Cover image for Orwell : the life
Orwell : the life
Taylor, D. J. (David John), 1960-
Publication Information:
New York : H. Holt, 2003.
Physical Description:
466 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
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Material Type
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Item Holds
PR6029.R8 Z795 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PR6029.R8 Z795 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PR6029.R8 Z795 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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At last, a fresh, comprehensive biography of the twentieth century's most emblematic writer In the last fifty years, Animal Farm and 1984 have sold over forty million copies, and "Orwellian" is now a byword for a particular way of thinking about life, literature, and language. D. J. Taylor's magisterial assessment cuts through George Orwell's iconic status to reveal a bitter critic who concealed a profound totalitarian streak and whose progress through the literary world of the 1930s and 1940s was characterized by the myths he built around himself. But whether as reluctant servant of the Raj in 1920s Burma, mock down-and-outerin Paris and London, or Spanish Civil War soldier, the circumstances of his life are sharply at odds with the image Orwell so effectively stage-managed. Drawing on previously unseen material, Orwell is a strikingly human portrait of the writer too often embalmed as a secular saint. This is the biography we have been waiting for-as vibrant, powerful, and resonant as its extraordinary subject.

Author Notes

D. J. Taylor 's acclaimed biography, Thackeray , was selected as a "book of the year" by Victoria Glendinning and A. N. Wilson. Taylor lives in Norwich, England.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

George Orwell (1903-1950), ne Eric Blair, seemed only a marginal Depression-era writer about disillusion and hopelessness among ordinary working types until the Spanish Civil War, when in 1937 he was shot through the neck and nearly killed, furnishing him with the lens to see totalitarianism and betrayal as, possibly, the future human condition. In his now classic Homage to Catalonia, then a commercial failure, he wrote of papers reporting facts that were lies, patriotism that was propaganda, loyalty that was treachery, heroism that was cowardice. The results, in a bleak career abbreviated at 46 by unremitting tuberculosis, emerged in the dystopian fable Animal Farm and in the mean urban wasteland of 1984, in which history is rewritten daily, and obedience is the only recourse for the brainwashed powerless. Taylor, author of an earlier biography of Thackeray, limns Orwell's life graphically, and relates his early fiction and journalism persuasively to the iconic postwar novels, describing his writing as "an endless scroll constantly refined and brought up to date, in which early entries reemerge to assume an expected resonance." Tendencies to clich? disappear as Taylor warms up to his theme of an Etonian displaced in a remorseless world. A few brief chapters seem merely stuck in, but Orwell's essentially lonely and downstart life, and his triumphs almost too late to matter, make for compelling reading. 16 pages of b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This centenary year of George Orwell's birth has produced two major British biographies following lives by Bernard Crick (1980), Michael Shelden (1991), and Jeffrey Meyers (2000). Bowker (Pursued by Furies) covers the now-familiar terrain of Orwell's short life in fascinating-and sometimes controversial-detail. What emerges is the "human face of Orwell," as Bowker explores Orwell's complicated sexuality and womanizing, his persistent practice of deception, and his strong prejudices. He also assesses the impact that chronic illness had on Orwell's life and writings. As for new revelations, Bowker claims several: the influence of Orwell's early Catholic education, his obsession with black magic, his illicit liaisons in Burma, and a long-running affair with an early girlfriend. Finally, Bowker expands on new evidence about the Soviet pursuit of Orwell during the Spanish Civil War and Orwell's subsequent collaboration with the British Foreign Office in World War II (when he allegedly "named names" of Communist sympathizers). In Orwell, Taylor (Thackeray) fills in some gaps of his own-chiefly through the unpublished writings of Orwell's friends and contemporaries. Starting with a moving description of Orwell's funeral in 1950, Taylor vividly presents the years in India, the "down and out" adventures, fighting in Spain, Orwell's work with the BBC during the war, and his final great novels. Taylor breaks the chronological flow with nine brief, interpretive essays (e.g., on Orwell's face, voice, and paranoia). While light on literary analysis of Orwell's writings, Taylor's book is a fresh and compelling life of the man he calls "a light glinting in the darkness." Bowker and, to a lesser extent, Taylor each make understanding the life of this "secular priest" a lot easier. Both biographies are highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.