Burma and the early novels


George Orwell in Burma

Orwell at the Police Training School in Mandalay, Burma, 1923



' In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by a large number of people

the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.'


                                                            Shooting an Elephant

After Blair graduated from Eton, his family could not pay for university and he had no prospect of winning a scholarship, so in 1922 he joined the Indian Imperial Police, serving in Myaungmya, Upper Burma  as assistant superintendent of police. He was in charge of a district headquarters with about 120 men and later came to be in charge of other stations including Moulmein in Lower Burma . During colonial times, Moulmein had a large expat population; an area of the city was known as 'Little England' . These experiences gave him material for the novel Burmese Days and the essays A Hanging and Shooting an Elephant .


A review of three early Orwell works:  'The British Empire in Burma: How a Nation is Exploited', 'A Hanging', and 'Shooting an Elephant'. Orwell spent around 5 years in Burma in the Indian Imperial Police for the British Empire. He then returned to England and Paris where he wrote for various publications before writing Down and Out in Paris and London, followed by Burmese Days.

The British had added Burma to their colonial empire after fighting in three Anglo-Burmese wars ( 1824-1826, 1852-53 and 1885 ) . Burmese anger at the British was strong and frequent riots broke out  . He came to despise what he called doing ' the dirty work of Empire'  and was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible .'  In Burma, Orwell learned first hand what it is like to govern unwilling subjects .


When he returned to England on leave in 1927 he decided to resign and become a writer. He later used his Burmese experiences for the novel Burmese Days (1934) , which was first published in America, and in such essays as A Hanging (1931), and Shooting an Elephant (1936). Back in England he wrote to Ruth Pitter, a family acquaintance, and she and a friend found him a room in London, on the Portobello Road (a blue plaque is now on the outside of this house), where he started to write. It was from here that he sallied out one evening to Limehouse Causeway following in the footsteps of Jack London (who wrote  The people of the Abyss there while disguised as a tramp) and spent his first night in a common lodging house, probably George Levy's 'kip'. For a while he went native in his own country, dressing like other tramps and making no concessions, and recording his experiences of low life in his first published essay, 'The Spike', and the latter half of Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).


George Orwell's book

Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

In the spring of 1928, he moved to Paris in a cheap tenement in the Latin Quarter hoping to make a living as a freelance writer along with many others who invaded Paris at this time with similar ambitions .  He fell ill with pneumonia in February 1929 and spent weeks in a free hospital whose conditions had changed little since the 19th century .He described his experience in his essay How the poor die, which was published in 1946 . In the autumn of 1929, his lack of success reduced Blair to taking menial jobs as a dishwasher or 'plongeur' for a few weeks, principally in a fashionable hotel (the Hotel X) on the rue de Rivoli, which he later described in his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London . He was fascinated by the hierarchy of the workers and the hell of the kitchen, often running 15 miles a day while a few feet away the swells dined in elegance . He traveled to England and also tramped around under the name of P.S. Burton . It took Orwell 5 years to publish the book in 1933  after it had been rejected a few times . He told the publisher to publish it under a pseudonym as he was not proud of it and out of a list of names given him, the publisher choose the name George Orwell . After so many rejections, the naturally pessimistic Eric Blair felt this book would be a failure also .

Ill and broke, he moved back to England in 1929, using his parents' house in Southwold, Suffolk, as a base. Writing what became Burmese Days, he made frequent forays into tramping as part of what had by now become a book project on the life of the poorest people in society. Meanwhile, he became a regular contributor to John Middleton Murry's New Adelphi magazine.

Blair completed Down and Out in 1932, and it was published early the next year while he was working briefly as a schoolteacher at a private school called Frays College near Hayes, Middlesex. He took the job as an escape from dire poverty and it was during this period that he managed to obtain a literary agent called Leonard Moore. Blair also adopted the pen name George Orwell just before Down and Out was published. In a November 15 letter to Leonard Moore, his agent, he left the choice of a pseudonym to Moore and to Victor Gollancz, the publisher. Four days later, Blair wrote Moore and suggested P. S. Burton, a name he used "when tramping," adding three other possibilities: Kenneth Miles, George Orwell, and H. Lewis Allways.

Orwell drew on his work as a teacher and on his life in Southwold for the novel A Clergyman's Daughter (1935), which he wrote at his parents' house in 1934 after ill-health and the urgings of his parents forced him to give up teaching. From late 1934 to early 1936 he worked part-time as an assistant in a second-hand bookshop, Booklover's Corner, in Hampstead. Having led a lonely and very solitary existence, he wanted to enjoy the company of other young writers, and Hampstead was a place for intellectuals, as well as having many houses with cheap bedsitters. He worked his experiences into the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936).


George Orwell book

Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)


    The Road to Wigan Pier


George Orwell book

In early 1936, Orwell was commissioned by Victor Gollancz of the Left Book Club to write an account of poverty among the working class in the depressed areas of northern England, which appeared in 1937 as The Road to Wigan Pier.  He went to Wigan, Liverpool, Sheffeld and Barnsley to study working class life . the title was taken from a North Country joke, that if you couldn't afford to go to Blackpool, you would say you would take your vacation on Wigan pier .He was taken into many houses, simply saying that he wanted to see how people lived. He made systematic notes on housing conditions and wages and spent several days in the local Public Library consulting reports on public health and conditions in the mines. He did his homework as a social investigator. The first half of the book is a social documentary of his investigative touring in Lancashire and Yorkshire, beginning with an evocative description of work in the coal mines. The second half of the book, a long essay in which Orwell recounts his personal upbringing and development of political conscience, includes a very strong denunciation of what he saw as irresponsible elements of the left. Gollancz feared that the second half would offend Left Book Club readers, and inserted a mollifying preface to the book while Orwell was in Spain.

Soon after completing his research for the book, Orwell married Eileen O'Shaughnessy.

Orwell feeding his pet goat Muriel, 1939




 Early Life &



 Spanish Civil War