George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons

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
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well Researched Study I enjoyed this course on Orwell, not only for the extensive material presented on Orwell’s life and character but for the information on his earlier works.
Date published: 2020-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding biographical sketch Be prepared that this course is heavily weighted towards a biographical sketch, rather than a a deeper look into the literature. That was fine by me. This might be the best biographical sketch I have seen in any Teaching Company courses. I hesitate to use the word riveting, but for me it came pretty close. I looked forward to every lecture. The instructor has a very pleasant demeanor and presentation style, and if I heard him correctly he is the authorized biographer of Orwell. So you can expect a biographical sketch of exceptional depth and insight. You can't go wrong with this one if you even have a passing interest in Orwell.
Date published: 2020-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course. Excellent lectures by Professor Sheldon. I got to know Eric Blair and George Orwell, and now better appreciate the author. This is the type of course and professor that makes learning fun. I have long been a fan of Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" and was know to insist that anyone who writes should read it. I reread that essay twice during the course. Professor Sheldon praised "The Prevention of Literature", so I downloaded a copy. A second masterpiece. I plan to visit my local bookstore and purchase "Animal Farm" and "1984", having read them last maybe 40 years ago. And if I can find a copy, "Homage to Catalonia".
Date published: 2020-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from When Aristocrats & Socialists Agree Shelden’s ability to tell a story is like listening to a great voice actor. I could not listen to less than 3 lectures at a time. The amount of research Shelden did is stupendous: locating Eric Blair’s (pseudonym: George Orwell) unassuming grave, getting his medical records from 1950, getting access to the special notes in signed copies of his books & love letters from various women who knew him. Shelden tells the story so well, that one “grows” along with Orwell as his love life, complexity of thought, and writing powers slowly (& painfully) evolve. It is often useful to compare TGC courses. Both Cook’s “Tocqueville & American Experiment” and this course have the commonality of trying to decide where on the political spectrum a democratic government functions best. Cook’s course is from the POV of a French Aristocrat (Tocqueville = T) who sees that the French aristocracy is dying. He tours America for 10 months gleaning what elements may best serve the upcoming French democracy. His findings briefly summarized: DEMOCRACY exists best on the local level (T L6) where township citizens can talk and compromise. INDIVIDUALISM (T L20) leads to social withdrawal rather than common bonds. By allowing local people to work together “toning down” the enforcement of oppressive national laws (T L9), local democracy reverses individualism's sense that “I don’t need you". Shelden’s “George Orwell” is different, though its subject’s goal (how should democracy work?) is the same. It written from the POV of a life-long individualist whose views slide from idealistic socialism TO deep concerns for how socialism could ever be implemented without take over by communism (based on what he had seen in Spain) TO concerns about allowing any central party of a few to take over (similar to T’s dire warnings regarding “centralization of administration”). Tocqueville, in his 10 short months in America predicted similar political problems, but Orwell’s 1984 is much more readable that T’s complex 700 pages. As a young man, Eric Blair tests his individualism as a policeman in Burma only to rebel against an imperialism that damages the poor (L6). His socialist side then causes him volunteer in Spain against Franco’s Fascism. Blair’s autobiographical “Homage to Catalonia” (L15) is dedicated those self-less socialists who were trying to stop Franco’s tyranny. Unfortunately in Spain, as in other countries, socialists became splintered in-fighting groups, each with its own immovable goals. Tocqueville had predicted this (T L17): “in any (non-dictatorship), people need…some accepted framework” to avoid chaos. A lack of framework eventually turned unorganized socialist groups against each other and the Communist faceless machine took its place. Blair became branded in Spain as an anti-communist (L13) and suspect in Britain as a socialist with communist leanings (multiple lectures). “Orwell could see that carried to extremes, no one would be safe when the truth was buried under one lie after another.” (L14). Orwell’s own failure to provide a unifying literary framework for socialism would lead to his later dystopian, “Orwellian” works: "Animal Farm" and “1984". As WWII raged, Orwell’s thinking grew. His BBC job (L18) showed him that the BBC's own faceless central administration undermined his best efforts. While he continued to be a member of the Left Book Club, he began to differentiate between the English Socialist