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George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons

George Orwell's official biographer walks you through the author's life and times, and reveals the powerful lessons of Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and other enduring masterpieces.
George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 77.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from There could not be any more. I doubt it would be possible to know more about George Orwell than what you could learn here in this excellent lecture series. This teacher is dedicated and demonstrates his thorough knowledge of this subject better than others who might not share his passion. I reviewed this a few days ago under "NotASage" and then while writing a review for another lecture I discovered that I could add pictures! How wonderful! So here I am trying to add the pictures I mentioned in my previous review. These pictures are a part of a slide show that I also added music to. I was having more and more difficulty in the last several years remembering things, so this was my way to try and help myself to remember the most important things I have ever known in my life. As you will find in my other review in "Great Ideas of Philosophy" with Prof. Robinson, where I put his quotes with some pictures I took long ago - it was just so important to me to remember his wise and thoughtful teaching.
Date published: 2024-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from George Orwell. It would be extremely difficult to find a more thorough, in-depth lecture about George Orwell. The title is exact to the content. I had read a little about George Orwell here and there and was amazed by a quote and kept it in a slide show to help me remember. "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life." I was astounded when I learned he fought in a war himself. There are a few other quotes by him that I like as well. However, long before I reached lecture 18, I was not interested in learning anything more about George Orwell. I discovered that while I do like some of his quotes, I don't care for him, nor his views, nor philosophy in regard to life. I learned enough about him to find him to be a very frustrated person, who was driven by a desire to be important. He had this wonderful childhood where he was most surely important; treated like a "prince". This may have spoiled him in ways that caused him a frustration for the rest of his life, that turned his desire into a poisonous, ugly, and beastly kind of political paranoia and he could not bear it when it seemed people would not share nor even bother to hear his views. Which in my opinion were extremely negative and absolutely miserable. I don't like the man. I never could bear very long around anyone that is so disrespectful to government and other dignitaries, I never thought myself that superior and find it repugnant in others. But everyone can be sure this lecture series has everything anyone would ever need to know about George Orwell to decide for themselves whether they might like him or not.
Date published: 2024-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant! This series of lectures explains the life and work of George Orwell perfectly. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2023-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and beautifully narrated! After completing this course, I fancied how I might present Orwell and his ideas to American citizens today for whom he is remembered, if for anything, as the author of that long-ago dystopian novel, 1984. Perhaps a modest multi-media type presentation? Perhaps as an altar triptych from the Middle Ages? Such were artworks in which three related artistic, literary, or musical works are placed together for the viewer to contemplate and in which the central panel displays the main theme while the flanking pieces on the right and left complement and illustrate it. In my imagined construction, I would have the central panel consist of a continuously running video stream featuring images of Hitler’s and Stalin’s totalitarian regimes, of contemporary authoritarian governments (Hungary) and movements (the far-Right parties in central and western Europe today), and fresh-from-yesterday depictions of efforts to ban certain books, cancel certain courses, and other attempts to control how people think or what ideas they are allowed to debate. Flanking it on the left panel would be some of Hannah Arendt’s most insightful comments about both the nature of totalitarian regimes as well as how citizens succumb to them, while the right panel would feature some of Orwell’s most poignant observations about the “perfected” authoritarianism – aspects of which he had already experienced – he foresaw arriving in the not-too-distant future. When I first encountered Orwell through reading 1984 as a young man, I understood it to be a fictional portrayal of the perfected kind of totalitarian systems developed under both Hitler and Stalin. And, as this course makes clear, it surely was that. But it was also more. Orwell was intrigued by how a continuing evolution of totalitarian techniques would lead to the kind of all-surrounding “thought police” so central to life in his imagined near-future. Moreover, his genius captured – what remains for me perhaps the most disturbing feature of both his vision and of current events – how amazingly willing so many people would be to accept “newspeak” and “alternate facts”! How, in essence, complaint we citizens would prove to be in our own dismantling of individual identity and precious thought. This is one of those rare courses that I think can be enjoyed at least as much via audio CDs rather than the video of DVDs. Yes, there are appropriate images throughout the course, but they are not necessary for receiving the material. Professor Shelden has one of those mellifluous voices that, combined with his pleasant, from me-to-thee manner of speaking, reminded me repeatedly of how much I would have enjoyed listening to him while seated in a light-subdued, wood-empaneled English pub. This is an interesting presentation of the man Eric Blair as he transitioned into the great writer George Orwell. One of the most enjoyable and informative courses of all I have yet taken of the Great Courses.
Date published: 2023-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from THE best Course from Great Courses I have watched and listened to many Great Courses over the past 15 years, and this is the best, hands down.
Date published: 2023-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well Presented George Orwell’s life story is fascinating in itself but the presentation was excellent. I always thought Orwell was AGAINST authoritarian regimes left or right but what he was FOR is really interesting , understandable and strikes a chord with me.
Date published: 2022-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I thoroughly enjoyed this course "George Orwell: A sage for All Seasons". I highly recommend it. The teacher, Michael Shelden, is fantastic. In fact, Prof Shelden is one of my most favorite "The Great Courses" teachers. I knew very little about George Orwell before taking this course. Upon completion of the course, my knowledge and interest in George Orwell's life and work sky-rocketed. As soon as I finished the course, I immediately ran out to the library and got "1984" which is Orwell's most famous book.
Date published: 2022-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting presentation of the life of Eric Blair I learned many new things, especially the early life of George Orwell, i.e. Eric Blair. The lectures and the accompanying text are well done and quite factual. This course is well worth the money for anyone interested in one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.
Date published: 2022-08-10
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Overview

