George Orwell’s First Creative Dollar

“Everyone keeps coming at me, wanting me to lecture, to write commissioned booklets, to join this and that, etc. - you don’t know how I pine to be free of it all and have time to think again.”

 - George Orwell, writing to his friend while processing the success of Animal Farm

Class Criticism at its Best

George Orwell described his own upbringing as "lower-upper-middle class."

Knowing this offers some obvious insight into the works he created throughout his lifetime - often discussing poverty, living conditions of the poor, and class division. He bounced between several menial jobs, especially in his younger years as a writer.

George Orwell’s First Creative Dollar

The Amount: 40 Pounds (50.53 US Dollars), worth $991.21 in today’s money

The Project: Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

The Back Story

Most of us are introduced to George Orwell as a novelist via our English teachers, but he was best known in his day as an essayist, journalist, columnist, and reviewer. Even though he first published the above book in 1933, it wasn’t until 1945 that he published the renowned classic, "Animal Farm."

(It’s important to note the gap of 12 years between his first book and his first “clearly successful book.” It should be obvious that a man like Orwell wrote for reasons other than money or success, especially since he had the discipline to keep up laborious low paid projects over such a long period.)

Also, he probably made money here and there for his smaller writing projects, but this was the first book I could find with an actual advance.

He went through several rejections starting in 1930 before the book Down and Out in Paris and London was published three years later.

Like many authors, he did not wish to publish under his own name (you can find related posts about pseudonyms here and here). Other names he considered included "X," "P.S. Burton,"  "Kenneth Miles," and "H. Lewis Allways."

I think he chose well. George Orwell has a ring to it.

1984, Supermodels, and Too Much Time on the Tube

“The chief danger to freedom of thought and not the direct interference of...any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of persecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country, intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face.” 

 - Preface to the book Animal Farm

In preparation for writing this, I tracked down Animal Farm as a cartoon from 1954 and settled in for a typical quarantine-style day with our 2 year old. Lots of bizarre historical videos on Youtube, lots of cheese sticks, and lots of Little Critter books. 

This cartoon was far darker than most we encounter (and that old Disney stuff is pretty violent). The “very bad” drunk farmer and the pigs that acted like arrogant “meanies” caused my husband to walk in and question if the cartoon was appropriate for a toddler. 

Further on in our Youtube voyage (and looking for something a little lighter), we discovered Lily Aldridge is really into history. She recommends the George Orwell book “Nineteen Eighty Four” in this video! Just when you thought she couldn’t get any cooler. (I’ve always liked Kings of Leon, but now I’m starting to like Lily more than her husband Caleb Followill - lead singer of the band.) 

Anyhow, what Lily may not know is George wrote “Nineteen Eighty Four” in 1946 while he was very ill. He wrote it while living in a farmhouse called Barnhill on the isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides. (I had to Google this to find out it’s a long way of describing a very remote place in Scotland, denoting that George sought out extreme solitude in order to bring this gem to light).

What do you think? Why has George Orwell had such a long lasting impact on literature and reached such a wide variety of people (rich supermodel’s included)? 

Quotes and facts from the book Developing Multiple Talents by Douglas Eby.


8 Replies to “George Orwell’s First Creative Dollar”

  1. i have a soft spot in my heart for unpopular speech and especially the right to say it. it’s funny to me how the groups who want to censor speech have basically flipped 180 degrees in the u.s. at least since i was a kid they have.

    when are you going to detail larry flynt’s first creative dollar? he not only went to the supreme court to protect his right to publish a trashy magazine but to protect expression of people he didn’t even like. i consider him an unlikely patriot.

    1. Thanks for you thoughts Freddy. I like some unpopular forms of speech but not others – as would be expected.

      I will have to look into Larry. I’ve never heard of him. Sounds like an interesting fellow.

  2. Great stuff Savvy. I wonder if Orwell would be surprised that people now willingly and excitedly buy spying… er listening devices and cameras to put in their own homes. We don’t need to government to do it, we’re doing it ourselves…

    1. Hey Dave! I don’t think he would be surprised at all by our willingness to go along with all this. Even when I think of social media in a broad sense, I think of it as a clever way to sell us back to ourselves. If a little privacy is all we have to exchange, most of us are willing to compromise it in the name of a business, ego, connection, convenience, or whatever the case may be. I would love to know Orwell’s thoughts on our current world. In a way – we kind of already do.

  3. Thanks for this one. “Down &Out” is one of my all time faves by Orwell. He was also stupendously prophetic with “1984.” Notwithstanding a minor twist, he nailed our current age over 50 years before. As the band Crass states, “Big Brother’s not watching you, mate, you’re watching him.” I cannot ever look at any screen at any time and not think of Orwell.

    1. You are the first person I know who has read Down & Out. I’m more of an Orwell fan in theory (thus familiar with his most popular work), but I think it would be interesting to dig back through other items he has written (especially his extensive journalism career). Glad you enjoyed this piece. It was a good one to write as it got me out of my own mind and time for awhile.

  4. A delightful read as always, Savvy!

    I suspect Orwell knew that all fragile societies eventually cling to an overbearing ruling class under the guise of protection, always forgetting that the ruling elites are not often so concerned with the protection of others but moreso the protection of themselves.

    From 1946 to 1984 to 2020, we never really change as much as we think we do.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comments and for stopping by the blog Aaron. I still have to say – out of all those years (1946, 1984, and 2020), I am glad to be around right now where free information flows quickly, and I can educate myself on whatever topic I choose at whatever time I choose. As individuals do this more and more (self-educate), it will be interesting what the world of information becomes and what that will mean for those at the top.

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