George Orwell: What’s in a Name?

George Orwell, pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair, was born on 25 June 1903 in Motihari, Bengal (now Bihar), British India

English novelist, essayist, and critic, his work is characterised by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, and strong opposition to totalitarianism. His most famous novels are “Animal Farm” a satire which allegorically depicts Stalin’s betrayal of the Russian revolution on 1917 and “Nineteen Eighty-four” ,a profound anti-utopian novel that examines the dangers of a totalitarian government.

When Eric Blair was getting ready to publish his first work, “Down and Out in Paris and London”, he decided to use a pen name so his family wouldn’t be embarrassed by his time in poverty. 

The book was an account of his tramping days in England, particularly in the hop fields of Kent, and of the poverty he endured while living in Paris trying to write novels. Furthermore, at the time he was certain that the book would be a failure (it had already been rejected by two publishers including T. S. Eliot at Faber and Faber), and he didn’t want to associate his real name with it.

Another reason was that he did not like his first name because of its association with the book “Eric, or, Little by Little” by F.W. Farrar, which  had helped increase the popularity of the name “Eric” in India and English-speaking countries. It was a sentimental novel about school life, whose protagonist Eric, who had been born in India, was sent to England by his parents to be educated in a boarding school, and encountered the good and the ugliest aspects of traditional Victorian upbringing.

Eric Blair chose the name George Orwell to reflect his love of English tradition and landscape. The surname was inspired by a location  the writer loved, the River Orwell which flows through the county of Suffolk in England and the name  derived from  St. George, the patron saint of England. He felt that it was a “strong, round English name”.

However, even after the  success of the book  he kept the pseudonym and did not write under his real name again  The change in name corresponded to a profound shift in Orwell’s lifestyle: he changed from a pillar of the British imperial establishment into a literary and political rebel.

When he died, in 1950, in his will he requested that no biography of him be written, without giving any reasons for this even though  his friends felt that his request was probably due to his natural reticence and the knowledge that there was so little that could be written about his life. Therefore his widow, rejected any attempt to  write a biography  until she commissioned one to  a professor of politics at the University of London. Only after her other works on Orwell were published.

Anyway Orwell never refused requests to supply autobiographical details to publishers and  critics, but always dismissed  the idea that a writer could be trusted to write a definitive biography of himself, because

“Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”

George Orwell, pseudonimo di Eric Arthur Blair, nacque il 25 giugno 1903 a Motihari, Bengala, nell’India britannica
Romanziere, saggista e critico inglese il suo lavoro è caratterizzato da una prosa lucida, dalla consapevolezza delle ingiustizie sociali e dalla forte opposizione a ogni totalitarismo. I suoi più famosi romanzi sono “La fattoria degli animali” una satira che descrive allegoricamente il tradimento di Stalin della rivoluzione russa del 1917 e “1984” una profonda distopia che esamina i pericoli di un governo totalitario.

Quando Eric Arthur Blair si stava preparando a pubblicare il suo primo lavoro, “ Senza un soldo a Parigi e a Londra”, decise di utilizzare uno pseudonimo in modo che la sua famiglia non fosse imbarazzata dal suo periodo trascorso in povertà. Il libro era infatti un resoconto dei suoi giorni passati vagabondando in Inghilterra, in particolare nei campi di luppolo del Kent, e della povertà in cui si era trovato mentre viveva a Parigi cercando di scrivere romanzi.
Inoltre all’epoca era certo che il libro sarebbe stato un insuccesso (era già stato rifiutato da due editori tra cui T.S. Eliot della Faber e Faber), e non voleva che vi fosse associato il suo vero nome.
Un altro motivo era che non gli piaceva il suo nome di battesimo era al sua associazione con il libro “Eric, o, a poco a poco” di F.W. Farrar, che aveva contribuito ad aumentare la popolarità del nome “Eric” in India e nei paesi di lingua inglese. Era un romanzo sentimentale sulla vita scolastica, il cui protagonista Eric, figlio di un funzionario coloniale britannico di stanza in India, viene mandato in Gran Bretagna per essere educato in un collegio, e incontra gli aspetti buoni e quelli più turpi della tradizionale educazione vittoriana.
Eric Blair scelse il nome George Orwell per sottolineare il suo amore per la tradizione e la terra inglese. Il cognome fu ispirato da un luogo che lo scrittore amava, il fiume Orwell che scorre nella contea di Suffolk in Inghilterra e il nome deriva da San Giorgio, il santo patrono dell’Inghilterra. Sentiva che quello era un “nome inglese forte e tondo”.
Comunque, anche dopo il successo del libro mantenne lo pseudonimo e non scrisse più con il suo vero nome. Quel cambio di nome coincise a un profondo cambiamento nello stile di vita di Orwell, che si trasformò da pilastro dell’establishment imperiale britannico in un ribelle letterario e politico .

Alla sua morte, nel 1950, chiese nel testamento che non venisse scritta alcuna sua biografia, senza darne alcuna motivazione anche se i suoi amici credevano che la richiesta fosse probabilmente dovuta alla sua naturale reticenza e dalla consapevolezza che c’era era così poco da scrivere sulla sua vita.
Pertanto la sua vedova, respinse ogni tentativo di tracciarne una biografia fino a quando non fu lei stessa a darne incarico a un professore di politica all’Università di Londra. Solo dopo sua morte, vennero pubblicate altre biografie.
Comunque Orwell non si era mai rifiutato di fornire dettagli autobiografici a editori o critici , respingente però l’idea che uno scrittore potesse scrivere una biografia definitiva di se stesso, perché

“Ci si può fidare dell’autobiografia solo quando rivela qualcosa di vergognoso. Un uomo che parla bene di se stesso probabilmente mente, poiché ogni vita vista dall’interno è semplicemente una serie di sconfitte.”


