An Animated Introduction to George Orwell

When his short and (by his own account) often mis­er­able life came to an end in 1950, could the Eng­lish polit­i­cal writer Eric Arthur Blair have known that he would not just become a house­hold name, but remain one well over half a cen­tu­ry lat­er? Giv­en his adop­tion of the mem­o­rable nom de plume George Orwell, we might say he had an inkling of his lit­er­ary lega­cy’s poten­tial. Still, he claimed to choose it for no grander rea­son than that it sound­ed like “a good round Eng­lish name,” and would have loathed the pre­tense he sensed in the use of the phrase “nom de plume,” or, for that mat­ter, any oth­er of con­spic­u­ous­ly for­eign prove­nance.

The atti­tudes that shaped the author of Ani­mal Farm and 1984 come out in this ani­mat­ed intro­duc­tion to Orwell’s life and work, new­ly pub­lished by Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life. In explain­ing the moti­va­tions of this “most famous Eng­lish lan­guage writer of the 20th cen­tu­ry,” de Bot­ton quotes from the essay “Why I Write,” where­in Orwell, with char­ac­ter­is­tic clar­i­ty, lays out his mis­sion “to make polit­i­cal writ­ing into an art. My start­ing point is always a feel­ing of par­ti­san­ship, a sense of injus­tice. 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.”

Orwell hat­ed his fel­low intel­lec­tu­als, whom he accused of “a range of sins: a lack of patri­o­tism, resent­ment of mon­ey and phys­i­cal vig­or, con­cealed sex­u­al frus­tra­tion, pre­ten­sion, and dis­hon­esty.” He loved “the ordi­nary per­son” and the lives led by those “not espe­cial­ly blessed by mate­r­i­al goods, peo­ple who work in ordi­nary jobs, who don’t have much of an edu­ca­tion, who won’t achieve great­ness, and who nev­er­the­less love, care for oth­ers, work, have fun, raise chil­dren, and have large thoughts about the deep­est ques­tions in ways Orwell thought espe­cial­ly admirable.” Though raised mid­dle-class and edu­cat­ed at Eton, Orwell eschewed uni­ver­si­ty and believed that “the aver­age pub in a coal-min­ing vil­lage con­tained more intel­li­gence and wis­dom than the British Cab­i­net or the high table of an Oxbridge col­lege.”

One might want to call such an intel­lec­tu­al a poseur or even a sort of fetishist, but Orwell backed up his pro­nounce­ments about the supe­ri­or­i­ty of the work­ing class with his years spent liv­ing and work­ing in it, and, with books like Down and Out in Paris and Lon­don and The Road to Wigan Pier, writ­ing about it. He praised news­pa­per comics, coun­try walks, danc­ing, Charles Dick­ens, and straight­for­ward lan­guage, all of which informed the attacks on ide­ol­o­gy and author­i­tar­i­an­ism that would keep his writ­ing mean­ing­ful for future gen­er­a­tions. The hol­i­day sea­son now upon us makes anoth­er work of Orwell’s espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant: his Christ­mas pud­ding recipe, one blow in his less­er-known strug­gle to, as the Lon­don-based de Bot­ton puts it, write “brave­ly in defense of Eng­lish cook­ing” — a project which would, by itself, qual­i­fy him as a cham­pi­on of the under­dog.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell’s Five Great­est Essays (as Select­ed by Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning Colum­nist Michael Hiltzik)

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

For 95 Min­utes, the BBC Brings George Orwell to Life

George Orwell’s Final Warn­ing: Don’t Let This Night­mare Sit­u­a­tion Hap­pen. It Depends on You! 

What “Orwellian” Real­ly Means: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son About the Use & Abuse of the Term

Try George Orwell’s Recipe for Christ­mas Pud­ding, from His Essay “British Cook­ery” (1945)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.