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Burmese Days
by George Orwell
Synopsis:
Imagine crossing E.M. Forster with Jane Austen. Stir in a bit of socialist doctrine, a sprig of satire, strong Indian curry, and a couple quarts of good English gin and you get something close to the flavor of George Orwell's intensely readable and deftly plotted Burmese Days. In 1930, Kyauktada, Upper Burma, is one of the least auspicious postings in the ailing British Empire--and then the order comes that the European Club, previously for whites only, must elect one token native member. This edict brings out the worst in this woefully enclosed society, not to mention among the natives who would become the One. Orwell mines his own Anglo-Indian background to evoke both the suffocating heat and the stifling pettiness that are the central facts of colonial life: "Mr. MacGregor told his anecdote about Prome, which could be produced in almost any context. And then the conversation veered back to the old, never-palling subject- -the insolence of the natives, the supineness of the Government, the dear dead days when the British Raj was the Raj and please give the bearer fifteen lashes. The topic was never let alone for long, partly because of Ellis's obsession. Besides, you could forgive the Europeans a great deal of their bitterness. Living and working among Orientals would try the temper of a saint."
Protagonist James Flory is a timber merchant, whose facial birthmark serves as an outward expression of the ironic and left-leaning habits of mind that make him inwardly different from his coevals. Flory appreciates the local culture, has native allegiances, and detests the racist machinations of his fellow Club members. Alas, he doesn't always possess the moral courage, or the energy, to stand against them. His almost embarrassingly Anglophile friend, Dr. Veraswami, the highest-ranking native official, seems a shoo-in for Club membership, until Machiavellian magistrate U Po Kyin launches a campaign to discredit him that results, ultimately, in the loss not just of reputations but of lives. Whether to endorse Veraswami or to betray him becomes a kind of litmus test of Flory's character.

Against this backdrop of politics and ethics, Orwell throws the shadow of romance. The arrival of the bobbed blonde, marriageable, and resolutely anti- intellectual Elizabeth Lackersteen not only casts Flory as hapless suitor but gives Orwell the chance to show that he's as astute a reporter of nuanced social interactions as he is of political intrigues. In fact, his combination of an astringently populist sensibility, dead-on observations of human behavior, formidable conjuring skills, and no-frills prose make for historical fiction that stands triumphantly outside of time. --Joyce Thompson




BURMESE DAYS 09/17/1998 3:28:36 AM It's been so long since I read Burmese Days that I can barely remember what it is about. However, I can confidently say that the book holds an important place in Orwell's literary career. Not only was it was his first novel (or nearly his first), but it is his most autobiographical novel.

The book should be read in conjunction with Orwell's often-reprinted essay "Shooting an Elephant," which recounts an experience he had while serving as a colonial official in Burma. His experience in Burma (then regarded as part of British India) was a transforming event in his life. It turned him against imperialism in all its forms and set him on a path that would eventually cause him to reject all forms of authoritarianism and write 1984 and Animal Farm.

Orwell's depiction of his central character in Burmese Daysprobably reveals a great deal about how he saw himself, though he greatly exaggerated the character's physical unattractiveness.

It may be significant that after Orwell underwent his second transforming event-- as a combatant in the Spanish Civil War--the book he wrote about that experience, Homage to Catalonia, was nonfiction, in contrast to Burmese Days.


BURMESE DAYS 09/19/1998 8:26:04 AM 59 0 Wonderful way to launch a book, Ann and Kent.

I found this one in a used book store a while ago and it's been waiting on my shelf ever since. If anyone finds a book that contains the essay, "Shooting An Elephant", please post the title. Kent, I hope you'll get a chance to join us on this one. Do you suppose it's on tape somewhere?

Barb


BURMESE DAYS 09/19/1998 11:07:50 AM I went looking for Burmese Days and I actually found it---in my hall bookcase, filed under O. (It may be unbelievable, but once I spent one whole afternoon alphabetizing the bookcase than runs down the length of the hall. Not to worry, though the rest the books are in comfortable chaos.)

In the days before CR, I actually read any book I'd bought before I bought another, so BD's presence in my bookcase means I've read same. Hmmmm. Don't remember a thing.

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 09/19/1998 4:33:44 PM Yes, Barbara, Burmese Days is available on tape. Margaret Hilton recorded it for Recorded Books; Frederick Davidson recorded it for Blackstone; and Robert Mundy recorded it for Books on Tape. Alas, my local libraries don't have any of these recordings, otherwise I would have listened to one of them long ago.

I don't know Mundy's work, but I've found Davidson's readings of other authors to be generally satisfactory or better. I've only listened to Hilton read one book, Eliot's Silas Marner, and my notes show that I gave her top marks. Any reader who can bring that book to life must be outstanding.

Recorded Books has issued at least ten recordings of Orwell books. Most of them are read by Patrick Tull--as the finest book reader I've ever encountered. His readings of Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London, and Coming Up for Air add dimensions to those books that I overlooked in my earlier readings of them. It's a pity that he didn't record Burmese Days, as that would have been a real treat. However, Hilton's reading of Silas Marner impressed me so much that I wouldn't hesitate to try her reading of Orwell, if I could get at a copy for something less than the larcenous prices that the rental companies charge.

Since this thread is supposed to be about Burmese Days, I shall impose upon your patience by recalling a frivolous, but relevant, anecdote. When I was in graduate school, a friend wrote his history dissertation on British imperialism in Burma. While he was searching for a title for it, I offered what I thought was a pertinent suggestion: "Burmese Daze."

Regrettably, he chose to overlook my snappy suggestion and instead go with one of those stuffy 25-word dissertation titles that contains at least two colons and several commas.



BURMESE DAYS 09/19/1998 4:49:13 PM Speaking of Burmese Days editions ... while I was looking for my own copy of the book (which, naturally, I can't find ... the penalty of having half of one's library stored in boxes scattered in a garage), I remembered that it was a Time-Life paperback edition (with a dark green bamboo motif on the cover, if I recall correctly). I think it was during the 1960s that Time-Life issued a series of "classic" works in paperback. There choice of Burmese Days now strikes me as curious.