76 thoughts on “George Orwell: What’s in a Name?

  1. When you wrote about George Orwell, I immediately thought about his novel 1984. I first read this book at age 12, and this was one of these eye-opening books that I never forgot about. Another one of my favorites is Animal Farm, which, if you write about in your blog, I will be compelled to comment about that work as well.

    The novel is set in Oceania, one of three intercontinental superstates that divided up the world after a global war. Orwell used England as a model for Oceania, but every other country was somehow involved in its creation: he based Eurasia on Russia and Eastasia on China. He created a new language called Newspeak to reflect how totalitarian societies try to control everything—including words. It portrays a totalitarian future society where citizens are reduced to nothing more than cogs in the government machine. Big Brother is an omnipresent figurehead whose face appears everywhere, even though no one knows what he looks like and his real identity remains unknown. And yet all of these elements are secondary to what Orwell saw as his primary purpose: to make political writing into an art. The book’s ultimate message is simple: If you want to know where society might be headed, look at where it already is.

    Nineteen Eighty-Four is often considered to be a work of science fiction, but it is not primarily concerned with making accurate predictions about the future or extrapolating from current technological trends. Instead, Orwell uses his dystopian world as a means of critiquing and terrifying readers about what he saw as societal and political dangers in Western society. The overriding theme of Nineteen Eighty-Four is totalitarianism—the exercise of total control over individual human beings by an all-powerful state. In fact, every aspect of life in Orwell’s dystopia, from thoughts to actions to movement, is under complete control. This is accomplished through various methods, including constant surveillance (Big Brother), rewriting history (Newspeak), propaganda, censorship, and even torture. Through these tactics, Big Brother attempts to get people to love their servitude. To that end, Big Brother promotes nationalism and patriotism among citizens; if you love your country enough you will allow yourself to be oppressed for its greater good. There are several other themes worth noting: fear vs. hope; doublethink (the simultaneous belief of two contradictory ideas); language manipulation; technology; sex/gender roles; and corruption of language/thought processes via Newspeak (politically correct language).

    Books like Nineteen Eighty-Four take on a new meaning as our societies progress, and there’s no better time to dive into George Orwell’s classic than now. In today’s world, where technology is ubiquitous and governments are infiltrated by privacy issues, we should all become more aware of issues in society that could lead to terrible events. The novel itself is based around two main ideas: firstly, how totalitarianism can be achieved through subtle means; secondly, how those who have power can manipulate people’s perception of reality so they believe things that aren’t true. Both are important concepts for us to understand if we want to live in a free society.

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    1. Luisa ! With this correction that Motihari is in the state of Bihar , India from which state I , myself , belong . It was the place from where MAHATMA GANDHI started his SATYAGRAH MOVEMENT in 1920 . I would like to appreciate you for writing about a Novelist like George Orwell who was born in my state i.e Bihar and whose ‘Animal Farm’ was a perfect satire which allegorically depicts Stalin betrayal of the Russian Revolution of 1917 . At the same time ‘1984’ was an anti-utopian Novel that viewed , in advance , the danger of totalitarian government in future . But the most appreciating thing about him was that when he died in 1950 , in his will, he requested that no biography of him be written . That shows his greatness as a writer . If we dispassionatally think it over , we can find that a writer’s life is virtually eventless or having less events as such which could universally be important for the mankind as such . Perhaps he , being influenced by MAHATMA GANDHI , he decided to execute such a will where he expressly emphasized that his biography should not be written at all . Thanks Luisa for bringing about a Novelist of my love , not because he was born in my own state i.e Bihar in India , but because he was a great Novelist who thought about the future of mankind as a whole .

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      1. Thank you for this wonderful comment and for the clarification you made: I have just specified that it is now Bihar because I read that Bihar formed a part of the Bengal Presidency under the British until 1912, when the province of Bihar and Orissa was formed. Is that correct?
        Thanks a lot

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      2. Yes, you are correct . But identity of Bihar is older than that of Bengal . If you take a pain to read my blogs , at least , 15 in number on the History of Bihar , then you will realize how old our Civilization was . It was during the BRITISH period that the Presidency of Bengal came into existence . But if very accurately you study the history of Bihar , then you will find that the movement for separation of Bihar from Bengal started much before the birth of George Orwell . Thanks for your curiosity about this fact .

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  2. I love his work, but never knew he George Orwell was a pen name. Animal Farm and 1984 were required reading in our schools at the time. Will have to dust these off again for another read. Thanks for this post Luisa. Allan

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  3. Wow. A fantastic post on one of the greatest writers of all times, George Orwell. You have done an amazing job. Loved this post and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 🌹🌹🌹🌹♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️. Have a fantastic 🍕🏠🎉 weekend.

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  4. Thank you, Dear Luisa, for adding the interesting facts I didn’t know about!
    I like “Animal Farm”, especially the famous line I use often: “All pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others.”


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      1. The best bit is that you don’t and that is epic. I’ve read all his books bto, cos the prose in the early ones is the kind you build steeples on but passes unnoticed actually.. And that for me was borne out by the later ones. xx

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  5. E pensare che al giorno d’oggi scrivono (o meglio: si fanno scrivere) autobiografie personaggi “senza arte né parte”, nullità totali che hanno solo avuto il merito – diciamo così – di avere i riflettori puntati su di loro per i fatidici 15 minuti di celebrità.

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  6. Orwell oltre a due più famosi romanzi ne ha scritti molti altri di carattere sociale e autobiografici. Tutti hanno in comune il mondo sociale e le sue esperienze umane. La fattoria degli animali e 1984 sono gli ultimi scritti che l’hanno portato alla ribalta letteraria.

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