Extract, The Autobiography of John Flory

I was born in Buckinghamshire in 1890. My father was an Indian civil servant, & met & married[1] my mother in 1882 in India, where she had gone to stay with an aunt for the cold weather. In ’83 my father was sent to Burma on some job or other, & there in ’84 my brother was born, & died, aged seven months. My eldest sister was born in ’85, & my second in ’88. In that year my mother went home, bringing her two daughters, aged two and a half, & four months. In ’89 my father came home on leave, & I was born early the next year. I saw my father twice in the next ten years, for about six months at a time. In 1903 he retired, & died very suddenly at the end of 1908.

Before 1900[2] I do not remember much except odd incident & patches of existence, some of which remain in my mind more clearly than what happened yesterday. After 1900 my recollections˚ become pretty continuous.

My father was rather like myself, only taller, thinner & with more colour in his face. He always had a rather harassed look, except when he was sitting in his library, where my mother seldom penetrated. The atmosphere of this room was quite unlike the˚ that of any other room in the house. There were perhaps a thousand books in it, many of them books about Hindu mythology, or about fishing, shooting or travelling in India. I cannot say that I ever read any of these books, but I remember oftening˚ turning over their pages & looking at strange pictures of people hanging upon hooks, or elephants composed of maidens in extraordinary postures, & wondering vaguely about them in my own mind. I never troubled to enquire their real significance, for the curiosity of children is not very intelligent.

My father used to sit reading these books, with his white shirt open at the neck smoking cigars from Dindigul. The chairs in the room were of wicker work, such as one finds in India, & there were two faded[3] tiger skins upon the floor. On the walls were old yellow photographs, & a few eastern weapons, among them one or two beautiful[4] dahs captured in the Burma war. I used to look at the handles & scabbards[5] of these dahs, bound with plaited fibres,[6] & speculate dully about the men who used them. The windows[7] were always open, & there was generally a fire in the grate, so that a current of air flowed through the room. And this wind, mingled with cigar smoke, seemed to me like a wind from another land, bearing with it the names of far off dusty places. When I came into the room, & stayed quiet for awhile, my father would talk to me sometimes, & tell me the simple stories of the rubbish that lay about here & there; empty cartridge cases, bad rupees, or dried up peacock feathers. My mother often threatened to “do out” this room, but refrained, probably from mere laziness.

My father & I might have been called friends. The reticence that lies between all blood relatives held us apart, & then I scarcely seen him till I was thirteen years old. Still, in the family


[1] inserted

[2] 1900 I find

[3] faded mouldy

[4] very beautiful

[5] sheaths

[6] strands of fibres

[7] windows of this room

Peter Davison, from the Complete Works

Written 1926-1930?, CW 73. This sketch exists in two forms: handwritten in ink on the verso of Government of Burma paper, stock date 1 February 1925; and typed (not by Orwell?) on thin foolscap typing paper (13 by 8 inches) with the watermark BRITISH EMBLEM, a rose, and MADE IN ENGLAND. This watermark was first recorded in 1928. The handwritten version is printed here; the notes refer to this manuscript. The changes made in typing are slight. Preliminary sketch for Burmese Days