This is the first of three talks about characters from Herman Wouk’s 1985 novel War and Remembrance. War and Remembrance was also one of the last big network television mini-series (1988). It was produced and directed by Dan Curtis.
The first character is Duncan Burne-Wilke.
Duncan Burne-Wilke is a titled Englishman, who serves with high distinction in the theater of World War II known as “CBI”, or “China-Burma-India”. It was a lesser ‘theater’ and so Wouk describes it. But the character is important, for Burne-Wilke represents the disillusionment of thoughtful elite English people of good will, whom the war’s grim futility has convinced of the soon-to-be superannuated character of the British Empire. Duncan Burne-Wilke is an English thinker, almost philosopher, and also a lovely man. He becomes engaged to the beautiful and considerably younger female lead, only to die back in England from an infectious disease he caught in Burma. He is a minor character for Wouk but becomes the voice of a sort of Western-style Buddhism, or even fatalism, that is meant to preview the future.
I keep reflecting on the number of WASP people, that is, people from families regarded not so long ago as “WASP”, who have become practicing Buddhists. Just go to Cape Cod this Summer, or Woodstock, Vermont. You’ll be amazed at the vitality, and the numbers, of Buddhist practitioners. It’s a phenomenon well worth thinking about. Three generations back, ‘these’ people built and endowed our Episcopal parishes. Today, many of them have donned saffron.
Why is this? Where have Christians failed and Zen masters cleaned up? Lord, I want to know.
If you listen to my podcast concerning ‘Duncan Burne-Wilke’, you’ll get an answer. Short form of it?: Personal disillusionment, which is widespread in any case, coupled with a failed competition between the Christian Church and the Bhagavad gita.
Somebody’s got to attend to this.
This series of three podcasts is dedicated to Drake Richey.