ORWELL, George (1903-1950) a.k.a. Eric Arthur Blair
Plaque erected in 1980 by Greater London Council at 50 Lawford Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 2LN, London Borough of Camden
GEORGE ORWELL 1903-1950 Novelist and Political Essayist lived here
The novelist and political essayist George Orwell is best remembered for his dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 50 Lawford Road in Kentish Town, where he lived from August 1935 until January 1936.
EARLY LONDON YEARS
George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in India and brought up in England. He resolved to become a writer in 1927 and in 1933 published the first of his autobiographical works, Down and Out in Paris and London. The book recounts his time spent ‘tramping’ around London and Kent in 1927–8, and his subsequent poverty-stricken spell in Paris. During his explorations of the London underworld he slept in common lodging-houses (‘kips’) and the casual wards of workhouses (‘spikes’), and was even thrown into jail for a night. The author VS Pritchett later described Orwell as a man ‘who went native in his own country’.
From August 1935 until January 1936 he lived on the top floor of 50 Lawford Road in Kentish Town. He shared the flat with his friends and fellow writers Rayner Heppenstall (1911−81) and Michael Sayers (1912–2010), and while there wrote the bulk of his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936). The novel follows Gordon Comstock, an Orwellian alter ego, who wants to live among ‘the lost people, the under-ground people, tramps, beggars, criminals, prostitutes’:
It is a good world that they inhabit, down there in their frowzy kips and spikes. He liked to think that beneath the world of money there is that great sluttish underworld where failure and success have no meaning; a sort of kingdom of ghosts where all are equal.
Lawford Road features in the book as ‘Willowbed Road’, a street that ‘contrived to keep up a kind of mingy, lower-middle-class decency’. Orwell’s own room, ‘a top floor back’, contained his writing table, while ‘on the window-sill there was a sickly aspidistra in a green-glazed pot’.
On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Orwell joined the Republican forces and became a dedicated socialist. He later described his experiences in Spain in Homage to Catalonia (1938), and in the following years wrote a series of political works which developed his particular brand of left-wing patriotism.
Orwell’s two best-known works, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), are both characterised by his opposition to tyranny and dogma. Animal Farm was widely praised as one of the greatest satires in the English language and it brought Orwell instant fame and a significant new readership. He wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four during the summer of 1946 on the Scottish island of Jura, and collapsed twice from tuberculosis before finishing it. The dystopian novel has become one of the most famous depictions of a totalitarian, surveillance state, with terms like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Thought Police’ entering everyday language.
George Orwell died of tuberculosis on 21 January 1950 and was buried at All Saints’ Church in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire.