Rudyard Kipling - Classic or Dud?

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I've been reading more of his work lately, mostly at the behest of my sister, and a lot of the stories are just amazing, and there's like no Kipling discussion on ILX at all. He does have a tendency to make me feel dumb for missing key details the first time I read certain stories, but that's probably more the result of how I tend to read. Must reread Kim soon.

For some reason, the story that hooked me was "The Knife and the Naked Chalk," from Rewards and Fairies, which has this otherworldly, ancient quality to it, yet focuses on the emotional cost of being a legendary figure. Unlike anything I'd ever read.

clotpoll, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 16:26 (fifteen years ago) link

Orwell wrote a fine essay defending Kipling's poetry from Kipling's own jingoism. I've never finished Kim, but I loved the Rikki-Tikki-Tavi stories in middle school.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 16:29 (fifteen years ago) link

Classic. For his short stories in the main I think; he has so many virtues, it's difficult to know where to begin. I'd certainly include the remarkable atmospheres described in his stories - the Fens in Dymchurch Flit, with the spirit world 'swarving' up from the miasmal lands; the dry, cholera-laden heat of The End of the Passge to name two favourites. He also conveys mentalities incredibly well, by which I mean the psychic states of, say, The Disturber of the Traffic (all taking place to the beat of a lighthouse beam), but also the mind of the footslogging soldier - they really carry the stories. He's even able to do this, in later stories, for machines (.007) or road travel (They).

At his best, his stories can have a sort of melancholy moral authority - I'm thinking specifically of something like Without Benefit of Clergy. This, admittedly, can become a slightly sing-song moral didacticism in his poetry, although, in certain moods, I like his verse very much as well. The verse isn't particularly open, as I've suggested, but something like The Gods of the Copybook Writers is terrifically well done and Danny Deever is very sympathetic and not a little harrowing.

But the thing that can be slightly annoying in his poetry - a sort of bravura and overconfidence - is also what is so good about his stories. They are the fantastic engines of stylistic magic, so much so that after reading his stories you wonder whether anyone has ever or could ever again go about the business of writing quite so brilliantly. This is an illusion of course, but it is an illusion brought about by his remarkable ability.

I also love the way he brackets stories with poems - it seems a little thing maybe, but I don't think it is; it opens up all sorts of angles upon what you read and the way you read it: it feels like a tiny universe has been created and the story with its attendant poems is its alpha and its omega.

He's not afraid of the unusual and he's not afraid of the simple either, and often he'll combine the two. Great stuff.

GamalielRatsey, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 17:10 (fifteen years ago) link

mark s to thread -- he's written lots of thoughtful stuff about RK

J.D., Wednesday, 1 October 2008 22:25 (fifteen years ago) link

I don't know, I've never kippled.

jaymc, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 22:37 (fifteen years ago) link

I like what clotpoll said about the otherworldly ancient quality of The Knife and the Chalk - he was just incredibly good at producing a feeling that the essence of the story is just out of reach and, although in a sense mundane, also as strange as strange can be: more poetic than his poetry in some ways.

The Wish House is a story that I must read again immediately, and Puck of Pook's Hill never lies all that far away from the reach of my reading arm.

GamalielRatsey, Sunday, 5 October 2008 17:17 (fifteen years ago) link

I have fond impressions of a distinct atmosphere in kipling stories, but i haven't read any since i was a kid. Definitely time to start again.

Maria, Sunday, 5 October 2008 20:56 (fifteen years ago) link

One of my leftie friends was talking about how good "Kim" is recently.

so many books.

The Real Dirty Vicar, Sunday, 5 October 2008 21:12 (fifteen years ago) link

seven months pass...

I'm going through a massive re-read of his works: its astonishing how good and complex and mysterious and joyous he could be.

As Borges once put it, he was really the perfect blend of Kafka and Henry James (he also considered him superior to both).

Marco Damiani, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 16:44 (fifteen years ago) link

Kipling was amazingly talented and complex. His worst parts are all on view and can't be hidden, but his better parts are what make him classic.