Movement and Marxism (that he characterized as “A German theory, interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted”). In his 1941 book “The Lion and the Unicorn", Orwell tried to amalgamate a sort of G. A. Henty portrayal of British “common sense, good humor, mild disposition, and individual freedom" with his own version of socialism that centered on common good: "...a version of half modern, half old fashioned England”. He adds (L17): “It will never lose touch with…the belief in a law that is above the state”. Unlike Tocqueville (multiple lectures), Orwell fails to explain where such a law originates. L17 also contains Orwell’s simple, logical solution to today's income inequality so distorted by today’s Billionaires. L19 “Incantation to silence” is a phenomenon resurgent today: one group of zealots forbids their followers from saying anything that might possibly comfort the opposition: Orwell’s Animal Farm (L19-21) is shamefully alive in the US with an unbalanced media owned by 6 corporations fronting 15 billionaires. Their powers of distraction, persuasion, and incessant word meaning changes (T L19) have resurrected Orwell’s 1984’s “Newspeak” (L23) at the highest levels. SUMMARY: This is a very appropriate time to purchase this course. Our response to its messages (and those of Tocqueville) will determine our future. Shelden’s effort is so well produced that one respects the individualism, socialistic idealism, and failures of a humble writer/observer who finally succeeds against much rejection. I have the video but preferred audio because of Shelden’s performance. Nicely done quiz at end of book.
Date published: 2020-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fine Lecturer Just wanted to drop you a note to say how much my wife & I enjoyed Prof. Shelden's series of lectures on George Orwell. They were interesting, informative & very entertaining. This is the second series that we have enjoyed by Prof. Shelden. His series on Churchill was most excellent.
Date published: 2020-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engrossing Discussion of Orwell's Life & Work Found the review to be thorough and insightful. The lecturer has done original research and fact-finding, involving interviews with persons who knew Orwell and visits to places where Orwell lived and worked. He displays detailed knowledge of his subject, but always gives the material a human and empathetic touch.
Date published: 2020-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons Timely message of warning about Big Brother and political tactics prevalent with our increased sophisticated technology to disseminate 'fake news' promoting demigogues.
Date published: 2020-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating information about an important writer. I bought the video download of ``GEORGE ORWELL, A Sage for All Seasons'' by Michael Shelden in early 2020, soon after it was released. But after watching the first lecture I just listened to all the remaining lectures, and felt I missed nothing at all. Shelden is a good communicator---relaxed and easy to listen to. The first couple of lectures were interesting, but with a fair amount of repetition. However after that the course was fascinating and a pleasure. The professor knows his material very deeply, and tells a great story. He communicates the history, ideas, and philosophy of George Orwell very effectively. And in these days of ``alternate truths'' and fake news these ideas are very important. Although I had a good idea of Orwell's philosophy, it was a great pleasure to learn so much about his life. I hope these lectures are popular, and that The Teaching Company indulges in more courses on important and interesting modern writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, or the poet Philip Larkin.
Date published: 2020-05-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not interesting or well produced The Orwell course sounded like a good idea to enjoy during stay-at-home time. But the course was boring, slow-moving, and the video aspect was a static stage set with a couple of Google maps thrown in for context. I have no doubt the teacher knows his subject. The presentation is very dry, however, and seems to be stretched to take up the maximum amount of time possible. I watched three 30-minute lectures, the total content of which could easily have been done in 15 minutes. That's as far as I got - if it picks up suddenly later on, I apologize. I think even if you're an Orwell junkie, there has to be a better option than this. I will be asked for a refund for this course.
Date published: 2020-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from George Orwell as a prophet Professor Michael Sheldon has done an outstanding job of reminding us who George Orwell was. The release of this particular course coincided perfectly with the arrival of the corona virus epidemic. George Orwell's vision was truly prophetic when he wrote 1984. As Professor Sheldon noted, 1984 describes a dark future where the old certainties and rules have been undermined by mindless bureaucracies, brazenly false propaganda, countless infringements on freedom, and a concentration camp atmosphere. This perfectly describes life in the United States during the corona virus epidemic, where everything has been politicized.
