Three of the most widely read English authors of the 20th century are William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), and George Orwell (1903-1950). All of them spent some time in the British Raj and conveyed their experiences by writing novels distancing themselves from imperialism.
William Somerset Maugham’s short stories "Rain", "Footprints in the Jungle", and "The Outstation" deal with the lives of colonists in Asia. Many of his celebrated stories in East and West contrast the shadowy existence of the natives with the vibrant lives of colonialists. His novel “The Razor’s Edge”, citing the Upanishads in its title, is full of admiration for Eastern spirituality, similar to Hermann Hesse’s works. “The Casuarina Tree” is a collection of six short stories set in Malaysia.
“A Passage to India” is E.M. Forster’s masterpiece and selected as as one of the 100 great works of English literature by the Modern Library.
George Orwell’s first novel “Burmese Days” is a harsh portrayal of the British colonial society. Orwell also wrote the essays “Shooting an Elephant” and “A Hanging”, drawing on his experiences in the police force in Burma.
Each of these three writers came into contact with Ceylon only sporadically or indirectly.
William Somerset Maugham was a passionate traveller to many Asian countries. So not surprisingly he also came to Ceylon. He arrived in Colombo in 1922 with his lover Gerald Haxton. From here they took their boat to Rangoon and spent a much longer time in Kengtung at the Tibetan border.
E.M. Forster visited India in 1914. In 1921 he worked as a private secretary for the Maharaja of Dewas. He did not visit Ceylon himself, but his political views and his works about colonial life are strongly influenced by his close friend Leonard Woolf, who worked in the Civil Service in Ceylon.
George Orwell was born in India but grew up in England. In 1921 he served for the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. On his journey to Burma he also came to Colombo.
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