If anyone has a copy of that edition, I'll be interested to hear whether it contains a new introduction that explains why T-L included it in its series.



BURMESE DAYS 09/19/1998 4:50:03 Speaking of Burmese Days editions ... while I was looking for my own copy of the book (which, naturally, I can't find ... the penalty of having half of one's library stored in boxes scattered in a garage), I remembered that it was a Time-Life paperback edition (with a dark green bamboo motif on the cover, if I recall correctly). I think it was during the 1960s that Time-Life issued a series of "classic" works in paperback. Their choice of Burmese Days now strikes me as curious.

If anyone has a copy of that edition, I'll be interested to hear whether it contains a new introduction that explains why T-L included it in its series.



BURMESE DAYS 09/20/1998 12:00:04 AM Kent,
Thanks for that interesting biographical information about Orwell. I had no idea the book had autobiographical elements.

Loved your suggestion for naming your friend's thesis. - G -

Ruth,
You see, fate determined that you join us in this discussion or you would never have found your copy. I have given away a lot of the books I bought over the years. Recently, I have been buying most of the ones we discuss on CR and CC and I intend to hang onto them. They generally feel like old friends by the time I have finished, and I like to have them close by.

Ann



BURMESE DAYS 09/20/1998 6:46:28 AM People never seem to choose snappy titles for dissertations. I would think that a professor with a sense of humor would appreciate it enormously, but I don't suppose that many PhD candidates want to take that chance.

With my move, my new library is a member of one of those cooperatives in which you can use your card at a huge number of libraries around the state. My local library has a decent collection of audiobooks, but not like my old one in Ann Arbor. But now that you've told me that there are 3 unabridged versions, Kent, I'll be checking to see if one of the cooperatives has it. Unfortunately, they won't send it to my local library, as they do books, so hopefully it's in a local one. Thanks.

Ruth, I'm glad you'll be joining us!

Barb



BURMESE DAYS 09/20/1998 10:49:13 PM Fans of Orwell take note! (I've never read him, not even 1984, so I've no idea whether this applies to me. I did pick up a used Burmese Days for $2.00, so, assuming I read it, I guess I'll find out)

Anyway, Keep the Aspidastra Flying has been made into a movie - A Merry War, with Helena Bonham Carter (apparently queen of the high-to-middle-brow literary adaptations) and Richard E. Grant. Soon to appear in your local cinema, unless you live in a backwater, in which case there is always video.

According to the review, this is a humorous film set in the '30s, a "wild ride through the London class system" involving a would-be poet and his wrassling with social expectations, fatherhood, responsibility, the lot.

Sounds to me like a revisit of some aspects of Man, Superman. Except Orwell is apparently funnier.

Theresa



BURMESE DAYS 09/20/1998 11:43:44 PM Believe me, Theresa. Some backwaters don't even have films like this in video.

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 09/21/1998 3:51:07 AM Thanks, Theresa, for alerting us to the film adaptation of Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It's the sort of thing one might easily overlook in the cultural backwater in which I live. We occasionally get films like that out here, but if you're not alert, they can come and go while you're blinking.

I think I've read Aspidistra only once, but it made a powerful impression on me. In a nutshell, it traces the dreary life of a young Englishman who writes poetry and works in a secondhand bookstore. He's published a thin volume of poems, but his life's work is an unfinished--and probably never to be finished-- epic poem, "The Pleasures of London" (I write this from memory). In struggling to find meaning in his life, the man gradually questions why he is writing his epic poem.

The book made an impression on me by making me question the possible futility of my own work--a scary thought at the time. It's a powerful book.

Incidentally a New Zealander friend living in Britain when I was reading that novel explained its title to me. The aspidistra is a lily that is seen as a symbol of middle-class families, who formerly (at least) kept potted aspidistras in their windows. To keep an aspidistra "flying" is thus like hanging out a flag, something akin to flaunting one's middle-class values.

Since I've taken the liberty of explaining that book's title, I can't resist posing this challenge: Can anyone explain the meaning of Graham Greene's title Brighton Rock?

My same NZ friend explained that one to me, too. Hint: I don't think reading the book will answer the question--unless one is psychic.


BURMESE DAYS 09/21/1998 5:41:20 PM Barb asked about the Orwell essay Shooting An Elephant. It can be found in A Collection of Essays by George Orwell. Amazon books lists a 1970 edition by Harcourt Brace for $9.60, but I own a Doubleday Anchor edition published in 1954 ($.95). I would look in second hand bookstores.

Pres


BURMESE DAYS 09/26/1998 11:52:50 AM Thank you, Pres, for the lead regarding "Shooting an Elephant." I'm a great lover of prowling in used book stores. Will add it to my list of books to find.

Barb


BURMESE DAYS 09/26/1998 6:49:15 PM I'm well into Burmese Days now and enjoying it immensely. I can't believe I don't remember reading this before. What a wonderful atmosphere it projects. Almost makes me break out in prickly heat myself.

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 09/27/1998 9:21:51 AM My sentiments, exactly, Ruth. I loved Orwell's description of U Po Kyin on the very first page. That paragraph hooked me for the book.

The edition I'm reading is called a Time Reading Program Special Edition. I picked it up in the used book store and would probably have thought it suspect if I'd realize who had published it...I'm not sure why. In any case, it has an introduction by Malcolm Muggeridge, who was the editor of Punch, the British humor magazine, during the 1950's. He and Orwell were friends and he makes many interesting observations about Orwell's personality. Is this a common introduction to this book or unique to Time? There was also a slightly sarcastic reference to Punch somewhere in the first 50 pages of Burmese Days, but I can't find it just now.

Barb


BURMESE DAYS 09/27/1998 11:24:26 AM Barb --- Have you read any Muggeridge? I picked up a bio of him at Powell's last fall -- which is still waiting. I got interested in him through my reading of and about C.S.Lewis. I will check my copy of Burmese Days -- alas! unread! -- for references to or signs of commentary by Muggeridge. --- Dottie, who gets more intrigued when these connections and coincidences show up in her reading plans

ID is an oxymoron!


