George Orwell Timeline
How It All Went Down
George Orwell Born
Eric Arthur Blair—later known as George Orwell—is born in Motihari, Bengal, a British colony in what is now India. His father, Richard Walmesley Blair, works in the Indian Civil Service overseeing opium exports to Asia.
Young Orwell Moves to England
The young Eric Blair travels to England with his mother, Ida Mabel Limouzin Blair, and his six-year-old sister Marjorie. The Blair children are raised in England and see their father only during his sporadic returns from India.
Orwell Sister Born
Avril Blair, the third and last of the Blair children, is born.
Scholarship to Eton
Eric Blair enters Eton, the famous boys' prep school in England, as the recipient of a prestigious King's Scholarship.
Orwell Leaves Eton
After a lackluster academic career, Eric Blair leaves Eton without a diploma. He later records his bitter memories of the English prep school system in a posthumously published essay sardonically entitled "Such, Such Were the Joys."
Orwell in Burma
Eric Blair passes the entrance exam of the Indian Imperial Police, the police force set up by the British to maintain law and order in their colonies. He is posted to Burma. His experiences in Burma provide material for essays such as "A Hanging" and his first novel, Burmese Days.
Orwell Quits Indian Imperial Police
Blair contracts dengue fever. After five years in the Imperial Police, Blair leaves Burma because of poor health. Following his return to England, he resigns from the police, disillusioned with British imperialism. He decides instead to become a writer. He spends the next few years drifting around England and Paris, working odd jobs, writing and living amongst the poor. In an attempt to gain material for his writing, he even at one point tries—unsuccessfully—to get arrested.
Eric Blair Becomes George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair adopts the pen name George Orwell, combining the names of the then-monarch and a nearby river. Shortly after he publishes his first book, a narrative of his tramp-like existence in Europe entitled Down and Out in Paris and London.
Orwell's first novel, Burmese Days, is published. The book is a bitter depiction of prejudice and corruption in imperial Burma and is based on his experiences there. Toward the year's end, following his recovery from a bout of pneumonia, Orwell moves to London to work in a used bookstore.
A Clergyman's Daughter
Orwell publishes his second novel, entitled A Clergyman's Daughter. He wrote the book the previous year while recovering from pneumonia.
The Road to Wigan Pier
Orwell embarks on a two-month trip to northern England to investigate living conditions among coal miners there. He publishes his findings a year later in the book The Road to Wigan Pier. Orwell's horror at the miners' living and working conditions marks an important step in his political development, and the second half of his book is a passionate argument in favor of socialism.
George Orwell marries Eileen Maud O'Shaughnessy, a student he met in London. The couple settles into a tiny cottage in Hertfordshire, England. Orwell also publishes the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
Orwell in the Spanish Civil War
Orwell spends six months fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the left-wing Republican government, which is under attack from General Francisco Franco's fascists. Orwell volunteers for an anti-Stalinist unit. He is shot in the throat by a Kremlin-sponsored sniper but survives. His experience in Spain is the defining moment of Orwell's political awakening. He leaves Spain with a lifelong hatred of totalitarianism, and this stance forms the basis of all of his following works.
Homage to Catalonia
In April Orwell publishes Homage to Catalonia, a nonfiction book about his experiences in Spain.
Coming Up For Air
England enters World War II. Orwell volunteers for military service but is turned down because of his poor health. Instead he writes prolifically, turning out essays, reviews, and a novel set in England entitled Coming Up For Air.
Orwell's Wartime Propaganda Work
Orwell takes a job with the BBC producing wartime propaganda broadcasts for India. He creates cultural radio programs featuring English and Indian authors, while still writing essays and reviews for left-wing publications.
Death of Orwell's Mother
George Orwell's mother Ida Mabel Limouzin Blair dies.
Orwell Leaves BBC
George Orwell resigns from the BBC.
Orwell Writes for Socialist Newspaper
Orwell takes a job as the literary editor of the Tribune, a weekly socialist newspaper. He writes book reviews and a column entitled "As I Please."
Orwells Adopt Son
Orwell and his wife adopt a baby boy. They name him Richard Horatio Blair. In the same month a bomb lands near the family's basement apartment in London. They are not injured, but their home is destroyed.
Death of Orwell's Wife
Orwell's wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy dies during a hysterectomy. Orwell raises their son alone with the help of his sister Avril Blair.
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story is published in the United Kingdom, overcoming initial resistance from publishers who believe it is too critical of Britain's wartime ally Russia. (A Soviet spy working in the British Ministry of Information also helps to delay publication.) The novel, an allegory of totalitarianism, gets a positive reception and goes on to become one of Orwell's best-known works. It's published a year later in the U.S. Orwell has by now quit his post at the Tribune and is working as a freelance correspondent for the Observer.
"Politics and the English Language"
Orwell publishes the essay "Politics and the English Language," a satirical skewering of bad writing and its political consequences. Though his writing career is flourishing, his personal life flounders. He makes several awkward marriage proposals to different women and is turned down. His home is decrepit. In May, following the death of his older sister Marjorie, Orwell moves to the Scottish island of Jura for the remainder of the year.
Orwell Contracts Tuberculosis
Orwell returns to London to write. It is so cold in the winter that he burns his books and his son's toys for heat. In April he returns to Jura. In December, his poor health worsens and he is diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Writing Nineteen Eighty-Four
A month after finishing the manuscript of his latest novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell checks into a sanatorium in England to recover from tuberculosis. His health is very bad, and friends are worried about him.
Orwell Informs on Suspected Communists
A friend named Celia Kirwan comes to visit Orwell at the hospital where he is recuperating. She is working for a propaganda unit of the British government and asks Orwell if there is anyone who should not be hired for the unit. In what turns out to be a controversial move, Orwell gives Kirwan a list of people whom he suspects of having communist sympathies.
Nineteen Eighty-Four Published
The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is published. The novel, portraying a creepy dystopia of total government control, is a huge hit with readers and critics.
Orwell's Second Marriage
His health failing fast, Orwell marries an editorial assistant named Sonia Brownell in his hospital room in London.
Death of George Orwell
George Orwell dies of tuberculosis. He is buried in an Anglican ceremony in Oxfordshire, England, under a simple marker reading "Here lies Eric Arthur Blair."