He was a chauvinist and embraced the British imperial mission, but he was consistently a liberal and idealist in his view of that mission. He saw the empire not as a business enterprise for strip-mining the commonwealth and paying reliable dividends on gilt-edged bonds, but as a force to bring modern education and organization into older civilizations. He didn't see his role as a apologist for oppression, even if that was the unavoidable effect.

He often spoils his work with heavy handed attempts to reproduce regional and class accents, but he viewed this only as a form of realism, one which most writers of the day employed. At that time, his ability to correctly mimic accents in writing was much admired by critics and his peers. Tastes have moved on, but Kipling cannot move with them. You just have to take him as he is.

His strengths are many. He was a man of very broad sympathies and experience. He was a superb storyteller, especially in short forms. His ear for poetry in speech patterns is excellent. He saw detail. He was an experimenter with narrative and anticipated several of the devices that would emerge in modernism. He was curious and intellectually active for a long time, but ran out of ideas around 1915 - just the least opportune moment for keeping his reputation alive.

He isn't nearly as reprehensible as he's made out to be. It was necessary to trash can many of the ideas he championed, and rightly so. But it's getting on time to rehabilitate him for his other multiple virtues.

Aimless, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 17:46 (fifteen years ago) link

I always found "Harp Song of the Dane Women" lyrical and beautiful.

Lostandfound, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 03:34 (fifteen years ago) link

Loved the Just So Stories as a kid, and Kim as an adolescent. Must re-read, and read more.

ian, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 03:38 (fifteen years ago) link

I think his regional accents come off ok a lot of the time, especially where he aims for rhythms rather than the slightly cumbersome Mulraney, Ortheris and Learoyd Oirish and Cockerney. Although I was delighted to see Ortheris using 'arx' in Krishna Mulvaney I think it is.

I'm thinking more of the Dymchurch Flit (one of my favourites), whose local cadences help weave the hypnotic spell. There's another as well, which I had in mind when I started writing this, but have forgotten now - mind like a sieve - The Gift House? I can't remember, but need to check.

Agree totally with what Aimless says about his ear for patterns of speech, and indeed mental states - the Disturber of the Traffic springs to mind.

But I'm repeating myself from above - I just wanted to big up Puck of Pook's Hill (although the title still makes me slightly queasy, jangling away like it's some bit of footling facetiousness), which I re-read the other day. Also, love, love, love the way he'll frame his stories with poetry. Wonderful.

The Fairy Josser (GamalielRatsey), Wednesday, 20 May 2009 08:30 (fifteen years ago) link

Being Italian, I can only get a small part of his literary skills, but the sheer power of his storytelling is unbelievable.
I particularly love his short stories. "They" is possibly as labyrinthine and impenetrable as "Turn of the screw", but it has also a truly heartbreaking quality, just like "The gardener" - a simply astonishing condensation of unbearable pain and relief and understanding in just a few pages.
"Baa, baa black sheep" destroyed me when I was a kid.

Marco Damiani, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 16:38 (fifteen years ago) link

I still haven't read Baa, Baa Black Sheep. By the sounds of it I should. Going back to what Aimless said, I was just reading a short piece by Kingsley Amis about why he thinks popular verse (in the sense that he included in his Reciter - poems people would recite in the drawing room - Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth, Charge of the Light Brigade, Kipling himself) went out of fashion -

It wasn't just that the Great War made it difficult to go on being patriotic and devout in the old way; to write a poem like 'Horatius' you need confidence in your civilisation and its values, and the battle of the Somme put paid to that.

The same goes in spades for Kipling I think. It wasn't just that he lost confidence in general, but the death of his son in 1915 (was this your marker, Aimless?) seemed to cause him... [goddam it, I just got up to check a few dates - 'They' was written a lot earlier than I thought - and I've completely lost the thread of what I was saying, cos I spent so bloody long looking for the book, yet another spur to finally organising my shelves properly. It was leading in some way towards the idea that...] as a result his works display a curious sort of modernism - almost futurism at times. [but the lack of obvious connective tissue makes it seem likely I was talking baloney, as usual].