BURMESE DAYS 09/27/1998 12:32:04 PM Barb, I finished up BD last night. There's no introduction at all in my paperback copy by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. The blurb on the back though, says that Orwell "drew on his years of experience in India, where he was born and where he served with the Burmese police."

It goes on to describe the book as a "caustic, fast paced novel about the waning days of British imperialism", followed by a brief summary of the plot.

While the plot does give us what appears to be a good (and unsavory) inside look at the state of affairs in Burma at this time, it was the description of Burma itself that played the stellar role for me--the heat, the dust, the flowers, the bazaar, the birds, the insects...

When I resurfaced after each reading session I was almost surprised to find myself here in California. It was a wonderful reading experience. Whose recommendation was this?

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 09/28/1998 2:23:32 AM Barb and Ruth -- I was going to check my copy and get back to you -- can't find it -- WHY does this not surprise me? I am losing at least one item per hour daily these days -- will post as soon as I get my hands on it! Dottie

ID is an oxymoron!


BURMESE DAYS 10/04/1998 10:53:11 PM Hi old and new friends! Got back from an extended vacation about a week ago. After that had problems with prodigy and finally gave up on it and joined Juno. It feels good to be back even though it is a brain strain to say something original or different. After all we don't always want to agree with what has been written before.
 
Orwell seems quite different from just any other author we have read and discussed on CC. I sensed a profound dissatisfaction with life and would have liked to know something about his background. I am close to half finished with the book so I don't know what is coming in the second half. But, so far Orwell seems to divide things into black and white. He is a man with a strong cause, i.e. anti imperialism, anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist. The literary value is secondary. Will post more as I get closer to the end of the book, Ernie


BURMESE DAYS 10/05/1998 8:31:39 PM 55 0 "Welcome back, Ernie! I have about 100 pages to go on this novel. I have to try to squeeze in A LESSON BEFORE DYING for my local book club meeting on Thursday, so I may not be able to finish before the end of the week.

I like the book, mostly because, as Ruth pointed out, it does such a good job of plopping the reader right down in the middle of a very exotic locale. I once took a trip to Thailand and Malaysia, and these descriptions of Burma bring back memories of a world that now seems so very far away. I especially remember the shock of the tropical heat and humidity. One would think that a person would become accustomed to it after awhile, but it doesn't sound like these Europeans ever did. Maybe it is just too much to expect people to fully adapt to climates so different from that of their native country. I work with some Indian programmers now who probably feel the same way about Nebraska winters as these English people did about the Burmese summers.

This world of the Anglo-Indians (it was news to me that Burma was considered part of Anglo-India) is quite interesting. It reminds me of Jo, Amelia's brother in VANITY FAIR. Like Flory, he no longer fits in very well anywhere. Flory makes the following comments to Elizabeth, which could just as easily have been spoken about Jo over 100 years earlier:

"We Anglo-Indians are always looked on as bores. And we are bores. But we can't help it. You see, there's--how shall I say?-- a demon inside us driving us to talk. We walk about under a load of memories which we long to share and somehow never can. It is the price we pay for coming to this country." XV, p. 178

I would have to agree that Orwell does see things very much in terms of black and white. He has a tendency to sacrifice the subtlety of his characterizations to his political agenda. It makes me wonder if the typical Englishmen in these countries was really quite as hateful as the members of the European Club in this small outpost of the British Empire. But I do find Flory to be a very interesting character, and I like the way Orwell depicts his relationship with Elizabeth. He shows so clearly how we often "invent" the object of our affections to fulfill our own personal needs. Unfortunately, our perception of them sometimes bears no relationship to reality.

A couple of questions for anyone reading this book:

What do you think is the significance of Flory's birthmark?

How do you think a person from Burma or another third world country would react to reading this book?

Ann


BURMESE DAYS 10/06/1998 12:17:34 PM Could it be that Flory's birthmark is the outward manifestation of his difference, his "otherness"?

I would hazard a guess that the Burmese might not like this book much better than the English expatriates. While Orwell is often sympathetic to them, it seems to me he indulges in quite a bit of generalization which might rankle.

Ruth, who, nasty woman that she is, really did enjoy watching Orwell sticking the knife into everybody

BURMESE DAYS 10/06/1998 5:45:57 PM Or maybe the birthmark looms so large in Flory's mind and psyche, that he cannot join the group. He might have wanted not be be an outsider, but he feels that the birthmark so disfigures him that he must always stand apart.

Who knows? Maybe without the birthmark he may have been just as much of a pig as the rest of the expatriates.

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 10/06/1998 10:11:50 PM I agree, Ruth, that Flory's birthmark was probably what made it possible for him to see Burma's forest and trees (and people, and so forth) and appreciate them, unlike his fellow Brits. I think it also made him so self-conscious, though, that he was unable to do anything about, or even feel comfortable with, his own perceptions.

I am on the home stretch with this one (Flory just gave the ruined leopard skin to Elizabeth). He is amazingly unperceptive about her, isn't he? Imagine how miserable he would have been if his dreams had come true and she had actually married him.

I also like Orwell's description of Burma itself - he is very skilfull at working this into the story. I think it would be interesting to compare this book to Heart of Darkness - Conrad's descriptions of Africa are so sinister - Orwell's of Burma are much more realistic, I think. Orwell is also much more overtly political - I think Conrad's book was mainly psychological, and Africa and colonial politics were mere tools (which I believe is what pissed-off Achebe).

I can't imagine what a Burmese (what is the new name for Burma - starts with an A, right?) would think of this book. I enjoy reading descriptions by foreigners of the U.S., even when they aren't flattering. But, at least right now, this country has so much power in comparison to the rest of the world that we probably feel less threatened by such things than would a citizen of a small country like Burma.

Theresa


BURMESE DAYS 10/06/1998 10:49:10 PM Myanmar. It came to me right after I hit "post."


