George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

BURMESE DAYS

1934


8.

Sean O’Faolain, Spectator

28 June 1935, p. 1118

Sean O’Faolain (b. 1900), Irish novelist and biographer of De Valera (1933) and Countess Markievicz (1934). The other two books reviewed were This Sweet Work by D. M. Low and Follow Thy Fair Sun by Viola Meynell.

After these two subtle books, Burmese Days seems very heavy-handed. But the comparison is accidental and should not be made—Mr Orwell has his own merits and his own methods and they are absolutely competent in their own class. His novel is the story of a man who, because born with an ugly birthmark flung in a blue ugliness across his cheek, is doomed to be a misfit. When we meet him he has been for years buried in Burma, and is already half-rotted there: then an English rosebud comes out to him and life shines again. He is by now, unfortunately, sunk so low as to be a reader of books, a Socialist, a disbeliever in the white-man’s burden, and a friend of the natives: and his only virtues in the eyes of the ‘Kipling-haunted Club, ’ where there is ‘whisky to the right of you and the Pink ’un to the left of you, ’ is that he drinks like a fish and keeps a native mistress. The bitter tone of the book will be apparent, and with a savagery that knows only a passing pity and eschews all reticence Mr Orwell depicts the life of this misanthropic and unimpressive character. He gives incidentally so grim a picture of Burmese life that while one fervently hopes he has exaggerated, one feels that the outlines, at least, are true.

As a matter of criticism that is crucial with this type of book, the evidence is too good; it all hangs together too well—the sweat and

-50-

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