God, what a farce of a post.

The Fairy Josser (GamalielRatsey), Wednesday, 20 May 2009 20:51 (fifteen years ago) link

I think "They" is more a reflection of his grief over the loss of his daughter (which was around the turn of the century as I recall). The same may go for "Marklake Witches," which was so goddamned painful once I worked out what was going on.

Any thoughts on "Mrs. Bathurst"? It's quite hypnotic, but he kind of breaks the spell by writing a completely incomprehensible ending.

clotpoll, Thursday, 21 May 2009 01:02 (fifteen years ago) link

Ah yes, thanks clotpoll, I was confusing myself there rather. I'm afraid to say despite continually approaching it, I still haven't read Mrs Bathurst, but will rectify this immediately, given a quiet room at work.

The Fairy Josser (GamalielRatsey), Thursday, 21 May 2009 05:58 (fifteen years ago) link

"Any thoughts on "Mrs. Bathurst"? It's quite hypnotic, but he kind of breaks the spell by writing a completely incomprehensible ending"

Another of my favourite stories - and yes, the ending is totally mysterious, but in such a deliberate, conscious way to immensely add to the already hazy, dreamlike atmosphere permeating the story.
Another great piece of work obviously influenced by the WW1 shock is "Mary Postgate": cruel, desperate, but always very much in touch with human condition, and this is why (at least for me) he is not really a modernist. At the core of its craft, despite the pessimism, there's still a strong, old fashioned belief in humanity. Post-war Kipling was just exploring new ways to tell his (old as mankind) tales.

Marco Damiani, Thursday, 21 May 2009 07:35 (fifteen years ago) link

Yep, spot on there Marco. I certainly wouldn't classify any of his work as modernist, but as I say, some of his concerns approached theirs. No quiet time today sadly, but I'll read Mrs Bathurst tonight I think.

The Fairy Josser (GamalielRatsey), Thursday, 21 May 2009 09:49 (fifteen years ago) link

six years pass...

lol ok glad we cleared that up

JoeStork, Thursday, 14 April 2016 23:33 (eight years ago) link

four years pass...

I've been meaning to revive this thread but haven't been quite sure where to start as I have too much to say.

I've been immersed in Kipling, for good or ill, ever since I was eleven, found a copy of Rewards and Fairies lying around, and opened it to "The Knife and the Naked Chalk." Kim remains one of the happiest reading experiences of my life; the joyful, loving portrait of India, the celebration of all its cultures and religions, the implicit and explicit condemnation of racism, bigotry and evangelical Christianity, all made a big impression on me when I was a teenager, and the absolute mindfuck of trying to balance that against stuff like "The White Man's Burden," which I didn't find out about until later, is something I've found frustrating, upsetting, and also intensely fascinating for a couple of decades now.

In many ways, he seems like two people: the compassionate fiction-writer who treated everyone as an individual and had great sympathy for the marginalized, and the conservative pundit who treated his poetry as his Twitter account. (It's not an exact division; some of his poems are excellent; some of his stories are annoying conservative allegory, but the general rule of thumb is that the longer he took on something, the more the good and compassionate side of him came to the fore.)

But that's also not all there is to Kipling, and though I understand why anyone wanting to talk about Kipling has to hack their way through the hedge of thorns that is his political beliefs, it's always seemed a bit off to me that we don't do that for other Victorian writers, most of whom ignored countries other than England 99% of the time and then drew on hideously racist stereotypes whenever they had to introduce a character who wasn't a white Christian. Sometimes I just want to talk about his amazing use of language, or his late short stories which are dark and grim and magnificent, or his obsessions with trauma and healing and revenge.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 11 February 2021 21:50 (three years ago) link

So I guess what I'm saying is I have no idea how to start a discussion. Is there anyone here who wants to talk about Kipling?

