George Orwell and Englishness

Seminar Paper, 2003

28 Pages, Grade: 1,0



0. Preface

1. Biography

2. The Road to Wigan Pier
2.1 Basic structure
2.1.1. Part I Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V Chapter VI Chapter VII
2.1.2 Part II Chapter VIII Chapter IX Chapter X Chapter XI Chapter XII Chapter XIII

3. Englishness
3.1 Artistic insensibility
3.2 Sentimentality about animals
3.3 Class distinctions
3.4 Lack of intellectuality
3.5 Code of conduct
3.6 Hypocrisy
3.7 Privateness and liberty
3.7.1 Hobbies and spare-time occupations
3.7.2 Preference of houses
3.8 Gentleness
3.9 Respect for legality

4. Conclusion


0. Preface

George Orwell was one of England’s most important intellectuals of the twentieth century. He wrote two of the most influential novels of that time, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which assured him a place among the writers of world-wide fame. Before he could write these Anti-Utopias, however, he had to undergo a period of life that turned him from the Indian Imperial policeman into a socio-critical, political writer and dedicated Socialist.

This paper deals with this period of Orwell’s life, namely with his first socialist book, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and his conception of “Englishness”, that served as a basis for his definition of an English Socialism which constituted a pronounced contrast to the common and prevailing left-wing intellectuals’ ideas of Socialism.

First of all George Orwell’s life from birth to death is presented as it is vital to an understanding of him and his ideas. His biography shows the fundamental changes in his political thinking and his development to the famous writer he became.

Furthermore the structure and content of The Road to Wigan Pier is analysed. In order to collect material for this book, which can be regarded as a very long essay, he went to the industrial areas of Northern England and became, for the first time in his life, aware of the working-class people’s social misery there. While living among poor coal-miners and unemployed he made experiences he did not forget for the rest of his life. They contributed to his political attitude and his deep conviction that only socialism were the suitable means to lead England out of the desperate situation it was in.

The last part of this paper is about George Orwell’s conception of “Englishness”, that was influenced by his stay in the North of England a lot, which becomes obvious due to the many links between The Road to Wigan Pier and his thoughts and definition of typical English character traits in his essays The Lion and the Unicorn (1941) and The English People (1947).

1. Biography

The English author George Orwell, pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, was born into a “lower-upper-middle class”[1][2] family in the Indian village of Motihari, Bengal, on June 25, 1903, five years after his sister Marjorie Francis. The Blair family lived there as Orwell’s father, Richard Walmesley Blair, held a post as a sub-deputy agent for the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service from 1875 until he resigned in 1912.

In 1904 Orwell’s mother, Ida Mabel Blair, neé Limouzin, returned to England with Marjorie and Eric. They settled at Henley-on Thames, Oxfordshire, where Richard Blair visited them for three months in the summer of 1907. On April 6, 1908, the Blairs’ youngest child Avril Nora was born.

From 1908 onwards Orwell attended a day school at Henley until he was sent to St Cyprian’s, a private preparatory school at Eastbourne, Sussex, in September 1911. During the time there his first two poems “Awake! Young Men of England” (1914) and “Kitchener” (1916) were published by Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard. At the age of 13 Orwell won a scholarship to Wellington where he spent the spring term of 1917. Soon afterwards he won a King’s Scholarship and therefore went to Eton from April 1917 to September 1921. At Eton he contributed to school periodicals like The Election Times and College Days.

After he had finished his education Orwell did not go to University, but applied for a post at the Indian Imperial Police in April 1922. He was accepted and served in Burma from October 1922 to December 1927, when he resigned while on home-leave in England.

“When Orwell arrived in Burma he was imbued with the Spirit of Empire, of imperialism.”[3] After his service for the Indian Imperial Police, however, he had changed his attitude towards the British Empire completely. In The Road to Wigan Pier he writes:

I was in the Indian Police five years, and by the end of that time I hated the imperialism I was serving with a bitterness which I probably cannot make clear. In the free air of England that kind of thing is not fully intelligible. In order to hate imperialism you have got to be part of it. […] But it is not possible to be part of such a system without recognising it as an unjustifiable tyranny.[4]

It was this disgust for the Empire, his feeling of guilt and the need to work up what he had seen and done in Burma that made him write Burmese Days, which was published in October 1934.

Another effect of his service for the Indian Imperial Police was his interest for the English working class. In his eyes they were the Burmese of England who were treated comparably badly.[5] He did not know much about working class people, however, not having concerned himself with them before, and thus decided to get in touch with them. While living in Portobello Road, Notting Hill, he made a number of expeditions into the East End of London where the paupers and destitute lived.

As he had not concerned himself with them before and therefore did not know much about them, he decided to get in touch with the working class and, while living in Portobello Road, Notting Hill, made a number of expeditions into the East End of London where the paupers and destitute lived.

In the spring of 1928 Orwell left his middle-class life behind for more than one year. He lived as a tramp for some time and then went to Paris, where he stayed in a working-class district. His reason to go to Paris was his wish to concentrate on his writing, something he successfully achieved by writing “`a ballade` […], several articles and short stories, and either one or two novels.”[6] He was short of money in 1929 and therefore forced to work as a dishwasher and kitchen porter.

