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George Orwell

George Orwell

George Orwell: Childhood & Burma

Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell's given name) was born on 25 June 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, a British colony in what is now India. Eric's father, Richard Walmesley Blair, worked in the Indian Civil Service (the arm of the British government that ran the colony) overseeing opium exports to Asia. A year after Eric's birth, his mother Ida Mabel Limouzin Blair packed up Eric and his 6-year-old sister Marjorie and moved back to England to raise the children there. This was a common thing to do for English colonial families at the time. The Blairs were members of what Eric Blair would later describe as the "lower-upper-middle class"3 of British society. They didn't have much money, but they did have aspirations. Better to split the family up, the Blairs and other parents like them reasoned, than to deny their children the privileges of a proper English education and upbringing.

The young Eric Blair attended primary school at St. Cyprian's, a rigorous boys' boarding school in East Sussex, England. He was a good student but thoroughly hated boarding school, resentful of the differences he perceived in how the staff treated wealthy students versus scholarship students like him. So lasting was his grudge that the caustic essay he wrote about the experience, "Such, Such Were the Joys," was not published until after the headmaster's death to avoid libel suits. Eric's grades were good enough to earn him a prestigious King's Scholarship to Eton College, and in 1917 he entered the famous boys' high school. Once he got to Eton, though, he neglected his work and his grades plummeted.4 He left in 1921 without his diploma. Instead he took the entrance exam of the Indian Imperial Police, the British colonial force that maintained order in the South Asian colonies. He passed the exam and in June 1922, Eric Arthur Blair set sail for his posting in Burma.

Eric Blair spent five years in Burma. He didn't like it. He saw things as a policeman that left him disillusioned by the British colonial system, experiences that he recounted years later in essays like "A Hanging" and "Shooting an Elephant," and his first novel, a bitter look at the corruption and prejudice of imperial Burma entitled Burmese Days. In 1927 he contracted dengue fever, the first of a series of health crises in his life, forcing him to leave Burma for health reasons. When he returned to England, he decided to resign from the Imperial Police.

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