BURMESE DAYS 10/08/1998 8:58:15 AM Tom and I listened to Burmese Days on our trip up and back from the cabin. It was a Recorded Books unabridged edition narrated by Margaret Hilton. I enjoyed it for totally immersing me into the world of Burma (as long as I could keep my eyes on the road). I could smell the spices and frangipani and feel the humidity. But boy he sure did despise people didnít he.
I appreciated it in the beginning when he described Elizabethís mother (Tom and I both thought there was so much vindictiveness in that portrayal that he must have been talking about a real person). I liked his description of Ou Po Kayyan (I have no idea how to spell this, one of the drawbacks of botís), although I disliked him thoroughly. The most sympathetic character was the doctor, except that he was so in love with the colonials. He did have a good heart, but what good did that do him. Flory drove me nuts. I did like the guy, but why did he think what he was feeling for the twit (our name for Elizabeth) was love. He kept saying to himself that he could love no other. It was as obvious as a monsoon that he would have fallen in love with any creature under 40 that stumbled into the club. His obsession with his birthmark drove me nuts too. How bad could it possibly be? It was his obsession with it, not the actual thing that did him in. I have a friend, some of you have met him, who has this extremely large burn scar that takes up half his face. He is still quite handsome, mainly because he doesnít even see it. His friends forget itís there.
SPOILER ALERT
But what I was mostly mad at Flory was, is that he killed the dog before he did himself in, (which I also think was really stupid). I think the sole reason for having the dog in the book was to have him there to kill. Humorous books, like Decline and Fall, that have not one sympathetic character in it, I can deal with and actually like. But when no one learns anything, no one grows, no one succeeds but the bad guy, that irritates me. Itís like Orwell was saying, oh woe is me, everybodyís rotten, the world stinks, which I guess is his point. It just seems so whiny. Why couldnít Flory just have left Burma, for heavenís sake? Was that impossible? Did people who were stationed in colonial places really feel that they had no place to go? It just seems so self-important and unintelligent an attitude. But really, I liked most of the book, just not the way it ended. It seemed kind of juvenile to me.

Sherry


BURMESE DAYS 10/08/1998 11:42:20 AM I think Flory did what so many people do. He projected what he wanted onto Elizabeth. He couldn't see the real Elizabeth at all. The woman he was in love with was not Elizabeth but a compilation of his own dreams and desires, including, most importantly, his desire to be accepted. If he could find one other person in the world who felt as he did, then he would no longer be an outcaste. That's a lot of baggage to put on a poor, pretty twit.

I rather enjoyed watching Orwell stick the knife into everyone, but I do agree the ending was a bit of a copout. And also a bit of a shock to me, as I was sure what the ending would be, and it wasn't.

I was sure he'd end up marrying Elizabeth and then we'd have a flash forward to the future, where either he had become what he despised, or the scales would drop from his eyes and he would see Elizabeth for what she was, and in so doing would also see his own foolishness.

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 10/09/1998 11:08:31 PM Here's the old kibitzer back at work, interrupting a conversation that he hasn't been listening to carefully enough.

I've just skimmed through the last dozen or so postings here and noticed the query about Flory's birthmark. This interests me. I haven't read Burmese Days in at least 20 years and possibly much longer, and I haven't even looked at the book since this discussion started. I do, however, remember Flory's birthmark. In fact, it's one of the things I remember most vividly from the book.

Part of the reason I remember the birthmark is that I also remember reading a discussion of the book in a longer work on Orwell himself. If I recall correctly, the author of that work suggested (speculated, no doubt) that Orwell gave Flory the bookmark for two reasons. First, because Orwell had a negative self-image that wouldn't allow him to make his protagonist physically attractive. Second, because it helped to make Flory feel estranged from other Europeans and thus more apt to become romantically involved with a Burmese woman.

So much for originality on my part. These views not only aren't my own, but I'm not even sure I remember them correctly. However, if they make sense, I'll feel that I've done my good deed for the month.


BURMESE DAYS 10/10/1998 3:14:18 PM I finished Burmese Days too this week and I must say that I really, really liked it, much more than I thought I would. I can see many of its limitations. Orwell's desire to convey a message makes many of his characters two-dimensional and I'm a great lover of complex characterizations. And, he's a bit too eager to deliver his message in general. However, the descriptions of Burma, as others have said here, were incredible. I particularly enjoyed the hunting trip that Flory and Elizabeth took.
And, I loved the U Po Kyin character (I understand how you feel about not knowing how to spell something after you've listened to an audiobook, Sherry, but, at least, you probably know how to pronounce it). He was such a wonderful villain and yet fairly complex, much more so than the British characters, I thought. You see him doing terrible evil to people and he's really responsible for Flory's undoing...and yet you see his perspective and understand why he's doing it. I loved his careful plan to build pagodas and still insure himself a spot in heaven...and then the irony of his ending.

Flory's attitude toward Elizabeth was absolutely classic. It was incredibly immature but so typical of what people do in relationships throughout their lives. Of course, you want to hit him in the head with a hammer...but haven't you done the same thing yourself?

SPOILER ALERT:
Flory's suicide took me totally by surprise.
However, my memories of other things I've read by Orwell lead me to think that most of his stories end on a noticeably tragic note.
I don't think that the reality of watching Flory marry Elizabeth and then become what he hated, or slowly seeing her for what she was, would have been enough for Orwell. I think it would have been more in keeping with the Flory character as he had developed him though. Nothing in what I knew about Flory up to that point made me think that he would make the choice of suicide. I understood, however, why he killed the dog. No one was going to care for the dog in that community and she/he would come to a slow, unhappy end. The fact that he watched what the gun did to the dog's brain and then did it to himself drew me up short though.

Barb


BURMESE DAYS 10/10/1998 6:44:14 PM The Burmese Days edition that I read has an introduction by Malcolm Muggeridge who was editor of the British humor magazine Punch during the 1950's and was a good friend of George Orwell's. I mentioned this before and no one else seems to have that introduction so I wanted to share some of it with you.

