George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, original research. Give it a chance. I just finished the course. I want to first acknowledge Professor Shelden for his evidently relentless search for the real Orwell. There are several important biographical notes in the material that were discovered through the professor's own original research; it's very impressive to note that. The extent to which the character and life of Orwell are presented is exceptional. Some reviewers note the distractions of background and movement. i would add to those the less-than-perfect quality of the audio. These should not dissuade you. You will be rewarded if you ignore them. I understood that the background was meant to convey a surveilance state, and it disturbs you in that way... entirely too much. Again, just ignore it. The content is wonderful.
Date published: 2020-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A True Gem! For me, this is one of the best TC courses, thus far, among the more than one hundred I have listened to/viewed in more than a decade. I must admit, however, that a good deal of my appreciation is attributable to my interest in Orwell, having read nearly all of his major works and many lesser known periodical writings. One does not, however, need to have much background on Orwell to appreciate this course. Professor Sheldon makes plain that many of Orwell’s concerns are ours as well, noting the connection early on: “The purpose of this course is to understand how George Orwell rose from provincial obscurity to become the most influential British author of the last 100 years. With uncanny foresight, Orwell warned against so many of the ills plaguing modern life, especially the rise of the surveillance state, the tyranny of groupthink, the clever lies of propaganda, and the political pursuit of power for its own sake. This course illuminates how he developed his passionate commitment to individual freedom as the last defense against the modern tendency to politicize every aspect of life.” (Course Guidebook introduction) If that does not get your attention, likely nothing will. I learned a great deal in this 2020 course about Orwell. It not only deepened my understanding of Orwell’s works, but also provided considerable detail about his social and political views, and his evolution as a writer. For instance, I found fascinating Orwell’s early imitation of W.H. Auden and James Joyce. Professor Sheldon, in tracing Orwell’s life, also frequently points out how those events shaped or found their way into his later works, most notably ‘1984’. An example of how detailed Professor Sheldon can be in this regard is his relating how Orwell’s jokes about cafeteria food at the BBC during WWII are similar to those of Winston Smith in ‘1984’. The amount and detail on Orwell’s personal life provided by Professor Sheldon is significant and well-integrated. There is so much more about this truly independent individual, but I am going to resist providing a detailed course summary/analysis! Professor Sheldon is clearly an Orwell expert. He peppers the course with references/quotes from his interviews over several decades with people who knew Orwell from his earliest days onward. These are excellent, enhancing what Professor Sheldon brings from the expected academic sources. The only criticism I have relates to the video. There is just too much movement in the background visuals. It took me awhile to get used to the distraction. While there are many fine photos and other illustrative material in the video format, this course would work well in audio. The nearly 200-page course guidebook is excellent. Nicely formatted, with some good photos from the course.
Date published: 2020-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A worthwhile listen. Excellent job. Captivating from beginning to end. Leaves you entertained and the wiser.
Date published: 2020-09-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Relevant to Our Times Prof Sheldon’s appreciation of Eric Arthur Blair’s short and difficult life (1903-1950) was of considerable interest to me as I had never read a biography of the author. As it turns out, I first read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in the mid-1960s while in secondary school and had kept that Signet Classic paperback edition all these years. Of late, that same book resides in the glove compartment of my car where I extract it for a short read whenever I am waiting in a line at the post office or whatever. I can tell from a now neglected notebook, that I read Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) while embarked aboard the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) in the North Sea during 1972. Watching Prof. Sheldon’s course prompted me to begin reading Homage to Catalonia (1938), an excellent analysis of the political treachery amongst the leftist factions, particularly the Russian backed Communists. We are living in the age Orwell predicted: endless and unnecessary war with ‘enemies’ in the Middle East, a government propaganda machine that tirelessly rewrites history, often by omission, and a groveling fourth estate that transmits newspeak news designed according to strict rules of political correctness. As for surveillance, every university is now running informer networks to monitor, control and punish student behavior with institutionalized ostracism, public shaming and career-stopping disapprovals for applicants seeking employment or graduate study. Higher education has become a political and social minefield that only liberal conformists can navigate. Orwell has much to teach us about our own unhappy future. HWF, Mesa AZ.
Date published: 2020-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Ok I'll confess this was my first ever course on here and I was a bit sceptical as to what the quality would be like so I chose Orwell as my first one on the basis that I already knew quite a bit about the subject. I wasn't disappointed. The breadth and depth of the course was astounding - perhaps even a little over detailed. I'm English with postgraduate qualifications in English Literature so I was curious as to what an American professor would make of Orwell and again I wasn't disappointed. Brought back some good memories too - remembered cycling around Oxfordshire and unknowingly stopping at the church where Orwell is buried with a simple headstone for Eric Blair. Lovely piece of serendipity .
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course. Makes me want to be a writer. This could easily have been done in audio only - he talks about old pictures found but doesn't have many on screen - just him standing and talking most of the time. Very good course, but not needing video. I did yard work while I listened and doubt I lost anything by not watching, as every time took my phone out of my pocket to see a picture there usually was none.
Date published: 2020-09-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good prof, weak video The professor appears to understand Orwell extremely well, but it is hard to watch this presentation. His constant pivoting, by 90-degrees with two very different backgrounds, is very distracting. The background, which contains even more moving images within multiple frames adds to the distraction. It feels as if there were two cameras and about all the post-production processing was to routinely cut back and forth without regard to what was being said. It also looked very uncomfortable for the Professor. In the final analysis, my value for the course will come from reading the book, which appears to be a verbatim transcription of the presentation.
Date published: 2020-08-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lots of History and Insights In light of what is going on in our country and around the world I decided to buy this course to see if it had some insights. It is fascinating to see what made Eric Blair (George Orwell) become the writer he was and how he reached his conclusions and how his writing was almost prescient.
Date published: 2020-08-29
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George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons
Course Trailer
The Real George Orwell
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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
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 University


Indiana State University

About Michael Shelden

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.

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