Anti-imperialist Orwell "Bred for Empire"?

In 1923, Orwell came [to Maymyo] for a week’s holiday with Roger Beadon, a fellow probationary assistant district superintendent undergoing police training in Mandalay. Beadon was later one of the few old Burma hands able to remember much about the writer’s time in Burma. It was in Maymyo that Beadon realized that Orwell was not a typical empire builder. He recalled that, though they both enjoyed the trip, Orwell remained aloof the whole time and limited his conversation to what Beadon termed commonplace remarks. ‘I realized that he and I had very little in common, I presumably being an extrovert, he an introvert, living in a world of his own: a rather shy, retiring intellectual.’

Everything in Orwell’s background, however, indicated that he was, almost literally, bred for the Empire. He came from a long line of colonial families. His father’s ancestors had owned Jamaican sugar plantations. His grandfather had been ordained as a deacon in Calcutta, later serving as a priest in Tasmania. And his father spent his entire career in the colonial service in India, overseeing the production of government opium crops. On his mother’s side, Orwell’s family had lived and worked as shipbuilders and teak-traders for three generations in Lower Burma. Orwell himself was born in Motihari, a small town in northern India, and first moved to England, with his mother, shortly before his second birthday. Yet, in Mandalay, Orwell acquired a reputation as someone who didn’t fit in. According to Beadon, Orwell was thought not to be ‘a good mixer’. Beadon described him as a man who was ‘sallow-faced, tall, thin, and gangling, whose clothes, no matter how well-cut, seemed to hang on him’. Beadon spent his time living it up at the Upper Burma Club, playing snooker and dancing, but Orwell ‘cared little for games, and seemed to be bored with the social and Club life’. He preferred to stay behind in his room at the mess, reading, spending most of his time alone – much like John Flory, who, in Burmese Days, ‘took to reading voraciously, and learned to live in books when life was tiresome’.

The social life of Mandalay and Maymyo, it seems, was too hedonistic for the young Orwell.

SOURCE: Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin (John Murray, 2005), pp. 42-43

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