On the subject of Flory's birthmark, Muggeridge maintains that Flory is Orwell and the birthmark an image of Orwell's abiding feeling of being physically unattractive. He goes on to say "This feeling was ridiculous, but it persisted. He was no more ill-favored than anyone else, though a bit bizarre: tall and lean and cadaverous, with a certain--how shall I put it?--lack of grace, which at schools like Eton gets noticed and is a decided handicap. I used to think of Orwell as being, like Don Quixote, a 'Knight of the Woeful Countenance.'"

Muggeridge talks a lot about the conflicts Orwell had between admiration of the British Empire and disgust with it. Orwell (whose real name was Eric Blair) was born in Burma and lived there until he was 8. Then, he came back to England and went to an expensive prep school, but as a scholarship boy. He then won scholarships to both Wellington and Eton and attended Eton, but the experience seems to have caused a lot of bitterness in him. He described himself as "an odious young snob" at 15. When he graduated, instead of going to Oxford or Cambridge, he took a job in the Indian Imperial Police and was shipped to Burma. There, he was a policeman for five years. Muggeridge says that a friend who visited him there formed an impression of "a conscientious and reasonably contented officer. He certainly did not carry away a picture of someone girding abnormally against his association with British rule...."

Muggeridge goes on to say that "It is important to keep all this in mind in considering Burmese Days. Though in his political attitudes Orwell was ardently anti-imperialist, he continued to cherish a romantic notion of empire builders bearing the white man's burdens. They might be brutal and obtuse, but they had qualities of courage and endurance which Orwell greatly admired."

Muggeridge says that Verral is the standard English public school (read private school...I never have understood that switch in British/speak) hero: "an athlete, handsome, self-assured and commanding respect in others. He is contrasted with Flory, with his hideous birthmark, his low taste for consorting with 'natives' and his poor showing as a horseman. Flory is humbly content to have his girl back when Verral has finished with her. While hating Verrall, Flory accepts his superiority."

I did feel some of this as I read the book. It accounts for our feeling that Burmese people might not particularly like the way he treats the native peoples. Most of them are not painted in a terribly admirable light though it is made obvious that this is the only way they feel that they can survive. Even Dr. Veraswami is pitiable in his fawning manner toward the English.

What do you all think?

Barb


BURMESE DAYS 10/10/1998 9:22:05 PM I finished this book today, and I also enjoyed it more than expected. Don't have much to add to what has already been posted by others and myself, except that I do think it would be interesting to compare this with Heart of Darkness.

I liked that there were not clear heroes, and at least no designated villain. Flory was the most likable character, but he was done in by his concubine, whom even he realized he had treated badly. U Po Kyin was the master at finding and exploiting weak spots - which is how the powerless obtain power they cannot openly achieve, no? So he was a bad guy, but he was pretty much a creation of the British colonial system.

Was it Orwell that was the lover of Daphne Du Maurier, with whom she had an illegitimate son? Or do I have one or both of them mixed up with other writers?

Theresa


BURMESE DAYS 10/11/1998 2:47:57 AM Orwell and DuMaurier? I am interested -- hope someone has more on this or can confirm it. I will see what I can unearth but many of my books are packed to store here. Burmese Days is in the box for Belgium and I think I will add Heart of Darkness since it is mentioned and I have never read it. Dottie
ID is an oxymoron!


BURMESE DAYS 10/11/1998 10:43:49 AM One of the things about Burmese Days that I particularly liked was the humorous description of Elizabeth's mother, "an incapable, half-baked, vaporing, self-pitying woman who shirked all the normal duties of life on the strength of sensibilities which she did not possess." In spite of the general tragic thrust of the story, this is a very funny book in places.

I also would like to give Orwell credit for his descriptive writing, which I find exceptional:

"At that hour there were beautiful faint colors in everything -- tender green of leaves, pinkish brown of earth and tree trunks -- like aquarelle washes that would vanish in the later glare. Down the maidan flights of small, low flying brown doves chased one another to and fro, and bee-eaters, emerald green, curvetted like slow swallows. A file of sweepers, each with his load half hidden beneath his garment, were marching to some dreadful dumping-hole that existed on the edge of the jungle. Starveling wretches with stick-like limbs and knees too, feeble to be straightened, draped in earth colored rags, they were like a procession of shrouded skeletons walking."

The political thrust of the story was all that I was expecting, so these sections came as a pleasant surprise.


BURMESE DAYS 10/11/1998 3:30:51 PM Orwell and Daphne du Maurier??!! Theresa, I think I know enough about Orwell's life to say that you're confusing him with someone else. Aside from the fact that I can't recall any mention of Du Maurier in anything I've ever read about Orwell, I don't think he ever went near Cornwall, from which she rarely strayed.

And Barbara, that Muggeridge passage you quote makes me think that I must have gotten my own ideas about Florey's birthmark from reading Muggeridge myself. Aside from Muggeridge's theory about the birthmark, his dismissal of Orwell's negative self-image also sounds familiar. I've often thought about Orwell's physical appearance when I've seen photos of him. He wasn't exactly handsome, but he certainly wasn't homely.

This has nothing to do with Burmese Days, but Orwell did incur a disfiguring injury when he fought in the Spanish Civil War: He was shot in the neck. Afterward he always had trouble speaking. This fact is something that I try to remember when I listen to recordings of his later books. Indeed, some of the best recordings of any books that I've ever listened to (and I've listened to a lot) have been Patrick Tull's readings of Orwell for Recorded Books, Inc. Tull's reading of Homage to Catalonia is especially fine.

Tull is an exceptionally energetic and expressive reader. When he reads one of Orwell's first-person narratives (such as Catalonia, he doesn't sound like Orwell could have sounded for the simple reason that Orwell's neck wound left him unable to project similar energy. Nevertheless, when I listen to Tull, I feel like I'm listening to Orwell because Tull projects the energy and feeling that I find in Orwell's words. I imagine that Orwell would have been pleased with Tull's recordings.

By the way, did I report earlier that Tull has recorded Burmese Days? I think that's correct.

