Burmese Days

The Waning Days of British Imperialism in "A Passage to India" and "Burmese Days"

In the preface to The English Novel in the Twentieth Century [The Doom of Empire], Martin Green claims that “One could read all the works of the Great Tradition, and never know that England had an empire”. While this argument could be applied to the bourgeois, largely domestic nature of the nineteenth-century literary canon, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924) and George Orwell’s Burmese Days (1934) mark the development of a post-war, politically engaged consciousness, largely triggered by the brutal Amritsar massacre of 1919. Both novels - influenced by the writers’ own experiences in the East – launch a fiercely satirical attack on the conduct of the British Raj overseas and the moral bankruptcy of the English country club. A particularly noticeable aspect of Orwell’s and Forster’s critiques is the complicity of English women in encouraging and reinforcing masculine ideals of belligerence and jingoism in the East, thus exacerbating the strained relations between natives and their British rulers. However, although both texts exhibit a shared disdain for the overbearing, Kiplingesque pomposity of the British ruling classes in the East, Forster’s liberal pragmatism and humanist approach contrasts to the more radical and...

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