Remembering George Orwell
1903, June 25. - 1950, January 21.

Orwell - The Authorized Biography

by Michael Shelden
Published by HarperCollins Wayland Publishers.
New York, USA. 1991

In his probing and revelatory biography of one of the great prose stylists of this century, Michael Shelden breaks new ground in the evocation of George Orwells personal life and in our understanding of his art. Based on original interviews, previously undiscovered letters and documents, and astute literary detective work by Shelden, Orwell is the major biography of one of the great yet elusive literary figures of our time.
The Cold War helped make Orwell a successful author by turning him into an anti-Communist icon, but Michael Shelden’s biography renews our appreciation of his place in literary, as opposed to political, history. Few writers have had as exciting a life as Orwell’s. An Old Etonian and an officer in the Indian Imperial Police, he was also a dishwasher in a Paris hotel, a hop picker in Kent, an investigative journalist, a wounded veteran of the Spanish Civil War, a celebrated novelist, and -like Keats and D.H. Lawrence before him- a dreamer whose life was cut short by tuberculosis. The human qualities that make the story of Orwell's life so appealing dominate this biography -his integrity, his humility and courage, his odd mixture of radical and conservative attitudes, and his struggle to balance the public and private sides of his character.
Shelden's portrait of Orwell is an unusually complex and subtle one. Orwell thrived on contradiction. He called himself a socialist, yet he was always pointing out the weaknesses in socialism. He devoted enormous efforts to writing his novels, yet admitted near the end of his life, "I am not a real novelist anyway." He was an intellectual who ran a small village shop and referred to himself as a "grocer"; he was an ex-policeman who lived among tramps.
In Shelden's biography, which draws on a wide range of unpublished sources, Orwell is brought vividly to life as a passionate, vital, engaging literary personality, not the cold, distant, political pessimist he is often portrayed as. Meticulously researched and stylishly written, this is undoubtedly one of the most important literary biographies to appear in years.

Michael Shelden is the author of Friends of Promise: Cyril Connolly and the World of Horizon.
He has written extensively on literary and social topics for periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph (London). and the Times Literary Supplement (London). He is currently Professor of English at Indiana State University.

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