Lily Dale, Thursday, 11 February 2021 21:52 (three years ago) link

In many ways, he seems like two people: the compassionate fiction-writer who treated everyone as an individual and had great sympathy for the marginalized, and the conservative pundit who treated his poetry as his Twitter account. (It's not an exact division; some of his poems are excellent; some of his stories are annoying conservative allegory, but the general rule of thumb is that the longer he took on something, the more the good and compassionate side of him came to the fore.)

Well put. Reading Kim last May, the mixture of paternalism and compassion didn't gall like I expected.

I grew up reading "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and reciting some of those verses.

meticulously crafted, socially responsible, morally upsta (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 11 February 2021 21:59 (three years ago) link

this just makes me want to read some kipling tbh. i'll try to look out for a late short story.

lord of the ting tings (map), Thursday, 11 February 2021 22:05 (three years ago) link

wd happily talk kipling. his stories are frequently very good, some are i think peerless, with a striking combination of imagination, technology, and people: travellers, people who go from one place to others, carrying lives, memories and spiritual experiences with them.

where would you put something like danny deever? it’s pretty harrowing. it’s also doggerel (not necessarily meant dismissively).

Lord of the RONGS (Fizzles), Thursday, 11 February 2021 22:08 (three years ago) link

nothing wrong with his early short stories either!

Lord of the RONGS (Fizzles), Thursday, 11 February 2021 22:08 (three years ago) link

Love "Danny Deever," it would go in my very short anthology of Actually Pretty Good Kipling Poems, along with "A St. Helena Lullaby" and quite a few of the Epitaphs of the War.

If you'd like a late short story, map, I recommend "The Gardener," "The Wish House," or really almost anything in the collection Debits and Credits. Also "Dayspring Mishandled," from his last collection, is very dark and strange and has a more nuanced take on revenge than a lot of his earlier stuff.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 11 February 2021 22:14 (three years ago) link

Edward Arlington Robinson could've written it.

meticulously crafted, socially responsible, morally upsta (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 11 February 2021 22:17 (three years ago) link

I'm fascinated by Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies, as well; such a strange genre, and yet it works so well: the self-contained but interlinked short stories, each with its framing narrative, each introduced and set off by verses that don't have an explicit connection to the story but somehow set the tone. And then the sudden jump in depth, complexity and darkness from "Puck of Pook's Hill" to its sequel, "Rewards and Fairies," and the way he threads all the stories of RaF together not with repeated characters or settings but with the line "what else could I have done?" - it's a bit forced in some places but a brilliant idea imo.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 11 February 2021 22:30 (three years ago) link

Kim is really really good. If I’d only read his poetry, I wouldn’t have cared about his writing at all, and his personal politics were very... complex? However, I’ve read The Jungle Book approximately a million times and the breadth and ease with which he writes about the various people of India in Kim is really great. The train to Benares is full of this detail.

He began in Urdu the tale of the Lord Buddha, but, borne by his own thoughts, slid into Tibetan and long-droned texts from a Chinese book of the Buddha’s life. The gentle, tolerant folk looked on reverently. All India is full of holy men stammering gospels in strange tongues; shaken and consumed in the fires of their own zeal; dreamers, babblers, and visionaries: as it has been from the beginning and will continue to the end.

“Um!” said the soldier of the Ludhiana Sikhs. “There was a Mohammedan regiment lay next to us at the Pirzai Kotal, and a priest of theirs—he was, as I remember, a naik—when the fit was on him, spake prophecies. But the mad all are in God’s keeping. His officers overlooked much in that man.”

