin by then perceived as an enemy, he wrote 1984 while ensconced on a Scottish island, bedridden and dying from tuberculosis. Details of Orwell’s family life are given throughout, but his literary exploits crowd them out. Recent charges that Orwell denounced friends and colleagues to the British authorities as communist sympathizers are given scant attention, however, and may prompt frustrated readers to wonder why a longer consideration of this topic was omitted.An excellent introduction for laymen and students of literature. -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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