The letters of George Orwell (real name: Eric Arthur Blair) suggest a life beset by internal conflict.
As evidence of controversial government surveillance rockets around the globe, the adjective “Orwellian” is getting plenty of use. My bet is that many of those employing the term know little or nothing about the man behind the name. In fact, my bet is that most have no idea that “George Orwell” is a pen name, made-up name to mask the identity of Eric Arthur Blair, born June 25, 1903, in India to British parents.
As a journalist, editorialist, and book author, Orwell was frequently controversial. Today, 63 years after his death, he probably qualifies as iconic – unless “iconic” suggests saintly and uncomplicated. Orwell, who was definitely not saintly, was more like the polar opposite of uncomplicated.
Long-time Orwell scholar Peter Davison served as co-editor of the complete set of Orwell's letters, which fill 20 volumes. This new collection is meant to be accessible for lay readers who, realistically, will never peruse 20 volumes. Here is how Davison explains the thinking behind his winnowing for the current volume: “Firstly, the letters chosen should illustrate Orwell’s life and hopes, and secondly that each one should be of interest in its own right.”