Time to Re-Read Orwell?

By Maeve Maddox

George Orwell didn’t have time to collect many royalties on his phenomenally successful novel 1984.

The dystopic novel that has since influenced so many other writers and contributed words and even suffixes to our vocabulary, was published mid-1949. Orwell (birth name Eric Blair) died January 21, 1950.

I wonder what he would have thought had he known that just one copy of that book, a first edition, would be sold for $6,780 in 2008. (ABE.com’s most expensive books in 2008 )

Orwell’s best known novels are 1984 and Animal Farm, both condemnations of totalitarian government.

Two of his best known essays, often taught in freshman English courses, are “Shooting An Elephant” and “A Hanging.” Both describe his uncongenial experiences as a civil servant in Burma and reveal his hatred of imperialism.

Like every writer, Orwell’s work stems from personal experience, prejudice, and pain.

Born in 1903 to a family of modest means, his perceptions and passions mirror in a surprising way those of many idealistic young people living today.

Orwell didn’t live to be old. He died at the age of 46.

During his life he experienced class discrimination, poverty, and the horrors of war. He saw the way politicians manipulate language to keep the public in the dark. He wrote out of a deep hatred of economic injustice, imperialism, and totalitarianism, topics of lively concern in the 21st century.

Orwell didn’t have the money to attend university, but he received a good elementary and secondary education. He was in love with books and the English language and he developed a writing style that’s a model of precision, clarity, and persuasiveness.

Writers can learn much from Orwell. As I’ve not read everything he’s written, my writing-improvement resolution for 2009 is to read all his works, beginning with Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and finishing by revisiting 1984 (1949).

Since I still prefer holding a book in my hand, I’ll head for my local library, but all his works are available as online texts.

Orwell site with links to online texts
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10 Responses to “Time to Re-Read Orwell?”

  • Alex Charchar

    I read down and out early ’08 and it was one of my best reads of the year.. the way he describes the horrible living and working conditions make it easy to imagine what he’s experiencing.. even an essay he wrote on English Cooking was enthralling

  • Alison Harrison

    I agree that Orwell is a great inspiration for writers – I love his work.

    I’d particularly recommend his essay ” Politics and the English Language” for the insistence that language is to be used “as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”

    But you also might be interested in the Orwell Project – it’s a blog that publishes a diary entry from Orwell every day, 70 years to the day since they were written . It’s fascinating – you can find it at : http://orwelldiaries.wordpress.com/

    Enjoy!

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Animal Farm is beautiful.

  • Joshua

    I have read both 1984 and Animal Farm. I still laugh when I think about how publisheres initially turned down Animal Farm because “Adults don’t want a story about animals.”

  • James

    Yes, there has never been a more pressing time to re-read Orwell and help foment change where imperialism, discrimination, injustice and the horrors of war have been allowed to sully our humanity.

  • Allan McDougall

    I was just going to post exactly what Allison said about the Orwell Diaries blog.

    It’s cool keeping up with Orwell’s musings from Africa. Adds some unique posts to my RSS reader anyway.

  • Ritergal

    I read 1984 when I was a junior in high school. It warped my mind and indelibly stamped my life! I don’t know if I have the fortitude to revisit that book, nor do I have any desire to go back to “Animal Farm.” I do owe Orwell for turning me into a rabid privacy freak, although in many ways that has become dysfunctional, and I constantly have to reassess what I’m willing to barter for convenience. The line continually creeps.

    Maybe we should also reread “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl to remain balanced as Orwellian reality manifests.

  • Evo Evo

    1984 is a great book. More relevant to modern Britain than ever!

  • James

    @Evo Evo not just to modern Britain but to the modern world! Orwell was, deep down, interested in spreading a common sense of humanity.

    It’s funny, or should I say sad, that so many people will read Orwell and rightly agree with the injustice what he lashes against and yet be blind to it’s very manifestation in everyday life.

  • Eric

    Hi, I am a learner in English writing. This is a really nice blog 🙂
    Is that dystopic or dystopia?

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