And, speaking of Du Maurier, I once went to Cornwall with a copy of her House on the Strand and used its map to retrace its protagonist's steps around Par (I write this from memory, so its spelling is suspect) and Fowey. The route also took me around Du Maurier's house as well. (It's the only time I remember doing something like that because of something I read in a novel.)

(Say, ain't the spell checker in the webboard great? It reports 32 "misspelled words" in this message. I can't find any, however.)


BURMESE DAYS 10/11/1998 8:12:17 PM I thought it was Orson Welles who had the child with Du Maurier but I have asked four people and they don't know..and it does not say on the site for Welles.. Pamela


BURMESE DAYS 10/11/1998 11:09:37 PM I finally finished BURMESE DAYS this weekend and treated myself tonight to these notes. That birthmark interested me a great deal. Did you notice how it changed throughout the story? When Elizabeth finally decided to reject Flory irrevocably, it was all she could see, but at other times it did not seem all that prominent. Then, when Flory died, it all but disappeared. By then, of course, it no longer mattered.

Sherry, you asked why he was so obsessed with it, legitimately pointing out that many people manage to be happy with far worse handicaps. I am sure that we all know people who are physically unattractive, but have so much self-confidence and so many social gifts that we hardly notice. Flory, on the other hand was probably born with a tendency towards morbid self-consciousness. This is not something you choose. His birth defect and his experiences in that chamber of torture known as an English public school set the tendency in concrete. It is hard for me to understand this inhumane system of Ďpublicí education, where children are sent away from home at the tender age of nine. It comes up so frequently in English literature, and I have never read anything positive about the experience. That birthmark made Flory the kind of man he was, lacking the confidence to change his life, fearing to challenge the bigotry of his compatriots because it would draw attention to himself. It symbolized his feeling that he was defective and unlovable.

I was somewhat surprised by Floryís suicide, but I found it in character. Was there much difference between him shooting himself or drinking himself to death (which is where he was otherwise headed)? The former was probably less painful. I donít think that he could have returned to England. He was too mired in his depression and despair to take positive action. Ruth is right that he pinned his dreams on a young twit of a girl and called them Elizabeth, but I agree with Barb that most of us have behaved in a similarly irrational way at one time or other. If you havenít, youíre one of the lucky ones. The result is almost always painful.

Finally (at last - G -), I asked the question about how present day Burmese might react to this story because I think they would be quite appalled. All of the native characters (even U Po Kyin) struck me as very childish. They lacked the innate dignity of the natives in Achebeís THINGS FALL APART. Of course, that is how the English (even the good ones) saw them, so I did not find it inappropriate. Also, much as I enjoyed the exotic flavor of Orwellís Burma, it was not a locale that struck me as pleasant Ė too oppressive, suffocatingly hot, and threatening. Even the zinnias seemed forbidding.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. Iím sorry that June couldnít be here to share it with us.


Ann


BURMESE DAYS 10/12/1998 2:40:17 AM I'd like to suggest that we avoid using the word "native" except as an adjective.

Africans and Asians are no more "natives" than Europeans or Americans, Frenchmen, except for the fact that the former get that label more often. We call people in England "English" and people in France "French," and so on. Let's call people in Burma "Burmese" and people in Nigeria "Africans," or "Nigerians" or "Ibo" (as in Achebe's books) or whatever.

Lest anyone think I'm overly sensitive on this point, I'll merely recall the person under whom I once studied Afrikaans. He called Africans from other countries who worked in South Africa "foreign natives."

I'm still trying to figure out what that might mean.


BURMESE DAYS 10/12/1998 10:06:18 PM Hmm, I wonder why it is politically correct to call Indians "native Americans".
Or has that been superceded by "indigenous?"

At any rate, my point was that the non-European characters were not portrayed with much sympathy. Whereas Achebe's Ibos struck me as people very much like the ones I know in my own world, in spite of the fact that they lived in a very primitive society over a hundred years ago, Orwell's Indian and Burmese characters seemed very foreign indeed.

Due to lack of time, I was planning to skip the next CR selection, THE POWER OF ONE, but when I saw it was set in Africa, I really could not resist. Like Flory, the main character in this book is sent to a boarding school at a very young age and terrorized by sadistic older boys. However, unlike Flory, the little boy in THE POWER OF ONE becomes stronger as a result of his experiences. It's interesting to speculate why similar experiences have such different results. At any rate, so far THE POWER OF ONE is a real page turner.

Ann


BURMESE DAYS 10/13/1998 8:12:34 AM Ann,
I have to admit that I didn't think very hard on what it was that made Flory so meek. I thought it was just that he was a product of his society without enough personal oomph to overcome society's shortcomings. I didn't think about his early public school days, or maybe that was a part of the tape that I didn't pay attention to closely enough. I thought what a stultifying atmosphere he lived in socially. No wonder the first pretty face was one to make him fall in love, even though the face was attached to a mind that had nothing at all to do with what was in his imagination, which had conjured up his perfect woman. In The Power of One Peekay's adaptability, his extreme intelligence, and most important, the love he had from his nanny and the psychological magic the witchdoctor conjured up for him, came to his rescue. He always had at least one person, and later in the book many more, who made him feel worthwhile. (I haven't finished, so I don't know how it is in the end). Flory never had anyone, I expect. He was able to camouflage himself as an adult about as well as Peekay did at age six to hide from the Boer bullies. Interesting comparison.
Sherry in Milwaukee


BURMESE DAYS 10/13/1998 7:19:22 PM Good points, Sherry. I think that if there had been someone in Flory's early life like that Zulu nanny who loved Peekay so unconditionally he might have turned out differently. And, hey, having the best magic man in South Africa on your side wouldn't hurt either. - G-

Orwell does say that Flory's parents were good people who made financial sacrifices for him, but he could barely be bothered to write to them every few months, much less visit them, so it appears that the bonds were weak. Temperamentally, I think that he was also very different from Peekay. Early in the book, Orwell mentions that Flory's voice sometimes shook and that he had a nervous twitch.

