Bio: George Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, was, among other things, a novelist, critic, essayist, soldier, shopkeeper and, according to many, the conscience of his generation. Born in 1903 in Bengal, India, he grew up in a solidly middle-class household and attended Eton, the prestigious boys' preparatory school. Although he had a keen mind and a penchant for writing, he decided not to attend college, opting instead for a position in the English civil service in Burma. Although his time in Burma was important, providing him with the raw material for some of his most important essays, he disliked being what he considered an agent of an imperialist power. He left Burma to spend time living with the working class in France and with coal miners in England, forming the basis of his book, Down and Out in Paris and London.
Orwell then traveled to Spain to fight in the Civil War on the side of the republicans and, after suffering a serious wound, fled when the communists took power. This experience formed the basis of his memoir, Homage to Catalonia, but perhaps more importantly, it helped inform his mature thinking and his most important works of fiction. Orwell's ardent hatred of totalitarianism sprang directly from his experiences in Spain as he witnessed first hand the abuses perpetrated by a fascist regime. It is this fear of autocratic power that animates both of his most important works, Animal Farm and 1984. Although the former seems clearly an allegory for Stalin's brutal rise to power, 1984 seems to suggest that any political regime in any state has the potential to abuse power and its own citizens. Although he was himself an ardent socialist, Orwell's propensity to criticize the abuses of the Left drew the ire of some of his fellow socialists. But it also earned him the respect of many and a reputation for being a person of great personal and intellectual honesty. Orwell was a great novelist and also a great human being, one who believed in living a life defined by commitment, sincerity and integrity. George Orwell died in 1950 after a long period of ill health and physical exhaustion.