Since his death in January 1950 at the age of forty-six, George Orwell’s
critical and popular reputation has ascended and spread wings. Three major
biographies were published during the last decade and Orwell’s papers
have been edited in twenty volumes by the British scholar Peter Davison. Special
studies dealing with Orwell’s career and writings appear annually.
Recognized internationally chiefly for his last two masterpieces –
Animal Farm (1945), his brilliant satire on the Russian
Revolution, and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), his gripping
dystopian portrait of the future – Orwell’s other body of writing
also enjoys an appreciative audience today.
Our study examines the reasons for Orwell’s ongoing appeal. Combining
biography with an analysis of his writings, we focus on the main literary genres
in which Orwell wrote: his traditional novels, his essays, and his documentary
In the 1930s, Orwell struggled to write realistic fiction. Two of his novels in
particular, Burmese Days and Coming Up for
Air, exhibit skillfully developed characters and descriptive passages
even as they reveal the limitations of his fictional imagination.
Orwell’s essays are among his best writing. He took a format that was
being swamped by belles-lettres and breathed new life into it. In his greatest
essays – “A Hanging,” “Shooting an Elephant,” and
“Politics and the English Language” – Orwell discovered settings
and subject matters that suited the prose style that he had developed: clear,
direct, pared of artifice. By writing about topics avoided by serious authors
(comic postcards, murder mysteries, and other mundane everyday things), Orwell
also helped create the genre of popular cultural studies.