Orwell returned to England in December 1929. Before finding work as a teacher at The Hawthornes, a private school for boys, in 1932, he led a rather discontinuous life. He stayed at his parents’ home in Southwold, where they had moved in late 1921, wrote reviews for The Adelphi and went to London to live there with down-and-outs. During that time he also wrote his first book, in its original version consisting of some 35,000 words, dealing with his experiences among the poor in Paris and London. Orwell actually wanted to name it Days in London and Paris, but as it was rejected thrice he revised and renamed it several times. In January 1933 the book was finally published by Victor Gollancz, his first publisher, as Down and Out in Paris and London. This was the first time that Eric Arthur Blair used his pen name George Orwell.

During the next few years Orwell produced a number of books. A Clergyman’s Daughter was published in March 1935, the year in which he met his future wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Keep the Aspidistra Fly was published in April 1936. On June 9, 1936 he married Eileen. In the same year Gollancz commissioned a book about the living conditions of working-class people in the depressed areas of Northern England. Therefore Orwell went to the North of England from January to March 1936 in order to collect material. In May 1936 Orwell began to write about his experiences there, which resulted in The Road to Wigan Pier, published in March 1937.

Having finished this book George Orwell decided to go to Spain to write newspaper articles about the Spanish Civil War. Soon after he had arrived there, he enlisted in the POUM (Partido Obrero e Unificacion Marxista, literally Worker's Party of Marxist Unification) in order to fight on the Republican side for socialism in Spain. In June 1937, however, the Blairs had to leave Spain, escape to France and return to England. This was due to two reasons. Firstly, he had been wounded in the throat the previous month and, secondly, he and Eileen were not safe anymore, as the POUM had been accused of being on Franco’s side and secretly helping the Fascists[7]. In July 1937 he started to write Homage to Catalonia, a description of his experiences in Spain, which was published in April 1938.

Soon after he had finished Homage to Catalonia Orwell fell seriously ill with tubercular lesion. As Orwell’s medical records

show he had coughed up blood when ill in 1929 […], 1931 and 1934; had suffered from pneumonia in 1918, 1921, 1933 and 1934 […], and had Dengue Fever in Burma. With that record, he should certainly not have served in the bitterly cold trenches in Spain.[8]

When he left hospital in September 1938 he went to French Morocco with Eileen in the hope of a better recovery because of the North African climate. Although this hope was not fulfilled, Orwell could spend time on writing reviews, collecting material in his diary and writing Coming Up for Air, published in June 1939.

After having been refused for military service during World War II due to his poor health, Orwell wrote Inside the Whale and Other Essays, The Lion and the Unicorn, and theatre reviews. In 1941 he started to work as a Talks Assistant and later as a Talks Producer for the Indian Section of the BBC’s Eastern Service, until he resigned to become Literary Editor, writing his weekly column As I Please for the Tribune in November 1943. The same month he began to write one of his most famous novels, Animal Farm.

In June 1944 the Orwells adopt their son Richard Horatio Blair. After quitting his job at the Tribune in February 1945, Orwell went to France and Germany as war correspondent for The Observer and The Manchester Evening News until the end of March 1945, when Eileen died during an operation. He returned to France, Germany and Austria as war correspondent until May 24, 1945.

In 1945, after many rejections Animal Farm was finally published by Secker & Warburg. In the same year Orwell visited the isle of Jura on the West Coast of Scotland, where he moved in May 1946. On Jura he wrote his last novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was published in 1949, the year he married his second wife Sonia Brownell. This marriage, however, was very short-lived, as “Orwell died of a massive haemorrhage of the lung at University College Hospital in the early hours of Saturday, 21 January 1950.”[9]

2. The Road to Wigan Pier

In the following chapter the content and structure of Orwell’s first socialist book, The Road to Wigan Pier, are dealt with. The experiences he made when collecting material for this book were crucial for his conception of “Englishness”, because it was the first time he really got an idea about what people belonging to the poor part of the English working-class are like. One could argue that he had already got in touch with the poor while living as a tramp or among the down-and-outs in London, but as he himself states in The Road to Wigan Pier, these were not the typical members of the working-class: “When I thought of poverty I thought of it in terms of brute starvation. Therefore my mind turned immediately towards the extreme cases, the social outcasts: tramps, beggars, criminals, prostitutes.”[10] So, obviously, he did not know about the conditions of the “normal” working-class before he made his way to the North.

2.1 Basic structure

The Road to Wigan Pier consists of two parts. In Part I, which is made up of seven chapters, Orwell gives the reader an impression of the alarming social conditions of Northern England. Part II, composed of chapters VIII to XIII, is a political pamphlet on socialism, describing Orwell’s personal view of it, especially of an English version. to a possible English version.

2.1.1. Part I Chapter I

The first chapter of The Road to Wigan Pier constitutes an introduction, which is different from the rest of Part I. Orwell seems to want to get the reader interested in the book at hand. He does not start by reporting on the social condition of working-class people in the North in general, but by describing a specific lodging-house he stayed in for some time, owned by an elderly couple, the Brookers. Orwell tells his reader quite ironically about the extremely bad hygienic state of the house


[1] The following biography is mainly based on: Davidson, Peter. George Orwell. A Literary Life. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1996: xv – xxvii.

[2] Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier. 1937. Penguin Books. London, 2001: 113.

[3] Davidson, 16.

[4] Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 134.

[5] Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 138-139.

[6] Davidson, xvi.

[7] Davidson, 81-83.

[8] Ibid., 111.

[9] Davidson, 140.

[10] Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 139.

Excerpt out of 28 pages


George Orwell and Englishness
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg  (Institut für Anglistik)
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George, Orwell, Englishness
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Andrea Rollig (Author), 2003, George Orwell and Englishness, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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