is a historical novel published in 1998 by English author Beryl Bainbridge. Told in six chapters, the book concerns the British experience during the Crimean War, which was fought in the 1850s between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, joined by its Western Allies. Its protagonist is George Hardy, a surgeon and photographer who abandons his comfortable Victorian lifestyle to volunteer in the war effort.
Three different narrators tell the story: Myrtle, an orphan; Pompey Jones, a street performer; and Dr. Potter, a geologist. Myrtle begins, sharing that as a baby, she was discovered lying next to a dead woman in a run-down neighborhood of Liverpool, England. Myrtle is taken in by the affluent Hardy family, becoming George's adopted sister. Over time, Myrtle falls in love with the older George. Meanwhile, George largely ignores Myrtle, merely tolerating her affections. One day in 1846, when Myrtle is twelve and George is a young medical student, she follows him to Liverpool's Washington Hotel where he meets with his medical school colleague, William Rimmer. While waiting for George to emerge from the hotel, Myrtle sees a boy recover a stolen duck for a poor woman in the park.
Myrtle follows George to a brothel in a seedy part of town. Inside, George's father lies dead in a prostitute's bed. Just then, the so-called "duck boy" enters the room as well. Fearing the harm this would cause to the Hardy family's pristine reputation, George enlists both Myrtle and the duck boy's help in surreptitiously transporting the body back to their home. They deposit Mr. Hardy's body in his bed and wait for a maid to discover it. George snaps a photograph of Myrtle posing next to the body.
The next chapter is told from the perspective of the duck boy, whose name is Pompey Jones. It is 1850 and four years have passed since the death of George's father. To keep Pompey close and their secret hidden, George puts him to work as his photography assistant. Before long, they develop a homosexual relationship. Despite their affair, Pompey resents the fact that George does not treat him as an equal. Meanwhile, George, now a full-time surgeon, is married to the former Miss Annie Prescott with whom he is expecting a child. Myrtle, now sixteen, is away at finishing school.
One day, Pompey plays a practical joke by placing a tiger skin rug on a dining room chair. The sight of a tiger apparently sitting at the dining room table so shocks George's pregnant sister, Beatrice, that she suffers a miscarriage as a result. After hearing about this from Beatrice's husband, the intellectual Dr. Potter, George banishes Pompey from the Hardy's home.
Four years later in 1854, Dr. Potter takes over the narration. At the onset of the Crimean War, George wishes to apply his surgical talents to the war effort. Along with Dr. Potter, Myrtle, Beatrice, Annie, and her two children, George embarks on a ship headed to the Crimea. Conditions in Constantinople are worse than expected, and Beatrice, Annie, and the children return to England. While George and Myrtle become increasingly accustomed to the horrific conditions, Dr. Potter begins to lose his grip on reality.
The next chapter, also set in 1854, is narrated once again by Myrtle. The reader learns that Myrtle and George had carried on a sexual relationship in the past and that Myrtle is actually the mother of Annie's children. While George and Myrtle plan to rekindle their love affair, their hopes are dashed when Pompey Jones re-enters the narrative as a fire-eater with a traveling performance troupe. Dr. Potter warns Myrtle of Pompey's duplicitous nature.
Narrated by Dr. Potter, the fifth chapter takes place later in October of 1854. On the eve of the Battle of Inkerman, the group embarks on a ship to help treat the victims of the imminent clash. On the ship, George treats patients suffering from war wounds and cholera. He learns from one patient that his old friend William Rimmer has died in battle. Meanwhile, Dr. Potter continues to lose his grip on reality, seeing visions of his wife, Beatrice.
In the final chapter, narrated by Pompey, the characters are two miles outside Inkerman where a bloody battle rages. Pompey and Dr. Potter worry about escaping with their lives. In a hospital tent, George treats a mortally wounded twelve-year-old drummer boy. As an act of mercy, Pompey puts the boy out of his misery by holding a cloth of ether over his face. On the battlefield, Pompey kills the enemy readily, having become inured to death. He makes a sexual advance toward Myrtle, insisting that they are cut from the same cloth, owing to their humble beginnings. When a Russian soldier kills George, the three survivors all react differently: Myrtle with hysteria, Mr. Potter with incomprehensibility, and Pompey with indifference.
A New York Times Book Review
Notable Book, Master Georgie
is a psychologically complex examination of war and class in nineteenth-century Europe.