The lama fell back on Urdu, remembering that he was in a strange land. “Hear the tale of the Arrow which our Lord loosed from the bow,” he said.
This was much more to their taste, and they listened curiously while he told it. “Now, O people of Hind, I go to seek that River. Know ye aught that may guide me, for we be all men and women in evil case.”

scampless, rattled and puce (gyac), Thursday, 11 February 2021 22:47 (three years ago) link

Along similar lines, here's a passage from "The Miracle of Purun Bhagat," which starts with a successful Indian politician giving up his position to become a wandering holy man:

He had been, as the Old Law recommends, twenty years a youth, twenty years a fighter,—though he had never carried a weapon in his life,—and twenty years head of a household. He had used his wealth and his power for what he knew both to be worth; he had taken honour when it came his way; he had seen men and cities far and near, and men and cities had stood up and honoured him. Now he would let those things go, as a man drops the cloak he no longer needs.

Behind him, as he walked through the city gates, an antelope skin and brass-handled crutch under his arm, and a begging-bowl of polished brown coco-de-mer in his hand, barefoot, alone, with eyes cast on the ground—behind him they were firing salutes from the bastions in honour of his happy successor. Purun Dass nodded. All that life was ended; and he bore it no more ill-will or good-will than a man bears to a colourless dream of the night. He was a Sunnyasi—a houseless, wandering mendicant, depending on his neighbours for his daily bread; and so long as there is a morsel to divide in India, neither priest nor beggar starves. He had never in his life tasted meat, and very seldom eaten even fish. A five-pound note would have covered his personal expenses for food through any one of the many years in which he had been absolute master of millions of money. Even when he was being lionised in London he had held before him his dream of peace and quiet—the long, white, dusty Indian road, printed all over with bare feet, the incessant, slow-moving traffic, and the sharp-smelling wood smoke curling up under the fig-trees in the twilight, where the wayfarers sit at their evening meal.

And here is another passage I love, from the very end of the story, describing a landslide:

There was a sigh in the air that grew to a mutter, and a mutter that grew to a roar, and a roar that passed all sense of hearing, and the hillside on which the villagers stood was hit in the darkness, and rocked to the blow. Then a note as steady, deep, and true as the deep C of the organ drowned everything for perhaps five minutes, while the very roots of the pines quivered to it. It died away, and the sound of the rain falling on miles of hard ground and grass changed to the muffled drum of water on soft earth. That told its own tale.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 11 February 2021 23:14 (three years ago) link

More Kipling! This passage from the end of Kim astonishes me every time. Has anyone else ever described dissociation so beautifully?

He tried to think of the lama—to wonder why he had tumbled into a brook—but the bigness of the world, seen between the forecourt gates, swept linked thought aside. Then he looked upon the trees and the broad fields, with the thatched huts hidden among crops—looked with strange eyes unable to take up the size and proportion and use of things—stared for a still half-hour. All that while he felt, though he could not put it into words, that his soul was out of gear with its surroundings—a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery, just like the idle cog-wheel of a cheap Beheea sugar-crusher laid by in a corner. The breezes fanned over him, the parrots shrieked at him, the noises of the populated house behind—squabbles, orders, and reproofs—hit on dead ears.

“I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?” His soul repeated it again and again.

He did not want to cry—had never felt less like crying in his life—but of a sudden easy, stupid tears trickled down his nose, and with an almost audible click he felt the wheels of his being lock up anew on the world without. Things that rode meaningless on the eyeball an instant before slid into proper proportion. Roads were meant to be walked upon, houses to be lived in, cattle to be driven, fields to be tilled, and men and women to be talked to. They were all real and true—solidly planted upon the feet—perfectly comprehensible—clay of his clay, neither more nor less.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 11 February 2021 23:52 (three years ago) link

A couple more passages, and then I'll stop, I promise.

Here's one from "Without Benefit of Clergy," in which an interracial couple in a secret marriage have lost their only child and have to grieve in secret. Victorian sentimentality, sure, but beautifully done imo.

