George Orwell is remembered today as the forward-thinking, conscience of a nation. His gripping, often horrifying novels, and his penetrating essays are still read around the world. 1984 has informed a whole genre of dystopian fiction and is considered today as an astute warning about the rise of fascist systems of government.
Orwell is more than just his novels and essays though. Born Eric Arthur Blair, Orwell (his pen name) was an interesting man who had several different careers during his short forty-six years of life. Below are ten of the most interesting facts about Orwell’s life, habits, and passions:
As a child, Orwell was known as a prankster
He disliked many of the schools he went to and was even expelled from his “crammer” school he attended before joining the Indian Imperial Police. Various biographies of the author describe how pulled pranks that got him into various degrees of trouble. These include sending a dead rat to the town surveyor, making up songs about his school’s headmaster, and falsely replying to advertisements in newspapers.
He got arrested – on purpose
During his time in Paris and London, Orwell investigated the poorest areas of the two cities. He sought out the darker distracts of London and one time got drunk that he was arrested on purpose and was able to learn about prison. He drank a great deal and then made a scene that got him arrested. He spent only 48 hours in custody before being released. This is one of the many experiences that helped inform his memoir Down and Out in Paris and London.
By the time of his death he could speak seven different languages
From a young age he learned French (interestingly from Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World). While living in India and working for the Imperial Police he taught himself Burmese until he was fluent and able to easily converse with the locals in the highest of dialects. He also learned Greek, Spanish, as well as Latin and German.
Orwell was charged with treason in Spain
During the period of the Spanish Civil War, Orwell lived and fought against Franco in Spain. He arrived at 33 years old with the intention of writing about the conflict. But, he soon joined in with the fighting, becoming a part of a Republican militia against fascism. While fighting, he was shot in the neck. By the time he was charged with “treason” he had already left the country with his wife.
He coined numerous words still used today
It’s a well-known fact that 1984 and Animal Farm have served as inspiration for generations of writers. But, some of the words used in 1984 as well as others he created for his essays, are still used today. One of the best of these is “cold war” which came from his essay “You and the Atom Bomb,” published in 1945. It was written soon after the bombs were dropped on Japan during World War II.
Other words that are tied to his name and his works of literature are “memory hole,” “Orwellian,” “Big Brother,” “thought crime” and “thought police”.
Orwell tried to inform on communist sympathizers in England
In 1949, Orwell sent the Foreign Office a list of names of those he believed were secretly trying to advance the communist cause. He believed that it was part of his duty as a citizen to inform the government of the threat he thought these people posed. He knew that such a list could be dangerous, especially as many of the names were likely of innocents.
He worked for the BBC
One of his steadiest jobs was as a radio commentator for a news program on BBC radio. His job, “Talks Producer,” was similar to that of a propagandist during the Second World War. Orwell explained that he hated this work and felt disingenuous as he broadcasted to the Indian subcontinent.
He nearly drowned in 1947
During the period that he was writing 1984, while living in Scotland, Orwell nearly drowned on a boating trip. He took his son, as well as a niece and nephew, out on the Gulf of Corryvreckan in the western part of the country. There, at the site of what is the world’s third-largest whirlpool, the small boat capsized. Luckily, everyone survived.
He had tattoos on his knuckles
During his youth, while he served for five years with the Indian Imperial Police, Orwell got small tattoos on each of his knuckles. The tattoos were simple, small blue shapes that were generally round. It is not entirely clear why he got them, but some scholars believe that the tattoos were part of a Burmese superstition that suggested that they’d protect the wearer from being shot. Other writers pose a different theory, that Orwell got them simply to stand out among the other soldiers. He was noted throughout his time with the police as a loner, set apart by his desire to spend time reading and writing.
He struggled with, and eventually died from, tuberculosis
Unfortunately, like many writers, Orwell had a sickly youth that continued into adulthood. In the 1940s, when there wasn’t a widespread cure for the disease, his TB got much worse. He died in 1950 after attempting to use a drug that resulted in terrible side effects.