George Orwell

Eric Arthur Blair — also known by his pen name, George Orwell — is one of the UK’s most celebrated writers. In his short life he penned classics such as Down and Out in Paris and London, Homage to Catalonia and Animal Farm. His most famous work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, has become a metaphor for people around the world concerned by creeping authoritarianism and duplicity. He was a passionate advocate for democratic socialism and unafraid to criticise the excesses of others on his side of the political spectrum. And he was a brilliant essayist whose Politics and the English Language remains a seminal work for political writers everywhere.

Authoritarianism

Orwell’s 1984 tells the story of a dystopian future led by a totalitarian leader called Big Brother. The state watches people through their television screens, controls the information they receive, alters their language to control their thoughts and liquidates those suspected of dissenting. Children spy on and denounce their parents. How scared should we be of modern threats to liberty?

Socialism

Orwell was a committed socialist; during the second world war he wrote that the conflict had proved that free-market capitalism “does not work”. But he was a fierce critic of communism, and Stalin’s Russia in particular. His novella Animal Farm is a heartbreaking metaphor for the Russian revolution, in which those who seized power on the people’s behalf then betrayed them and enriched themselves.

Language

Orwell subtly explored the role of language in politics and society. In 1984, “newspeak”, the official language, is the only one in the world to consistently shrink. As those in power control what people are allowed to say, they control their thoughts. And in Politics and the English Language, Orwell exposes the euphemistic absurdity of much contemporary language. How important are words?

Poverty

Orwell’s part-autobiographical memoir Down and Out in Paris and London was his first full-length work. It explores his experience of poverty and his attempts to find casual work in two of the world’s great cities. He has to sell his clothes and work long hours for low pay, and he learns about the art of begging. How big a problem is poverty today, and what is the best way to lift people out of it?

Crime

In 1984, Orwell invented the notion of “thoughtcrime” — having ideas that contradict those which are officially sanctioned. In his memoir from Paris his experience of crime is much more real: he describes sleeping through a murder as it is committed just below his window. And the humans and pigs of Animal Farm are portrayed as criminals against those who serve them.