The first shock of a bullet is no more than a brisk pinch. The wrecked body does not send in its protest to the soul till ten or fifteen seconds later. Holden realised his pain slowly, exactly as he had realised his happiness, and with the same imperious necessity for hiding all trace of it. In the beginning he only felt that there had been a loss, and that Ameera needed comforting, where she sat with her head on her knees shivering as Mian Mittu from the house-top called, Tota! Tota! Tota! Later all his world and the daily life of it rose up to hurt him. It was an outrage that any one of the children at the band-stand in the evening should be alive and clamorous, when his own child lay dead. It was more than mere pain when one of them touched him, and stories told by over-fond fathers of their children's latest performances cut him to the quick. He could not declare his pain. He had neither help, comfort, nor sympathy; and Ameera at the end of each weary day would lead him through the hell of self-questioning reproach which is reserved for those who have lost a child, and believe ​that with a little—just a little more care—it might have been saved.

That was when Kipling was 25 or so. Here he is writing about something similar in "The Gardener," decades later, when his writing has gotten much leaner and more spare:

Once, on one of Michael’s leaves, he had taken her over a munitions factory, where she saw the progress of a shell from blank-iron to the all but finished article. It struck her at the time that the wretched thing was never left alone for a single second; and ‘I’m being manufactured into a bereaved next of kin,’ she told herself, as she prepared her documents.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 11 February 2021 23:56 (three years ago) link

my new favorite thread

As noted in the "second thought" thread, the Just So Stories have inscribed on my brain from birth. I hear them in first my grandmother's voice, and then with my mother's superimposed on top. The very particular rhythms of "O Best Beloved" and "nay nay, not so, but far otherwise" will never leave me.

Oddly I'm not even all that interested in other Kipling, or Kipling as a whole. And of course can't defend the racist/imperialist shit.

But when I draw my last breath I will likely remember the cadence of the name "Tegumai Bopsulai." I will be able to quote that bit about the Parsee-man's hat, "from which the rays of the sun were reflected in more-than-oriental splendour." Or "he had his mummy's leave to paddle else he would not have done so."

When all else has faded I will retain that toothy language. I don't know if that's good or bad but it is a truth.

4 QAnon Blondes (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 12 February 2021 00:18 (three years ago) link

oddly enough i started reading “the man who would be king” for the first time ever a couple hours ago! (slow work day.) will report back.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Friday, 12 February 2021 00:41 (three years ago) link

I hear them in first my grandmother's voice, and then with my mother's superimposed on top.

same, except instead of my grandmother it’s my mom and instead of my mom it’s jack nicholson

difficult listening hour, Friday, 12 February 2021 00:46 (three years ago) link

and the great, gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees

Lily Dale, Friday, 12 February 2021 00:50 (three years ago) link

Yes! Graciously waving her tail.

4 QAnon Blondes (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 12 February 2021 00:53 (three years ago) link

Kipling's short stories are marvelous: taut and without condescending to children.

Nabokov called Conrad "adventure books for boys." As an insult. And I'm like fuck you, Vlad, if it were so easy you could do it too. But you didn't, because you can't.

4 QAnon Blondes (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 12 February 2021 00:59 (three years ago) link

xp The ones in Puck of Pook's Hill and especially in Rewards and Fairies are so brilliantly layered, too, so that they can be read by kids and gradually reveal more as the child grows up.

Lily Dale, Friday, 12 February 2021 01:01 (three years ago) link

A few short story recommendations for anyone who's interested, off the top of my head (not including any from Puck of Pook's Hill, Rewards and Fairies, the Jungle Books or Stalky &Co. which are closer to novels than short story collections.) There are a lot of other good ones, but this is what pops into my head at the moment.

"Lispeth" - one of his best early stories imo
"The Courting of Dinah Shadd" - good if you can get past the Irish accents
"Without Benefit of Clergy"
"The Bridge-Builders"
"Mrs. Bathurst" - written in 1904, very Modernist, very very confusing.
"The House Surgeon"
"Friendly Brook"
"Regulus" - this is one of the Stalky stories, but a late addition
"The Wish House" - one of Kipling's great stories about women
"Mary Postgate" - Kipling's most fucked-up, disturbing story. Pretty good!
"The Janeites"
"A Madonna of the Trenches"
"On the Gate" - Too cheesy to really be a good story, but rather sweet in a Powell and Pressburger kind of way.
"The Eye of Allah"
"The Gardener" - Kipling's best story imo. One of several stories he wrote about ppl who are closeted in some way.
"Dayspring Mishandled" - I love this one.
"Uncovenanted Mercies"