I think that some people like the Peekay character in THE POWER OF ONE are lucky enough to be born with a great deal of natural resilience. They emerge from horrible experiences with few apparent scars. My sister has a friend who was abused by family members and sent to an orphanage. He loved that orphanage and looks on one of the nuns there as his mother. He's great with people and has made a real success of his life. How much of a role does nature play in how we turn out, and how much can we attribute to nurture? It's a question that has always interested me.


Sherry, I know that you listened to this book on tape. My edition was a paperback, "A Harvest Book" published by Harcourt Brace & Company. It had no footnotes or explanatory notes of any kind. This is one time I really would have appreciated a glossary with the many foreign words defined. Did the editions the rest of read have notes?

Ann


BURMESE DAYS 10/18/1998 11:47:24 PM Ann, Just finished the book this evening. I procrastinate when I anticipate a tragic ending. Sorry, have always been that way. But, I did change my mind about the book's literary value. It does have considerable literary value. The relationship between Flory and Elizabeth is well Portrayed as are the members of the club, especially Ellis, Macgregor and last but not least Verrall and let us not forget Mrs. Lackersteen. Burma was vividly described as the place I have no desire to ever see. Ruth remarked that Burma is described so that you can almost smell and taste it.
As to the birthmark, its similar to Maugham's hero in Human Bondage (the name escapes me at this time). It probably indicates an indelible perceived deficit the person is stuck with and forever feels at a disadvantage.
What makes this book a classic, as we have been discussing this question? The book feels real, it touches one's feeling, it feels genuine and moving. It also reminds me a bit of another book, Bend in the River? It also Portrayed life in an environment that is very foreign to us. I like to thank the person who suggested the book. Who was it? Ernie


BURMESE DAYS 10/18/1998 11:55:44 PM Theresa,
Yes, Flory is, for an intelligent person incredibly unperceptive about Elizabeth. A rather horrible thought Occurred to me. He may be better of dead than being married to her. Think of it, they are opposite extremes. At the end the author states that she made a perfect wife of an Indian Sahib, quarreling with the servants, cute little parties for the wives of the fellow officers. She does fit in perfectly well, Flory did not. Ernie


BURMESE DAYS 10/19/1998 12:09:28 AM Sherry,
Good to see you posting. You got angry about Flory killing the dog. I would have felt the same way except for something that happened just before I left on our European vacation. An old friend of mine called me, perhaps the first time about what to him was a Catastrophe. His dog had died and he yelled in pain, there is nobody else I love or care for. (He has a family). All the people he ever loved had died and now the only creature he loved died as well. In other words Flory took the dog along because it was the only creature he loved. Sad! Ernie


BURMESE DAYS 10/19/1998 7:24:54 AM It was sad, wasn't it Ernie. I am always amazed, however, when people do themselves in because they seem to think they are locked in a room and there's no way out. And someone else can look at the situation, someone not as tied in knots emotionally as the suicide, and see open windows and doors and maybe even a tunnel or two.
Sherry


BURMESE DAYS 10/22/1998 4:57:36 PM Ernie,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this book. June Williams suggested it. Unfortunately, she has not been able to make the transition to the internet site. She would like to see us back on Prodigy Classic. I tried emailing her some of the notes, but I haven't heard back. I know that she was having computer problems and we all know how frustrating that can be.

The story about your friend and his dog was interesting. Because of allergies, Tom and I have never had a pet, although my parents had dogs when I was a girl. I have never been that attached to animals, but I have had relatives who liked them better than their children (possibly with good reason - G -).

You mentioned that the atmosphere of this book reminded you of A BEND IN THE RIVER. Theresa mentioned A HEART OF DARKNESS. In all three cases, the setting was quite oppressive, wasn't it? I love to travel and, interesting as these books were, they didn't make me want to visit the places where the stories took place. I have read that Orwell lived in Burma at a time when the local population was becoming openly hostile towards the Europeans. As is very apparent in this book, he was also becoming very disillusioned with British imperialism. So I guess we shouldn't be surprised this his Burma was a rather unpleasant place.

Ann


BURMESE DAYS 10/24/1998 11:42:25 AM Having reached the tragic ending of Burmese Days, I can't say that I find much tragic about it. The lot of them are superficial nitwits, perhaps exemplified by Flory's final attempt to entice Elizabeth into marriage with the offer of a piano and her final words to him "I don't play the piano."

The book to me is fairly comic.The only one I felt sorry for was the dog.

I would have much preferred an ending in which Flory and Elizabeth wed and turn into a junior version of the Lackersteens. This strikes me as much more of a real world result. As for being unhappy in Burma, this crowd would have had just as much trouble in in a posh London suburb with a good income.


BURMESE DAYS 10/24/1998 12:19:03 PM Jim, actually, your preferred ending was the one I was sure was coming, right up until the actual suicide. And I agree, it would have been better. Sadder, and less melodramatic.

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 10/24/1998 2:09:38 PM Jim, you had exactly the same reaction I did to the book. My original post is probably somewhere in web-heaven now. I thought Orwell had the dog trotted out the whole book just so he could be shot at the appropriate time. I was miffed. Ruth, I thought that the ended would be as you imagined. They would get married, and he would finally realize what a twit she was and he would keep going to the doctor's house for company and be older, wiser, but better fed.
Sherry


BURMESE DAYS 10/24/1998 10:31:57 PM Ah, shucks, Jim, couldn't you work up just a smidgen of sympathy for poor Flory? For some twisted reason, the losers of this world hold a special place in my heart. I suffer on their behalf -- must be an excess of empathy.

At any rate, I agree with you that none of these characters would have been any nicer in another setting. The colonies probably attracted more than their fair share of misfits.

Ann


BURMESE DAYS 10/24/1998 11:39:15 PM Ann, I don't know if it's fair to allude to Flory as a misfit. He's clearly modeled on Orwell himself. And Orwell (as Eric Blair) was an Eton-educated member of a respectable family sent out to British India to start his career. Orwell became a misfit partly because of his experience there, but he certainly wasn't sent there because he was a misfit. On the other hand, Brits who stayed in the colonies longer than they had do might very well have been misfits.

