Autobiographical note by George Orwell (1940)

Written 17 April 1940 for Twentieth Century Authors, ed. Stanley J. Kunitz and H. Haycraft, N.Y., W. H. Wilson & Co., 1942.
Baby Eric Blair (George Orwell) held by his mother (1903)

Eric Blair (George Orwell) with his mother Ida Blair in Motihari, Bengal (1903)

I was born in 1903 at Motihari, Bengal, the second child of an Anglo-Indian family. I was educated at Eton, 1917-21, as I had been lucky enough to win a scholarship, but I did no work there and learned very little, and I don’t feel that Eton has been much of a formative influence in my life.

From 1922 to 1927 I served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. I gave it up partly because the climate had ruined my health, partly because I already had vague ideas of writing books, but mainly because I could not go on any longer serving an imperialism which I had come to regard as very largely a racket. When I came back to Europe I lived for about a year and a half in Paris, writing novels and short stories which no one would publish. After my money came to an end I had several years of fairly severe poverty during which I was, among other things, a dish-washer, a private tutor and a teacher in cheap private schools. For a year or more I was also a part-time assistant in a London bookshop, a job which was interesting in itself but had the disadvantage of compelling me to live in London, which I detest. By about 1935 I was able to live on what I earned by writing, and at the end of that year I moved into the country and set up a small general store. It barely paid its way, but it taught me things about the trade which would be useful if I ever made a venture in that direction again. I was married in the summer of 1936. At the end of the year I went to Spain to take part in the Civil War, my wife following soon afterwards. I served four months on the Aragon front with the P.O.U.M. militia and was rather badly wounded, but luckily with no serious after-effects. Since that, except for spending a winter in Morocco, I cannot honestly say that I have done anything except write books and raise hens and vegetables.

What I saw in Spain, and what I have seen since of the inner working of left-wing political parties, have given me a horror of politics. I was for a while a member of the Independent Labour Party, but left them at the beginning of the present war because I considered that they were talking nonsense and proposing a line of policy that could only make things easier for Hitler. In sentiment I am definitely “left”, but I believe that a writer can only remain honest if he keeps free of party labels.

The writers I care most about and never grow tired of are Shakespeare, Swift, Fielding, Dickens, Charles Reade, Samuel Butler, Zola, Flaubert and, among modern writers, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. But I believe the modern writer who has influenced me most is Somerset Maugham, whom I admire immensely for his power of telling a story straightforwardly and without frills. Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening, especially vegetable gardening. I like English cookery and English beer, French red wines, Spanish white wines, Indian tea, strong tobacco, coal fires, candlelight and comfortable chairs. I dislike big towns, noise, motor cars, the radio, tinned food, central heating and “modern” furniture. My wife’s tastes fit in almost perfectly with my own. My health is wretched, but it has never prevented me from doing anything that I wanted to, except, so far, fight in the present war. I ought perhaps to mention that though this account that I have given of myself is true, George Orwell is not my real name.

I am not at the moment writing a novel, chiefly owing to upsets caused by the war. But I am projecting a long novel in three parts, to be called either The Lion and the Unicorn or The Quick and the Dead, and hope to produce the first part by some time in 1941.

Publications: Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). Burmese Days (published in America before being published in a slightly bowdlerized form in England, 1934). A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935). Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936). The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). Homage to Catalonia (1938). Coming up for Air (1939). Inside the Whale (1940).

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Source: CEJL2-7

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2 Responses to Autobiographical note by George Orwell (1940)

  1. Kate Smart on November 29, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    This is a fascinating site and I am so pleased to have found it through following @orwellguy on Twitter. Thanks.

  2. admin on November 29, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Thanks so much Kate. Your blog is terrific!

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