George Orwell: The Critical Heritage

By Jeffrey Meyers | Go to book overview

10.

G. W. Stonier, Fortnightly

August 1935, p. 255

George Stonier (b. 1903), English author and translator of Flaubert and Jules Renard.

Several years ago Mr George Orwell wrote a vivid and horrifying autobiography called Down and Out in Paris and London. His book was first-hand, surprising and (I seem to remember) ferociously gay. He relished, as a writer, the squalor of the worst paid jobs, the brutality of employers, the comedy, in mean lodgings and even meaner outdoor shifts, of living on the fringe of work. His second book was a novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter, which I did not read.1Burmese Days is another novel, and I recommend it to all those who enjoy a lively hatred in fiction.

The Europeans of Kyauktada, eight in number, met at ‘the Club’ to drink gin, to exchange dirty stories, deplore the fall of the Raj, and sniff round one another with grinning suspicion. It suggests the horrors of a common room in some outlying public school, with the added discomfort of the climate and the pressure of an indolent native population. We see the characters of various people, mostly unamiable, hardening into premature boredom and decay. Frayed nerves and a weather-beaten exterior, moral bankruptcy and the need for keeping a firm hand—it is true, no doubt, of uncongenial lives everywhere; but in the isolation of Burma (conveyed with glaring realism) the false heartiness and idiotic talk of these exiles become hectically squalid; pathetic, too, the attempts at decency or bringing off a love affair, for which drink, Punch and La Vie Parisienne under the Club punkah have been accepted as substitutes. For, of course, the great thing is to keep going—and the ‘Bolshevism’ of Flory, an English political black sheep, is as futile as the Conservatism of the others. He tries to get an Indian doctor into the Club, but his nerve fails in face

1A Clergyman’s Daughter was actually Orwell’s third book, but it was published in England before Burmese Days.

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