Date published: 2020-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging, Timely and Thoughtful Professor Sheldon is just the kind of professor that I could listen to for hours on end with his comfortable and organized presentations.Each lecture added more to build a complete picture of the complexities of George Orwell. I thought I knew a little bit about 1984 and Animal Farm, but I left the course throughly understanding the author, George Orwell as a human being as well.
Date published: 2020-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from BIG BROTHER APPLE? I enjoyed this course very much, I was not sure I had anything to add to this conversation. Then it occurred to me that Professor Shelden went out of his way to dramatize Apple's use of Big Brother in its orginal advertising. He seemed exuberant but naive; noting that Jobs had recognized Big Blue (IBM) was a modern Big Brother. IBM is nothing compared to Apple -- manipulating public opinion and data. Apple shares no values with George Orwell. Professor Shelden surely knows this.
Date published: 2020-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant!! Listened to this course in parallel with reading Prof. Shelden’ s biography of Orwell. With this knowledge and understanding, reading Orwell (including his earlier works) is truly a pleasure.
Date published: 2020-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Math (or Numbers) This is the 2nd time I am contacting you. I bought this over a month ago. Received DVD. Do not have access to the online version. Pat Costanzo Will not buy another until this is resolved.
Date published: 2020-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from George Orwell: a Sage for All Ages Professor Shelden has done ''onsite'' research on GO and talked personally to many people in Orwell's life. I usually watch one episode a night of the teaching company courses. I found myself watching two a night of this great fascinating course.
Date published: 2020-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from orwell a brilliant description of orwells life and work ,,
Date published: 2020-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A sage for all seasons I bought this course 3 days ago and finished it today. Coronavirus is one of the reasons but I found the series of lectures absolutely addictive and couldn’t stop until I’d finished. The lecturer has written a biography of Orwell and this series comes over as his spoken biography which, like a good book, I couldn’t put down. Another reviewer, while liking the lectures, regretted that Doctor Shelden didn’t go into the content of the books in more detail in the lectures. I respectfully disagree. The general content of al his major books, fictional or factual, are dealt with in sufficient detail to encourage the listener who hasn’t read the books to explore them; but the main purpose of the lectures is to deal with George Orwell/Eric Blair the man and this is masterfully done. I would rate this series as the best of the courses I have followed so far - and that is not in any way detracting from the general high quality of The Great Courses series that I have followed.
Date published: 2020-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Orthodoxy is Unconsciousness I am ashamed that I did not read any of Orwell's works. During this course I read 1984 and discovered a new author. This should be a must read for everyone. I look forward to reading Animal Farm. You spend a whole course learning about Eric Blair which deepened my understanding of 1984. This is an excellent course and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2020-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I have read almost all of George Orwell’s novels (though admittedly some time ago), and I remember that at the time I deeply enjoyed Burmese days, Animal Farm and 1984. Professor Shelden does a very thorough and convincing job in letting us know who Eric Blair (George Orwell) really was: his unique political perspective, upbringing, intelligence and sensitivity. He explains how this combination gave him a timeless perspective and profound understanding that took a long time for him to develop, and many decades for others to fully grasp. This is important for understanding his literary works because they really are focused on social and political issues, at least those that are considered his most important are. Professor Shelden did a fantastic job in pacing the course and presenting it in an interesting and easily comprehensible manner. My only criticism is that the lecturer did not spend a lot of time on the content of the novels themselves except to describe them in very broad terms and to explain why they clicked (or not) with the audience of the time, and how his biography and talents led him to write them. The course was highly enjoyable and interesting, but in my opinion there was a significant part missing.
Date published: 2020-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best!! I have over the past twenty plus years taken dozen of courses from the Great Courses. Prof. Shelden's "George Orwell: A Sage for All Seasons" ranks as one of, if not the, best course. It is superb. The quality of the content is spectacular. The pace and delivery could not be better. Any fears that Prof. Shelden would be too political or overly academic with Orwell were quickly set to rest. I could not more highly recommend this course. I am already looking (hopefully) forward to Prof. Shelden's next course whatever it might be.
Date published: 2020-03-09
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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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