Possibly one of the most enigmatic and contradictory figures in the
literary world of the early 20th century, George Orwell was a writer
that some loved and others simply loved to hate. But where did the
writer of such biting satire and horror that is clearly evident in 1984
and Animal Farm get his start? And why was the author who came to be
known as George Orwell so determined to change his name (which was
originally Eric A. Blair? These are but a few of the many, many
questions that Gordon Bowker tries to answer in what is an enthralling
and complex portrait of the George Orwell that some of us know and the
many sides to George Orwell that few of us have ever imagined. Like for
instance the fact that George had a deep love of nature and often took
others on walks and yet he was also an avid hunter and so both loved
nature and loved to destroy it. He was an outspoken critic of
totalitarianism and yet he also possessed a sadistic side to him.
From his birth in India, to his awkward social interactions at a young
age, to his education at Eton and St. Cyprian's, to the man who would
be Down and Out in Paris and London, Bowker captures the author's life
and all its ups and downs with a style that, were Orwell alive today, I
am sure he would grudgingly appreciate. Orwell had his share of
misfortune from an early age in terms of his health and it was his
lungs that would prove the end of him but not before he bequeathed unto
the world his two greatest achievements, 1984 and Animal Farm.
Most of us know the story of Animal Farm and how it is a parallel for
the failure of revolution but few know of the indignities and torment
suffered by Orwell at the hands of the communists who betrayed him and
many others in the Spanish Civil War and in so doing creating an enemy
who would avenge himself in the printed word. When Animal Farm was
first released it was to mixed reviews and this is not surprising given
the penetration of the hardcore communist left into some of the
mainstream newspapers and journals of the day.
As for 1984, it is only when as a reader you discover Orwell's work for
the BBC and his hatred of both bureaucracy and propoganda that you can
truly appreciate the significance of the ideas behind Newspeak and
Doublethink. Of course holding two contradictory ideas and believing
them both was somthing that would become a hallmark of Orwell
throughout his life such as the fact that though his religious beliefs
were in doubt and somewhat mixed he still had an Anglican funeral.
Bowker does well to not only tell the story of Orwell / Blair, but also
to infuse it with the same kind of passion that the author himself was
so characteristically full of.