A. Blair, the pen name by which he is best known comes with the publication in January, 1933 of Down and Out in Paris and London, his George Gissing-like odyssey into the nether world. Orwell - like Charles Dickens a social analyst as well as a novelist - is one of my favourite writers. This anniversary year Ive been re-tracing my steps, overwhelmed by the sheer brilliance and insight in the likes of Charles Dickens, a critical essay of outstanding ability. I give you, from the conclusion, how Orwell saw Dickens and how I see Orwell: When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. Ive been looking for this face also in biography. I looked for it in George Orwell by Gordon Bowker. At other times he can be quite guarded, saying very little about his five years as an imperial policeman in Burma, his version, I think of Gorkys university. As I say, Bowker gives us a decent warts and all portrait, not avoiding some of the less savoury aspects of the writers character, including his apparent homophobia, his anti-Semitism and his misogyny. I believe that Orwell is best approached through his work. But if you are coming to him for the first time, or if you are looking for a thread through the labyrinth, then George Orwell is a useful companion. Just before Orwells death at the tragically early age of forty-six in January, 1950 Desmond MacCarthy, a distinguished editor and literary critic, wrote saying that he considered him among the few memorable writers of your generation, one who had left an indelible mark on English literature.
This is a "warts and all" biography and although Orwell had plenty of warts to be revealed, Bowker conveys empathy for his subject without making excuses for his sometimes problematic behaviour.
An Inside Look at a GREAT Author The title is indeed descriptive as the author probes the inner workings of the great author - Eric Blair (aka George Orwell). In later years George Orwell would write about power in a far more pervasive atmosphere - notably in his two great twentieth century works - Animal Farm and 1984. What about Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tools" which is the most popular book on the Spanish Civil War. As Bowker points out it was Orwell's participation with the Republicans in Spain that led almost directly to "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty-Four".
In my college days I read everything by George Orwell that I could get my hands on. Bowker provides the background against which to see and understand the public Orwell, who spoke out in support of socialism, who went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War, and who protested loudly against the advance of the totalitarian state. He called himself an anarchist and advocated socialism.) But what I find most interesting about Orwell is how he made himself over from the Eric Blair of his birth into the George Orwell of his mature years. Nothing very shocking about all of that, but it's somewhat inconsistent with the public Orwell one gets to know in the published writings, who has been called a secular saint. It makes sense that having created this public persona, Orwell would be secretive and be opposed to any effort to dig into his personal life and publish the findings to the world. It's not brilliant or revolutionary, but it sets out much of the information that a reader of Orwell's published work would be missing and would want to know.
p. 22 This anecdote touches on themes Bowker finds throughout Orwell's life: a latent thread of sadism, along with his resentment of injustice, a lurking misogyny combined with a need for prosmiscuous sexual relations. Back in England he periodically took on the life of tramp (sometimes having to pretend to be a fallen member of the upper class) and saw the fear and hatred and envy that maintained class divisions, much as the colonial British had feared and despised the Burmese.
He also kind of separated Eric Arthur Blair from the literary man George Orwell which was a sensible thing in my opinion - Eric Blair did some strange things. So Mr. Blair was an odd person and did some things which kind of shocked me, but then I'd remember his education and the era he lived in with all its repressions and I understand the poor "guy" (note: biographies always make you feel closer to that personality and a strange familiarity develops in you, so don't mind me if I refer to him as guy).