James Brooke of Sarawak

Hahn, Emily. James Brooke of Sarawak: a Biography of Sir James Brooke. Arthur Baker, Ltd., 1953.

Reason read: I am reading this as a follow-up to by . had a whole section on James Brooke.

As a young age, James Brooke had a unique life. After he inherited a small fortune, he was interested in buying ships and starting new colonies. He imagined being able to save the souls of the Malays, but really he wanted an entire country to call his own. His confidence went out before him like a high school bully in na├»ve full swagger. From the beginning, Brooke was expecting Sultan Omar Ali to draw up papers – a deed of possession for Brooke to govern Sarawak, just like that. Once in charge Brooke was able to bring order to Sarawak. He established a council of state, an army, national flag, and a constitution. Twenty-four years after the fact he was finally recognized for his feats. He died four years after that. The end.
Hahn draws her biography of James Brooke from letters and journals that have survived time. A surprising tidbit of information was that Brooke was a mama’s boy. But after thinking about his spoiled attitude, I don’t know why I was so surprised by his letters home. Brooke never married, although there is the mystery of Ms. Angela Burdett-Coutts and the broken engagement…
I found it interesting that Hahn seemed to be, most of the time, sympathetic to Brooke. She writes with a conversational tone that is not dry or dull, but is more in defense of most of his actions and questionable character. She almost needs you to like Brooke as much as she apparently does. She uses words like “poor” and “unfortunate” to describe Brooke. She blames the reformers for having contradicting opinions about murder – almost calling them hypocrites for being against Brooke killing people of Borneo saying, “…we must try to understand how he could have acted as he did in various matters…” (p 223). Actually, if you must know, I questioned Hahn’s choice of words often. Consider this sentence, “the fate of the Middletons makes a horrible and somewhat embarrassing story” (p 213). Tell me. What is so embarrassing about absolute terror and the undeniable urge for self preservation? Mrs. Middleton remained hidden while her children were being murdered. I find the next scenario more of an “embarrassment” – a man was charged with guarding a plank but accidentally shot himself in the head. But I digress…

Quote I liked, “Strong men were proud of being able to weep like babies” (p 36). What kind of culture encouraged men to show emotion? That is practically unheard of in our society! Here’s another line I liked,

Author fact: Hahn also wrote China To Me, a Partial Autobiography. This was also on my Challenge list. I have already finished it.

Nancy said: Pearl said if you were interested in learning more about James Brooke, try reading his biography by Hahn. Pearl hints that Brooke is not a likeable character. Maybe she disapproves of him murdering Borneons.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very straightforward chapter called “Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).