George Orwell (1903-1950)

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” “Politics and the English Language”


A selective list of online literary criticism for the essayist and novelist George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four [1984] and Animal Farm, favoring signed articles by recognized scholars and articles published in peer-reviewed sources


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introduction & biography

"Blair, Eric Arthur (George Orwell)." Biography of Orwell for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, by Bernard Crick. Education and early life, Setting out, Spain and after, Brief days of fame, Last days and afterlife.

"George Orwell: Voice of a Long Generation." A briefer biography of Orwell, also by Sir Bernard Crick, this one for the BBC's British History, includes a few illustrations.

"A brief life," by Orwell biographer D.J. Taylor, at The Orwell Prize [see The Orwell Prize for more articles on Orwell by Taylor].

Annan, Noel. "Artist in Politics." A review of Bernard Crick's George Orwell: A Life. The New York Review of Books 16 April 1981 [first half of article only].

Anthony, Andrew. "Orwell: The Observer Years." The Observer 10 May 2003.

Ash, Timothy Garton. "Orwell in 1998." A review of The Complete Works of George Orwell, ed. Peter Davison. The New York Review of Books 22 Oct. 1998 [first half of article only].

Ash, Timothy Garton. "Orwell's List." On "George Orwell's notorious list of 'crypto-communists' that went into the files of a semisecret department of the Foreign Office on May 4, 1949." The New York Review of Books 25 Sept. 2003. Also, Christopher Hitchens on the same subject, 26 Sept. 2002.

Ash, Timothy Garton. "Orwell for our time." "He was the most influential and prescient political writer of the 20th century . . . But does he have any relevance today?" The Guardian 4 May 2001.

Atwood, Margaret. "Orwell and Me." On Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four [1984] by novelist Margaret Atwood. The Guardian 15 June 2003.

Banville, John. "Good Man, Bad World." Reviews two biographies of Orwell. The New York Review of Books 6 Nov. 2003 [first half of article only]. Another review, "The Saint of Common Decency," by Piers Brendon in The Guardian 6 June 2003. Another review, "Reach-Me-Down Romantic," by Terry Eagleton, in The London Review of Books 19 June 2003 [first half of article only].

Bates, Stephen. "Odd clothes and unorthodox views: why MI5 spied on Orwell for a decade." "1984 author suspected of being a communist. Newly released files reveal Special Branch blunders." The Guardian 3 Sept. 2007.

Hitchens, Christopher. "George Orwell Turns 100"; also "1984 60 Years Later." Audio files from NPR.

Leys, Simon. "The Intimate Orwell." A review of Orwell's Diaries and Letters, both edited by Peter Davison. The New York Review of Books 26 May 2011.

The Orwell Archive, at University College London.

The Orwell Prize. Web site for "Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing." An extremely rich source for George Orwell research. Also "About Orwell," a very impressive collection of links (many of which I've cribbed in case readers don't get to this page).

Orwell at the BBC. Documents from the years Orwell worked at the British Broadcasting Company. "Internal memos explore working relationships with literary contributors, while letters written from the Hebridean island of Jura colour the background to the creation of Nineteen Eighty-Four." BBC Archive.


literary criticism

Breton, Rob. "Crisis? Whose crisis? George Orwell and liberal guilt." Orwell's take on the failure of middle-class liberals to connect with the working class. College Literature 29, 4 (Fall 2002) pp 47-66 [first page of article only, blurred].

Cavendish, Richard. "Publication of 1984." History Today 49, 6 (1999).

Crick, Bernard. "Orwell as a comic writer." Orwell Prize.

Gessen, Keith. "Eternal vigilance." On Orwell as an essayist and stylist. New Statesman 28 May 2009.

Hopkins, Chris. "George Orwell." A substantial introduction to Orwell's writing. At the Literary Encyclopedia, a subscription service which publishes newly written essays by subject specialists, available to the general public for a reasonable cost. On Burmese Days; on Animal Farm; on Nineteen Eighty-Four [1984] [subscription service].

Kerr, Douglas. "Orwell, Kipling, and Empire." Orwell Prize.

Kreis, Steven. "George Orwell and The Last Man in Europe." Part of Prof. Kreis's The History Guide: Lectures on Twentieth-Century Europe. Academic web site.

Marr, Andrew. "Words and Things." Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language." Prospect Magazine 20 April 1996.

McCrum, Robert. "The masterpiece that killed George Orwell." The circumstances of Orwell's writing Nineteen Eighty-Four [1984]. The Observer 9 May 2009.

Owen, Paul. "1984 thoughtcrime? Does it matter that George Orwell pinched the plot?" The source of Nineteen Eighty-Four in We, a novel by Soviet Union writer Yevgeny Zamyatin. The Guardian 8 June 2009.

Paxman, Jeremy. "The genius of George Orwell." Orwell as an essayist and prose stylist. Introduction to Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell (Penguin Classics).

Pimlott, Ben. "Introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four" [1984]. Orwell Prize.

Pritchett, V.S. "The most honest writer alive." Extract from Pritchett's original 1949 review of Nineteen Eighty-Four in The New Statesman.

Rae, Patricia. "Mr. Charrington's junk shop." On modernist influences in Nineteen Eighty-Four [1984]. Twentieth Century Literature Summer 1997 [subscription service].

Rae, Patricia. "Orwell, World War I modernism and the Spanish Civil War." Journal of War and Culture Studies 2, 3 (Dec. 2009) [abstract only].

Saunders, Loraine. "George Orwell – A Master of Narration." Orwell Prize.

Stansky, Peter. "Utopia and Anti-Utopia." History Today 33, 2 (Feb. 1983) p 33.

Stansky, Peter. "Utopia and Anti-Utopia: William Morris and George Orwell." The Threepenny Review 10 (Summer 1982) pp 3-5 [very blurred, but free offer].

Down and Out in Paris and London. Postings on the novel by George Packer, Keith Gessen, and others, at The New Yorker Book Club, April 2009.


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