In George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons, join Orwell's authorized biographer, Professor Michael Shelden, for a 24-lecture journey through the life and times that shaped this profound writer and his eerily prescient masterpieces like Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Blending literary analysis and biography, this course is a one-of-a-kind portrait of the modern world's greatest champion of individuality.

About

Michael Shelden

There is much yet to discover, and lessons we can learn to help us chart a better path forward.

INSTITUTION

Indiana State University

Michael Shelden is a Professor of English at Indiana State University, where he has won the top award for excellence in scholarship, the Theodore Dreiser Distinguished Research/Creativity Award, three times. He earned his PhD in English from Indiana University. He is the author of six biographies, including Orwell: The Authorized Biography, which was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His other Great Courses include How Winston Churchill Changed the World; George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons; and England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles.

By This Professor

How Winston Churchill Changed the World
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George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons
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England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles
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Reconsidering JFK
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George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons

Trailer

The Real George Orwell

01: The Real George Orwell

Begin your in-depth encounter with George Orwell by going back to the dramatic moment in May 1937 when he was almost killed by a bullet wound to the throat. As you’ll learn, it was a defining moment that would remake the author and lay the groundwork for his obsession with individual freedom—and his fear of political tyranny.

29 min
George Orwell, Child of the British Empire

02: George Orwell, Child of the British Empire

Examine George Orwell’s early life as the son of a man who spent his entire working life helping to perpetuate the worst evils of the British colonial system in the empire’s Opium Department. Orwell learned early on how corrosive lies and omissions can be when politeness blunts the truth.

26 min
Orwell’s Edwardian Idyll

03: Orwell’s Edwardian Idyll

How did a stubborn sense of English eccentricity take root in the young George Orwell? Find out in this lecture on the author’s boyhood at the town of Henley-on-Thames, which gave Orwell a vision of what he wanted to preserve in the face of a 20th century spinning out of control.

24 min
Orwell’s Unsentimental Education

04: Orwell’s Unsentimental Education

In many ways, George Orwell’s school life was a preview of the more ruthless world of oppression he’d set down in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Focus here on a savagely ironic essay by Orwell about his years at St. Cyprian’s boarding school, “Such, Such Were the Joys,” under the rule of the monstrous bully Mrs. Wilkes.

27 min
Orwell, Eton, and Privilege

05: Orwell, Eton, and Privilege

Here, Professor Shelden covers George Orwell’s years as a King’s Scholar at Eton. It was this academic institution where the young man would discover the intellectual freedom of novels by H. G. Wells, the rush of the rugby-like “Wall Game,” and a haughty indifference to the carnage of World War I.

25 min
Orwell the Policeman

06: Orwell the Policeman

At age 19, George Orwell threw himself into a colonial career with the Indian Imperial Police—a job for which he was profoundly unsuited. In this lecture, learn what drew Orwell to turn his back on England and serve the empire in Burma, administering a large police operation overseeing matters of life and death.

24 min
Orwell and the Imperial Burden

07: Orwell and the Imperial Burden

In Burma, George Orwell developed a powerful insight: that imperialism enslaved both its subjects and its masters. See this insight at work in the most famous essay to come from Orwell’s police experience, “Shooting the Elephant,” which offers a convincing portrait of a young imperial master who has lost respect for his job.

25 min
Orwell’s Lost Generation

08: Orwell’s Lost Generation

Follow George Orwell to Paris, which helped him drain away some of the anger and disappointment with his years in Burma. Though he’s rarely grouped with the Lost Generation of American writers in avant-garde Paris, Orwell, nevertheless, immersed himself in that world so thoroughly it would become the subject for his first book.

24 min
Orwell, Poet of Poverty

09: Orwell, Poet of Poverty

Down and Out in Paris and London transformed George Orwell into one of the 20th century’s most eloquent champions of the economically oppressed. Along with a close look at the writing and reception of the book, you’ll explore an annotated copy of a first edition and what it reveals about the blending of fiction and fact.

24 min
Orwell and the Battle of Fact and Fiction

10: Orwell and the Battle of Fact and Fiction

George Orwell struggled mightily to find his voice as a writer in a literary world that valued fiction over fact. Uncover the strain of his awkward efforts to build fictional stories in the novel Burmese Days (a scathing treatment of the English elite in Burma) and A Clergyman’s Daughter (an attempt to enter the mind of an ordinary English woman).

