June 17, 2011 by Robert Bovington
George Orwell was English. So why, you may ask, have I written about him on the BooksAboutSpain blog! Well, he fought in the Spanish Civil War and wrote of his experiences in Spain in ‘Homage to Catalonia’ (1938).
He was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 in Bengal, India. However, at the age of one he moved to England with his mother. His father, a Civil Servant, remained in India until 1907. Eric Blair was educated at St Cyprian’s Eastbourne, Wellington and Eton and had a number of jobs before embarking on a career in journalism. He had a short spell with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma and a brief period as a schoolteacher.
Based on his experiences in Burma, Paris, London and Suffolk he was to write many novels including ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ (1933), ‘Burmese Days’ (1934) and ‘A Clergyman’s Daughter’ (1935). He wrote under the pseudonym of George Orwell. ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ was published in 1937. It was an account of poverty among the working class in the depressed areas of northern England.
His political leanings were distinctly left wing. He had resigned from the Indian Imperial Police because of his revulsion to imperialism and his research for ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ reinforced his socialism.
In 1936, Eric Arthur Blair travelled to Spain, initially to report on the Civil War. He decided, however, to join the growing list of ‘foreign’ volunteers fighting for the Republicans against Franco’s Nationalist Army. Trouble was, he found himself fighting against Communists factions too! He had joined the ‘Workers Party of Marxist Unity’ – the POUM and fought on the Aragón and Teruel front lines. He achieved the rank of second lieutenant but had the misfortune to be quite badly injured by a bullet through the throat. He recovered but his voice was never quite the same thereafter! In May 1937, he fought against the Communists, who were trying to suppress their political opponents, at the Battle of Barcelona. He was nearly arrested due to his membership of the POUM and was forced to flee Spain and return to England. It was these incidents that tempered his left wing views – he was still a passionate Socialist but with a dread of Communism.
‘Homage to Catalonia’ was published in 1938. The book was an autobiographical account of George Orwell’s time in Spain and included not only his personal experiences but also observations about Spain and Spanish life.
Back in the UK, Orwell was to continue his journalistic work as well as writing further books including the classics – Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). He died of tuberculosis in January 1950.