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Orwell's "Burmese Days" (1934)

Discussion in 'The Library' started by DavidUSA, 17 Jan 2017.

  1. DavidUSA

    DavidUSA Thread Starter Well-Known Member

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    When OxfordDon talked about how he thought 90% of foreign teachers in Thailand are like the colonial occupiers in Burmese Days--forgive me, I am paraphrasing--I was intrigued.

    Here are a couple snippets:

    "He was really a very simple-minded man, with no ambitions beyond
    having what he called 'a good time'. His wife governed him by the
    only possible method, namely, by never letting him out of her sight
    for more than an hour or two. Only once, a year after they were
    married, she had left him for a fortnight, and had returned
    unexpectedly a day before her time, to find Mr Lackersteen, drunk,
    supported on either side by a naked Burmese girl, while a third up-
    ended a whisky bottle into his mouth. Since then she had watched
    him, as he used to complain, 'like a cat over a bloody mousehole'.
    However, he managed to enjoy quite a number of 'good times', though
    they were usually rather hurried ones."


    "...and perhaps once in a year a hurried trip to Rangoon--pretext, a visit
    to the dentist. Oh, the joy of those Rangoon trips! The rush to
    Smart and Mookerdum's bookshop for the new novels out from England,
    the dinner at Anderson's with beefsteaks and butter that had
    travelled eight thousand miles on ice, the glorious drinking-bout!
    He was too young to realize what this life was preparing for him.
    He did not see the years stretching out ahead, lonely, eventless,
    corrupting."

    I see that the point of the book is bigotry and corruption. (Someone I know has had a few glorious drinking-bouts, savored a trip to Bangkok, etc.)


    You can read it for free here:

    George Orwell - Burmese Days - Chapter 5

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    Last edited: 17 Jan 2017
  2. Gor Blimey Guvnur!

    Gor Blimey Guvnur! What the duck ! Staff Member

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    When I have the time I shall have a read ...ty Dave.
     
  3. OxfordDon

    OxfordDon Well-Known Member

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    :-)

    Actually, I'm definitely not a prig, and I don't blame people for sexual excess (as long as it's between consenting adults), in fact Thailand may be the perfect place to cure oneself of that as it's so available (and affordable): "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom".

    And it's not the corruption either, corruption exists on both sides there and here; there are no heroes in the book, and even the main character comes to see himself as a moral coward.

    It's that so many expats live there/here for years, never getting beyond their expat circle, hiding in their expat clubs, never taking the opportunities to experience a culture that was/is so different from theirs, and older, and arguably richer, never broadening their minds; viewing everything with a mixture of fear and fear masquerading as derision, and convinced that "all natives are an inferior people", and not because of any personal virtue or merit, but simply because their home countries are "first world".

    Of course not all expats were/are like that. In fact many of the original 18/19th century expats had huge respect for the cultures that the East India Company took them to, and became fluent in many of the languages. They were highly educated people and the competition to get those jobs was intense.

    I read all of Orwell's famous works when I was an adolescent, and of course they have become massively influential in 20th century thought, especially regarding totalitarianism. But I always found them more like parables than something I could personally engage with. "Burmese Days" for me is even darker than his "great" novels precisely because it is so human - it's not far removed from what happens today - as you suggest in your post; it was his first novel, based on his experience of working for the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, and definitely paved the way for his later and more famous explorations of the abuse of power.
     
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  4. OxfordDon

    OxfordDon Well-Known Member

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    Oh, did I really say 90% of foreign teachers? I meant to say 90% of expats; I'm sure most of the teachers are part of the other 10%!
     
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  5. DavidUSA

    DavidUSA Thread Starter Well-Known Member

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    I misquoted you. You did say "expats". My mistake.

    I am going to read this book from from start to finish.


    "The butler, a dark, stout Dravidian with liquid, yellow-irised eyes
    like those of a dog, brought the brandy on a brass tray."
     

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