25 min
Orwell and England in the 1930s

11: Orwell and England in the 1930s

Professor Shelden takes you inside two literary works shaped by George Orwell’s experiences in 1930s England. The first, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, was a novel that, in effect, criticized Orwell’s own tendencies toward self-absorption. The second, The Road to Wigan Pier, would document the plight of the working people and push Orwell closer to socialism.

26 min
Orwell and the Left

12: Orwell and the Left

Discover why The Road to Wigan Pier marks the opening battle of George Orwell’s long struggle to reconcile the demands of the doctrinaire Left with his own hopes for a world of greater personal freedom and social responsibility. Also, learn about Orwell’s surprising marriage to Eileen O’Shaughnessy in the spring of 1936.

26 min
Orwell and the Spanish Crucible

13: Orwell and the Spanish Crucible

In the summer of 1936, Spanish workers took up arms to oppose General Franco’s revolt against the country—and George Orwell went to observe and write about the war for the British press. Follow Orwell as he quickly becomes not just an observer, but a fighter who himself takes up arms against Franco.

26 min
Totalitarianism and Lessons of Barcelona

14: Totalitarianism and Lessons of Barcelona

A nearly fatal wound in the throat from a sniper’s bullet. A heartbreaking series of betrayals from his comrades in arms. Learn why George Orwell’s experience in Spain became, for him, a painful lesson in ideological purges, propaganda battles, and Soviet skullduggery that would also open a path to the greatest literary works of his career.

25 min
Orwell and the Last Days of Peace

15: Orwell and the Last Days of Peace

Focus on Homage to Catalonia: George Orwell’s first real masterpiece, and a book that refuses to accept easy answers. This autobiographical work, a report on the terrible things being done in the name of a Spanish revolution hijacked by Stalin, became a passionate defense of individuals resisting oppression in the name of liberty.

26 min
Orwell at the Outbreak of World War

16: Orwell at the Outbreak of World War

In 1939, George Orwell published a novel that served as a farewell to his youth and to any remaining vestiges of pre-war innocence: Coming Up for Air. Examine the novel’s provocative road to publication, learn about the Orwell family’s wartime misfortunes (including the death of a relative at Dunkirk), and consider how Orwell inspires us today.

27 min
Orwell and the Art of Propaganda

17: Orwell and the Art of Propaganda

First, read between the lines of The Lion and the Unicorn, a short book written during the darkest days of the Blitz that serves as a hopeful antithesis to Nineteen Eighty-Four. Then, follow George Orwell’s career as an assistant for the BBC, where he was reintroduced to the sobering facts of how large organizations wield the power of censorship.

26 min
Orwell and the Cultural Underground

18: Orwell and the Cultural Underground

Through a series of popular and esoteric essays and reviews, George Orwell became associated with a cultural underground of writers and artists who thrived during the war years. Unpack what some of these fascinating pieces have to say, including “Politics and the English Language,” an attack on jargon and euphemism in public discourse.

26 min
Orwell and the Fight for Animal Farm

19: Orwell and the Fight for Animal Farm

In just 30,000 words, George Orwell risked his reputation to expose the evils of the Soviet system (and the human character). The result was Animal Farm, a satire of Swiftian proportions that remains a trenchant guide to power politics and how tyranny rises. Place this landmark work in the context of Orwell’s beliefs—and fears.

27 min
Orwell’s Wife and the Life of Writing

20: Orwell’s Wife and the Life of Writing

In this lecture, Professor Shelden brings together the moving story of the last days of George Orwell’s wife, Eileen, with the story of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. He considers Eileen’s influence not just on these two important works, but also on Orwell’s trenchant psychological observations of human nature in his writing.

26 min
Politics and the English Language

21: Politics and the English Language

Here, you can spend time in the company of two of George Orwell’s most important postwar essays: “Politics and the English Language” and “The Prevention of Literature.” Both essays, which appeared in 1946, offer an elegantly simple argument: The corruption of society and politics begins, first and foremost, with the corruption of language.

28 min
Orwell’s Island Escape

22: Orwell’s Island Escape

Almost all of Nineteen Eighty-Four was written on the remote island of Jura, a place where George Orwell could use the past to model his vision of the future. In addition to Orwell’s life in seclusion, you’ll examine Nineteen Eighty-Four’s connection with Gulliver’s Travels and Orwell’s connection to two women: Celia Paget and Sonia Brownell.

26 min
1984: Big Brother and the Thought Police

23: 1984: Big Brother and the Thought Police

Spend an entire lecture immersed in the world of George Orwell’s masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Read this powerful novel as a great work of political and social insight, a timeless vision of man’s inhumanity to man, and also an autobiography of Orwell’s personal character. Above all, the novel proclaims, the rights of the individual must be sacred.

28 min
Orwell’s Long Farewell

24: Orwell’s Long Farewell

Conclude these lectures with a look at the last years of George Orwell’s life, including his marriage to Sonia Brownell and his death from tuberculosis. Also, investigate a curious posthumous controversy surrounding a possible spymaster and a notebook of Orwell’s filled with the names of people in the West he considered “Crypto-Communists.”

26 min