Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

An Orphaned Manliness: The Pukka Sahib and the End of Empire in a Passage to India and Burmese Days

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

An Orphaned Manliness: The Pukka Sahib and the End of Empire in a Passage to India and Burmese Days

Article excerpt

Why iss it that always you are abusing the pukka sahibs, ass you call them? They are the salt of the earth. Consider the great things they have done-consider the great administrators who have made British India what it iss... And consider how noble a type iss the English gentleman! Their glorious loyalty to one another! The public school spirit! Even those of them whose manner is unfortunate--some Englishmen are arrogant, I concede-have the great, sterling qualities that we Orientals lack. Beneath their rough exterior, their hearts are of gold.

--George Orwell (Burmese Days 38)

In Burmese Days, responding to liberal John Flory's condemnation, the Indian doctor, Dr. Veraswami, enthusiastically extols the virtues of the noble imperial Englishman. Veraswami praises him in idealistic terms, as if regurgitating public school mottos. He eulogizes the nobility of English gentlemen, "their glorious loyalty," their "public school spirit," and their "hearts of gold" (38). Here, the naive and loyal Veraswami is a caricature of the Westernized native who has internalized the imperial discourse of his inferiority. He is an instrument of heavy narrative irony, because the apparent embodiments of these ideals-in the shape of the Sahibs who actually live in Kyauktada, the colonial station where the action takes place-are without exception dissolute, debauched, and wholly ignoble. Indeed, Veraswami is perhaps the most gentlemanly and honorable of all colonial officials. And yet, the myth of the noble type of English gentleman is so powerful that both the ruler and ruled believe in its existence even if imperial reality contradicts it. They long for it, and mourn its loss, even as they believe they still embody it. The Marlowian contrast between the rhetoric of manliness that once existed--that apparently still animates the endeavor--and the harsh reality of Englishmen in a crumbling realm is a dirge heard everywhere in the texts of late empire. However, unlike Conrad's Congo, the degeneration is not solely caused by the white soul's encounter with the heart of darkness. Rather, the rise of the supine native precipitates the breaking apart of the pukka Sahib or the perfect/solid Englishman.

Though the British empire was at its largest and most expansive in the 1920s and '30s, that same period was also the beginning of the end of imperial authority. Following the devastation of the Great War, these decades saw the gaining momentum of the Indian independence movement, the founding of the Irish Free State, and mass labor strikes across Africa. The works of George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, and Evelyn Waugh, among others, chart the steady deterioration of imperial confidence both at home and in the empire. Recent critical focus has been on the contrapuntal production of Englishness, and on how literature of the '20s and '30s, anticipating impending imperial disintegration, sought to disengage Englishness and national culture from its imperial web. (1) Crucially, these otherwise excellent works do not account for the centrality of gender to both national culture and identity in the literature and culture of the interval between the World Wars. Extending and refining the examination of imperial masculinities during the fin-de-siecle by Anjali Arondekar, Tim Middleton, and Sarah Cole, I bring to bear a focus on gentlemanliness, specifically its articulated constituent traits, with an investigation of the contrapuntal production of English national culture and identity in the interwar years. I analyze two anti-imperial texts of the interwar years, rarely examined together: E.M. Forster's A Passage to India (1924) and George Orweli's Burmese Days (1934). Linking these two texts together renders visible the gradual progression of the devolution of imperial manliness in the long twilight of empire. Indeed, it reveals that their anti-imperialist perspective shapes the representation of imperial gender politics. Read together, they reveal the perennial fragility of the cross-hatched discourses of manliness and imperial power even as they demonstrate its progressive disarticulation, especially as it folds up against the colonial nationalist resistance that signaled the end of empire. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.