Burmese Days

Burmese Days

infobox Book |
name = Burmese Days
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translator =

image_caption =
author = George Orwell
illustrator =
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country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Harper & Brothers (US)| release_date = October 1934
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
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"Burmese Days" is a novel by British writer George Orwell. It was published in 1934 and based loosely on Orwell's five years as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma (now Myanmar). It is a tale about the waning days of British imperialism before World War II. Publishers were reluctant to publish the book due to fear of libel suits. No retired British officers filed any libel suits, but the book was not available in India and Burma at the time of publication. The characters in the novel were based on real people and only on the insistence of the publishers were some of the places and names changed. It has been favourably compared with similar works by other British novelists such as Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham.

Plot summary

Burmese Days is set in 1920s imperial Burma, in the fictional district of Kyauktada. [The easily identifiable original of Kyauktada is Kathar (formerly spelled Katha), a town where Orwell served. Like Kyauktada it is the head of a branch railway line above Mandalay on the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) river.] A Burmese magistrate by the name of U Po Kyin is planning the destruction of the career of Indian Dr. Veraswami. The only thing that could possibly give the doctor any chance in this struggle is his friendship with European John Flory who - as a white man - has higher prestige. U Po Kyin begins his campaign by sending libelous, anonymous letters with false stories about the doctor and he even sends a subtly threatening letter to Flory.

Meanwhile, the niece of Mrs. Lackersteen, Elizabeth, arrives in Burma. When Flory meets her, he is immediately taken with her and the two develop a close friendship. As Elizabeth expects, Flory is about to ask her to marry him, but is disrupted by Mrs. Lackersteen and subsequently an earthquake. Mrs. Lackersteen interrupted the two on purpose as she has discovered that a military police officer named Verrall is arriving in Kyauktada and wishes for Elizabeth to marry him. So, Mrs. Lackersteen tells Elizabeth that Flory is keeping a Burmese woman. Elizabeth indeed does fall for the rather rude Verrall and Flory is devastated.

Meanwhile, U Po Kyin has developed a plan to be elected to the European Club in Burma as they are forced to elect a native member. U Po Kyin plans to start a rebellion and blame it on Dr. Veraswami. The rebellion is indeed started and a native rebel is killed by acting Divisional Forest Officer, Maxwell. A few days later, the Europeans discover the body of Maxwell. This creates a tension between the Burmese and the Europeans and a large riot begins the following week. U Po Kyin planned to stop the riot and become a hero in the eyes of the Europeans, but his plot is foiled when the riot is stopped by Flory instead. Flory becomes a hero and Dr. Veraswami's prestige is restored.

Verrall leaves Kyauktada without even saying goodbye to Elizabeth and she falls for Flory again. Flory is happy and plans to marry Elizabeth. However, U Po Kyin has not given up; he hires Flory's former Burmese mistress to create a scene in front of Elizabeth at the church sermon. Flory is disgraced and Elizabeth leaves him. Overcome by the loss, Flory commits suicide. U Po Kyin's plans have succeeded, Dr. Veraswami is demoted and sent to a different district and U Po Kyin is elected to the Club. He plans to redeem his life and cleanse his sins by financing pagodas, but he dies before they are constructed. Elizabeth marries another club member named Macgregor.

Characters in "Burmese Days"

*John (in some editions, James) Flory: The main character and member of the European Club. He has a large, dark blue birthmark on his face that he attempts to hide from everyone he meets. He is good friends with the Indian Dr Veraswami, and is appreciative of Burmese culture, which brings him into conflict with members of the club, who already dislike his slightly radical views. He is often the target of argument even though he dislikes to quarrel.

*Elizabeth Lackersteen: An unmarried woman from England who has spent much time in Paris, which she hated, being stuck there in poverty with her flighty mother, who fancied herself an artist. She is thin with short hair and wears glasses. Flory saves her when she thinks she is being attacked by a small water buffalo. She loves hunting and often questions Flory about shooting. She dislikes those she labels "highbrows," and Flory, in her opinion, is such. She is eager to be married and leave the home of her uncle, as he has repeatedly tried (without success) to rape her. After leaving Flory for the first time she courts Verrall, who leaves abruptly without saying goodbye. After leaving Flory the second time (and following his suicide), she marries an older club member named Macgregor.

*Mr. and Mrs. Lackersteen: The uncle and aunt of Elizabeth. Mr. Lackersteen is a lecherous drunkard whose only object in life is to have "good time", which he manages when his wife is not "watching like a cat over a mouse-hole". Mr. Lackersteen goes so far as to make repeated sexual advances towards his niece Elizabeth. Mrs. Lackersteen is an imaginative woman who plays the part of the memsahib and like most has not taken to the alien country or its culture.

*Dr. Veraswami: An Indian doctor and a friend of Flory's. Though he is an Indian, he has nothing but respect for the English colonists and often refers to his own kind as being lesser humans than the English. Veraswami and Flory often discuss various topics, with Veraswami siding with the English and Flory taking the stance of defending the natives. Targeted by U Po Kyin for a place in the club. Fights to stop riots caused by U Po Kyin. Loses his place of influence when his representative, Flory, dies. Goes to work in another run-down hospital.

*U Po Kyin: A vicious and cunning magistrate who carries out vendettas against Flory and Veraswami. He causes a riot, but is beaten by Flory, who suppresses it. Kyin becomes a member of the European Club when Flory dies. He feels he can commit whatever wicked acts he wants, because later he will finance the building of pagodas, which will expiate his sins. Ultimately, he dies in sin, before the building of the pagodas.

*Ma Hla May: Flory's Burmese mistress. Constantly asks him for money after he throws her out in favour of Elizabeth. Thanks to U Po Kyin she breaks up Flory and Elizabeth by creating an horrific scene in front of the Europeans, then goes to work in a brothel elsewhere.

*Ko S'la: Flory's servant. Though he serves Flory well, he does not approve of many of his activities. He strongly opposes Flory's relationship with Ma Hla May and further protests when Flory hurts himself in a sporting accident.

*Verrall: An obnoxious cad and military policeman who despises all except exceptional polo players. Ultimately leaves Elizabeth without a goodbye.

*Ellis: A racist member of the club. He is happy starting scandals and dislikes Flory because he is friends with natives.


External links

* [http://www.george-orwell.org/Burmese_Days/index.html Burmese Days Searchable, indexed e-text] .
* [http://www.time.com/time/asia/traveler/021017/orwell.html "Orwell's Burma", an essay in "Time"]
* [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/o/orwell/george/o79b/ Online version] ,
* [http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=6178 The Literary Encyclopedia]
* [http://web.soas.ac.uk/burma/pdf/Keck1.pdf Another look at "Burmese Days"]


*Emma Larkin, "Finding George Orwell in Burma".

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