HOLY HERETIC DEVOTIONAL – JAN. 7, 2017-SHEROES & HEROES: ARTISTS
Compiled by Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center Director Beth Foster
George Orwell was the pen name of English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950). Orwell’s work centers on social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism and support of democratic socialism. His best known work are the dystopian novels Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Animal Farm (1945). His work led to phrases that have entered our language, such as Orwellian, cold war, Big Brother, thought police, newspeak, doublethink and thoughtcrime.
Born in British India, Orwell’s great-grandfather was a country gentleman. His grandfather was a clergyman. But, by the time of Orwell’s birth, much of the wealth had passed out of the family and he describes his family as “lower-upper-middle class.” His father worked for the Indian Civil Service. When he was a year old, his mother took him and his sister to England.
In 1922, he sailed to Burma and went to the police training school and became an imperial policeman. In 1927 he contracted dengue fever. While recovering in England, he decided to resign from the Indian Imperial Police and become a writer. Later he wrote that he felt guilty about his role in the work of empire and he “began to look more closely at his own country and saw that England also had its oppressed.”
In 1928 he moved to Paris. He began to write novels and work as a journalist. He fell seriously ill in February 1929 and was taken to the Hôpital Cochin, a free hospital where medical students were trained. His experiences there were the basis of his essay “How the Poor Die,” published in 1946. Shortly afterwards, he had all his money stolen from his lodging house. Whether through necessity or to collect material, he undertook menial jobs like dishwashing in a fashionable hotel on the rue de Rivoli, which he later described in Down and Out in Paris and London.
Orwell set out for Spain at the end of 1936, dining with Henry Miller in Paris on the way. The American writer told Orwell that going to fight in the Civil War out of some sense of obligation or guilt was “sheer stupidity,” and that the Englishman’s ideas “about combating Fascism, defending democracy, etc., etc., were all baloney.” A few days later, in Barcelona, Orwell met John McNair of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) Office who quoted him: “I’ve come to fight against Fascism”. Orwell stepped into a complex political situation in Catalonia. The Republican government was supported by a number of factions with conflicting aims, including the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM – Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista), the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (a wing of the Spanish Communist Party, which was backed by Soviet arms and aid). The ILP was linked to the POUM so Orwell joined the POUM.
He was wounded in the throat by a sniper’s bullet a few month later. Unable to speak, and with blood pouring from his mouth, Orwell was carried on a stretcher to Siétamo, loaded on an ambulance and after a bumpy journey via Barbastro arrived at the hospital at Lérida. He recovered sufficiently to get up and on at the end of May was sent on to Tarragona and two days later to a POUM sanatorium in the suburbs of Barcelona. The bullet had missed his main artery by the barest margin and his voice was barely audible. It had been such a clean shot that the wound immediately went through the process of cauterisation. He received electrotherapy treatment and was declared medically unfit for service
In the first week of July 1937 Orwell arrived back at Wallington; on 13 July 1937 a deposition was presented to the Tribunal for Espionage & High Treason, Valencia, charging the Orwells with “rabid Trotskyism”, and being agents of the POUM. The trial of the leaders of the POUM and of Orwell (in his absence) took place in Barcelona in October and November 1938. Observing events from French Morocco, Orwell wrote that they were ” – only a by-product of the Russian Trotskyist trials and from the start every kind of lie, including flagrant absurdities, has been circulated in the Communist press.” Orwell’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War gave rise to Homage to Catalonia (1938).
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell’s wife Eileen started working in the Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information in central London. Orwell was declared “unfit for any kind of military service” by the Medical Board in June, but soon afterwards found an opportunity to become involved in war activities by joining the Home Guard. He shared Tom Wintringham’s socialist vision for the Home Guard as a revolutionary People’s Militia. In March 1943 Orwell’s mother died and around the same time he told Moore he was starting work on a new book, which turned out to be Animal Farm.
Today’s Action: Read Animal Farm.A free audio book of the novel can be found at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl4REOWdJSE
Today’s Sharing: What did you think about Animal Farm? Share your thoughts on the Holy Heretic Facebook page at facebook.com/holyhereticzine.
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