BURMESE DAYS 10/25/1998 1:06:24 AM Since I have not read this book -- YET -- this may be out of line -- but it seems to me that the misfit/ne'r-do-well/dilettante sent to the colonies is a theme in many country's literature. The fact is that this also seems to be a reflection of the history of the particular country's colonialism. I was prompted to voice this by the thought of Dinesen's Africa experience and writing -- think of her husband and his background and his life in Africa. Dottie
ID is an oxymoron!


BURMESE DAYS 10/25/1998 7:19:15 AM The biographical information on Orwell implied that he felt like a misfit because he went to the prestigious schools as a "scholarship" boy and never felt that he belonged. After making it through prep school and Eton, he was on the path to Oxford or Cambridge, but surprised everyone by taking a job with the Indian Imperial Police. So, though I think he knew how to act like one of the group, he didn't feel like a member.

Your points are well-taken, Jim and Sherry. I didn't feel right about the suicide ending either. However, I think that Orwell was making the point that Flory's demons ran too deep for your alternate ending. I wish that he could have found a choice somewhere between the two.



Barb


BURMESE DAYS 11/15/1998 2:04:26 PM Jim, Ann, Sherry, For unknown reason the CC section was not working for a while on my computer and - as usual- have not looked at all section of CC for a while. Like Ann, I feel a great deal of sympathy for those who don't succeed, stay in the background or may be called losers by others. I am not as sure as some that if they had lived in London they would have had the same problem. In a big city you can sort of disappear in the crowd. Don't forget that in the little white Burg in Burma, there were only a handful people who were forced into close interaction and this is always much more stressful. You are under close Scrutiny at all times. Also the white "Crust" is surrounded by essentially hostile and angry natives and the crust is much aware of it, trying to denegrate them. Actually Flory hand only two friends who were loyal, the dog and the doctor. We need to mention the viciousness of the administrative enemy who wanted to be admitted to the white club at all cost. Actually it all added up (including the weather) to a terrible situation and Flory found the easy (?) way out. Ernie

BURMESE DAYS 11/15/1998 2:12:17 PM Barb,
You offered interesting biographical data on Orwell. We can now wonder why he did not continue his college education and joint the colonial police force.
I have been pondering about a rather profound comment you made as well:

His demons ran too deep! How true of Flory, Orwell, and a whole group of other great literary and artistic people. It reminds me of Jamison's work on the Greatness of the Manic Depressives! Byron, you name them... Ernie


BURMESE DAYS 11/15/1998 7:12:56 PM Ernie,
Welcome back! You made some good points about the insular world of colonial society and the stress that put on anyone who didn't quite fit in. More than anything else, Flory seemed to be so incredibly lonely. There wasn't anyone else there who thought like him or was interested in the same things. His life would probably have been happier in England, if only he could have broken out of his depression long enough to make a move.

Orwell died of T.B. at the young age of 47. I wonder what else he would have written if he had been given more time.

Ernie, I noticed that you have been replying to the individual notes, like we all used to do on Prodigy. While you and Pat were enjoying Europe, we discovered that if everyone tried to reply to the last note in the topic, rather that to individual notes, it was a lot easier to read through the messages. Thatís because if everyone uses that method than you can click on the first new note in the series and bring up all the later notes at the same time. This works because they are all part of the same path. I think most of us now just click on the new messages and read those. Thatís the line that tells you how many new messages you have when you log on. Another thing I found helpful was using the "back" and "forward" buttons at the top of my browser to review notes. Maybe these suggestions are old news to you. If so, just ignore them.
Ann



BURMESE DAYS 11/19/1998 7:24:10 PM Ernie,
I can't imagine anything that I say being considered profound, but thanks very much for saying so. In the biographical info I read on Orwell, the main point that stood out is that he never thought that he fit into anything. As a scholarship boy at the wealthy schools, he felt like a pretender (and I'm sure the other boys contributed to that feeling). I've also read that he had lots to say about the sadistic quality of the "public" schools in England. And, yet he had a curious sort of admiration for the boys/men in that society as well. I do think that he put a lot of himself in Flory.

Barb


BURMESE DAYS 11/19/1998 10:30:01 PM Barb, I think it's fairly common that creative people feel that they don't fit in. Maybe it's a large part of the engine that drives creation.

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 11/30/1998 1:30:08 PM Ann, Barb, Ruth,
First of all thanks Ann for suggesting that I comment or make remarks at the end of the thread or is it chain. Hope I understood you correctly. I usually click on reply. Please feel free to continue any suggestions that would make reading and posting easier.
Barb, British Public Schools are really something else. I have read and heard so much about them and their products as well. John LeCarree was a public school teacher at one time and mentioned the interaction between staff and students. One of my friends went to one of the American so called private schools. Supposedly the environment makes for life long cohesion and friendships of these students. Of course the system, at least in England contains a good deal of cruelty such as the approved and often practiced caning of students. Well of course Orwell would not fit in and that may have helped to make him a creative artist as Ruth suggests. Ernie


BURMESE DAYS 11/30/1998 4:20:07 PM Ernie, if you're going to the last note in the chain and clicking on the REPLY that's in the blue bar at the top of the note, that'll hang your note at the end of the line.

Ruth


BURMESE DAYS 12/01/1998 1:02:01 AM Orwell wrote a long and revealing essay about English schools that is well worth reading: "Such, such were the joys." In many ways, it's similar to Arthur Golden's depiction of the environment in which Japanese geishas were once trained, in Memoirs of a Geisha--except that Orwell's account is based on experience, not research.

I know Orwell's essay is in a 4-volume collection of his letters and journalism; it's probably available in some other collections as well.

Wouldn't it be great if CR had a direct link to a comprehensive bibliographical resource? It would be nice to be able to provide full bibliographical citations easily.
_______________________

Addendum
Actually, we're not that far from such a link. Check out this link to Amazon.com:

Such, Such Were the Joys and Other Essays

At least one volume of that 4-volume collection I alluded to is also listed on Amazon; however, I'm not sure which volume the essay in question is in.

 
George Orwell
George Orwell

 

 
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