Orwell’s Exigence: Writing for an Urgent Moment (MSON) (Literature Elective; US)

Fall; Grades 11–12
Prerequisite: English 9 and 10, or an equivalent writing class, strongly recommended
Taught by: Brownell Talbot School

“As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.” No writer was more effective than George Orwell in transforming a moment of social or existential crisis into an occasion for writing. Most students only encounter Orwell through his deeply allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945) or his prescient dystopian novel 1984 (1949), and thus, he often carries the image of an author writing around, but not directly about, his moment in history. Yet, prior to these late-career works for which he is best known, Orwell was first and foremost a chronicler of the conflicts and controversies of the first half of the twentieth century, as both a journalist and an essayist. This class will pose Orwell as the most incisive and insightful writer of prose in the English language by focusing on his short- and long-form nonfiction, including his ethnographies of poverty (Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933), exploited labor (The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937), and fascism (Homage to Catalonia, 1938). Using Orwell as paradigm for writing rooted in lived experience, this course sets its sights on mastering the craft of prose in a variety of forms, including traditional journalism, personal reflection, creative nonfiction, and critical analysis.

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