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 4.7 out of 5 by 48.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Splendid! Professor Shelden is clearly an expert on this subject, and what a fascinating subject Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell) is. Prof Shelden brings out the essential "Englishness" of Orwell, with that interesting mix of compassion and individuality. This is a superb course on a person who will remain relevant as long as we can think independently.
Date published: 2021-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Insight into the Author's Life This is a detailed account of Orwell's life, including his schooldays and time as a policeman in Burma. There could be more pictures than are provided. Being a biography, the lectures stop with Orwell's early death, whereas of course his works have their own lives and continue to be relevant to this day.
Date published: 2021-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just great. I enjoyed every single episode of this course. While the level of detail may be considered too much by some, I loved it, especially as Dr Sheldon was scrupulous about tying everything back to Orwell's work in some way. It really helped me understand Orwell's work so much better and introduced me to work I didn't even know about but definitely now want to explore, such as his essays. It's also very inspiring and educational if you're a writer, or aspiring to be - to see the arc of his career from shaky beginnings to successful global figure. A good investment of my time.
Date published: 2021-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent Very well done. Gave a feeling for Orwell's personality and especially the sad ending to his life.
Date published: 2021-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from George Orwell This was my first Great Course and I found it really fascinating. I have taught Animal Farm many times as a high school English teacher, but didn't know nearly enough about Blair's background. I really enjoyed the course and am looking forward to my next one.
Date published: 2021-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Even Better Than Expected This was the first literature course I have done by Great Courses; it will not be the last. Looking over the other reviews there really is nothing I can add that has not already been said. The course was nothing short of spectacular. Dr Shelden not only walks you through Eric Blair’s life and how he changed from Eric Blair to George Orwell and covers all his other works that led him to writing “Animal Farm” and “1984”. I now look toward reading these works by Blair.
Date published: 2021-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unexpectedly Fascinating! I had no idea George Orwell's life was so eventful and, well, fascinating. I took this course because I haven't read 'Animal Farm' or 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' (a.k.a. '1984') since high school, and recent political history had me thinking about them. Professor Shelden is superb - organized and expert (he did write "Orwell: The Authorized Biography", for which he spoke with many who knew Orwell intimately), he speaks beautifully and never lost my attention. He does hold the record for most subordinate and/or dual main clauses in his lectures of anyone I have ever heard, but this is done in such a literary fashion that you can imagine yourself immersed in a good novel. If you need it to convince you, the Course Overview is worth reading through to get a quick look at the subject matter. So are the admiring reviews. And the Course Guidebook is quite good. Either video or audio would be fine. So I will keep this short. - An outstanding course on the life and works of a great, and very pertinent, writer. My highest recommendation. Enjoy!
Date published: 2021-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hmmmm, I wonder . . . I have been a customer of The Great Courses since the beginning (originally The Teaching Company), and presently have over 100 titles, but this will be my first ever review; shame on me! I watched this (DVD) in record time (for me) with my GT student 14 year old son, who has a large fascination with Eric Arthur Blair (I am 70). About a third of the way through this course I began wondering if Professor Sheldon is capable of uttering an uninteresting sentence. When the subject matter is E.A. Blair (aka George Orwell) the answer apparently is: No. I don't know, and can't really imagine, how this course could be any better. Wow!
Date published: 2021-02-05
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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.


Michael Shelden
Michael Shelden

Despite the debates that still cast parts of his career in doubt, Churchill's most enduring legacy is anchored in something that lies outside of history, something deeply personal and timeless. It is his individual stance as a champion of freedom when the world was at a tipping point between darkness and light, in which his voice and courage helped shift the balance towards the light.


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 Ph.D. in English from Indiana University. Professor Shelden 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.

Professor Shelden is also the author of Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill, which has been translated into Russian, Chinese, and Portuguese. His book Mark Twain: Man in White was a New York Times best seller, was chosen as one of the best books of 2010 by the Library Journal, and was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2010 by the Christian Science Monitor. In a special issue on the 240th anniversary of American independence, TIME® Magazine praised Professor Shelden’s biography of Herman Melville, Melville in Love, as one of “240 Reasons to Celebrate America.” American Literary Scholarship, the annual journal published by Duke University Press, has said, “Shelden possesses that rare gift of the truly talented biographer: He can sketch scenes so vividly that a reader seems to mingle with the subjects in their long-ago conversations.”

For 12 years, Professor Shelden was a featured writer for The Daily Telegraph in London. His many scholarly articles and reviews have included publications in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Quarterly, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Victorian Studies, and the Journal of British Studies.

By This Professor

George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons


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