First Edition of George Orwell's Burmese Days; Inscribed by Him
Item Number: 67096
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1934.
First American edition and true first preceding the British edition by one year of Orwell’s first novel. Octavo, original cloth. Presentation copy, inscribed by the author on the verso of the front free endpaper to Mabel Fierz, “With very best wishes from Eric Blair.” It was Mabel Fierz who introduced Orwell to Leonard Moore (who would later become his literary agent) after salvaging the manuscript for Down and Out from the writer’s discarded papers. After first meeting Orwell in Southwold, Suffolk, Mabel and her husband Francis became close friends with the writer and often invited him to stay at their house in Golders Green. On one such occasion, Orwell gave Mabel the manuscript, which had just been rejected by Faber, and telling her to save only the paperclips, said she should throw it away. Instead she took it in person to Moore who in turn took it to Gollancz. In gratitude, thereafter Orwell presented Mabel with signed copies of all his published works. Mabel Fierz, authorial inscription, typed letter signed by Mabel’s son Adrian Fierz loosely inserted. Near fine in a very good dust jacket. Housed in a custom half morocco clamshell box.
Burmese Days was several years in the writing. Orwell was drafting it in Paris during the time he spent there from 1928 to 1929. He was still working on it in 1932 at Southwold while doing up the family home in the summer holidays. By December 1933 he had typed the final version, and in 1934 he delivered it to his agent Leonard Moore for publication by Victor Gollancz, who had published his previous book. Gollancz, smarting from fears of prosecution from another author's work, turned it down because he was worried about charges of libel. Heinemann and Cape turned it down for the same reasons. After demanding alterations, Harpers were prepared to publish it in the United States, where it made its debut in 1934. In the spring of 1935, Gollancz declared that he was prepared to publish Burmese Days provided that Orwell was able to demonstrate it was not based on real people. Extensive checks were made in colonial lists that no British individuals could be confused with the characters. Many of the main European names have since been identified in the Rangoon Gazette and U Po Kyin was the name of a Burmese officer with him at the Police Training School in Mandalay. Gollancz brought out the English version on 24 June 1935. Harpers brought out Burmese Days in the US on 25 October 1934, in an edition of 2,000 copies. In February 1935, just four months after publication, 976 copies were remaindered. The only American review that Orwell himself saw, in the New York Herald Tribune, by Margaret Carson Hubbard, was unfavourable: "The ghastly vulgarity of the third-rate characters who endure the heat and talk ad nausea of the glorious days of the British Raj, when fifteen lashes settled any native insolence, is such that they kill all interest in their doings." A positive review however came from an anonymous writer in the Boston Evening Transcript, for whom the central figure was, "analyzed with rare insight and unprejudiced if inexorable justice", and the book itself praised as full of "realities faithfully and unflinchingly realised." On its publication in Britain, Burmese Days earned a review in the New Statesman from Cyril Connolly as follows: "Burmese Days is an admirable novel. It is a crisp, fierce, and almost boisterous attack on the Anglo-Indian. The author loves Burma, he goes to great length to describe the vices of the Burmese and the horror of the climate, but he loves it, and nothing can palliate for him, the presence of a handful of inefficient complacent public school types who make their living there... I liked it and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a spate of efficient indignation, graphic description, excellent narrative, excitement, and irony tempered with vitriol." Orwell received a letter from the anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer as follows, "Will you allow me to tell you how very much indeed I admire your novel Burmese Days: it seems to me an absolutely admirable statement of fact told as vividly and with as little bitterness as possible." It was as a result of these responses that Orwell renewed his friendship with Connolly, which was to give him useful literary connections, a positive evaluation in Enemies of Promise and an outlet on Horizon. He also became a close friend of Gorer. In 2013, the Burmese Ministry of Information named the new translation (by Maung Myint Kywe) of Burmese Days the winner of the 2012 Burma National Literature Award's "informative literature" (translation) category. The National Literary Awards are the highest literary awards in Burma.