Lily Dale, Friday, 12 February 2021 01:02 (three years ago) link

Nabokov I don't really get beyond the novels. I don't regard him as a model for prose styling or whatever. An argument beyond another thread.

xp to myself: I forgot to put "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" on the list. Very painful autobiographical story about his childhood; his parents sent him away from their home in India to live with strangers in England for six years, and the household they chose turned out to be intensely religious and abusive.

Lily Dale, Friday, 12 February 2021 01:08 (three years ago) link

Lord Alfred, I think there's a VVN thread somewhere. Only brought him and Conrad up in support of your point: that it's hard to write good prose for children in a way that isn't condescending and that rewards repeated reading into adulthood.

4 QAnon Blondes (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 12 February 2021 01:28 (three years ago) link

I do sort of think of Nabokov's prose in connection with Kipling's, actually - they both strike me as people who are extraordinarily and naturally good with language on a sentence level, but I've read a lot less Nabokov than I have Kipling.

Lily Dale, Friday, 12 February 2021 03:43 (three years ago) link

minor thoughts at freaky trigger, written up in passing during my 2011 soup-to-nuts reread of RK's short stories (including kim but not the poems obv and also i didn't bother with the light that failed based on my gran telling me it was rubbish when i was a teenager lol)

mark s, Friday, 12 February 2021 10:58 (three years ago) link

Grew up having read te Just So stories asa child, not much else. Did see teh Disney cartoon of Jungle Book.
Then saw The Man Who Would be King and some other stuff. 40s films with Errol Flynn etc

Did get an omnibus collection of his work a couple of years ago and read the first couple of chapters of the JUngle Book but not much else.
THink i want to correct that but am aware of his epistemology not being exactly current. But he's not the only one taht's true of interesting to see H.P.Lovecraft get new takes on and Jack london seems to have been allowed to gather respect despite being an avowed white supremacist probably a number of others too. Do wonder if people of avowed prejudice should be able to retain prestige or is the context one writes in including one's prejudices just external trappings to what makes the work worthwhile or is it part and parcel so everything needs to be thrown out together. I think I'm still reading Celine if not currently and think Knut Hamsun had some dodgy foibles too didn't he?

Stevolende, Friday, 12 February 2021 11:09 (three years ago) link

Awesome post, Fizzles!

"The Eye of Allah" - and also this is one of Kipling's stories of repressed or closeted grief, where the loss cannot be spoken about even thought about in words, either because it's tied to an illicit relationship or just because it's too painful, and so it just becomes a kind of elision, an empty place at the heart of the story.

The same with "They," of course, and I agree about the sense of weightlessness and the way it's tied to the presence of the car in the story; the whole premise is that he's compulsively driving to this house again and again, and yet the compulsion seems pleasant and harmless, dreamlike; there's a sense that he's not quite a whole person, he doesn't have a home or responsibilities, he's just a kind of disembodied observer floating free of everything, letting the car take him where it wants to. And it's not until the end - so expert is Kipling's misdirection - that you realize where this disembodied quality comes from; that this is a whole person after all, but a person walled off from himself by a loss too big and too central to his identity for him to think about directly.

Kipling's narrators are so fascinating, the way they both are and aren't him. The narrator in "They" is about as close to actual Kipling as you get, I think, but in his middle period there's also this kind of alt-version of him who seems to be some kind of journalist, not famous, not married or with kids, with just a house and a car and some dogs and a lot of freedom to roam around and talk to people.

"At the End of the Passage" - yes! The nightmarish atmosphere is so good. That image of the blind face that cries and can't wipe its eyes is one that Kipling seems to have drawn from his own nightmares and returned to several times; it comes into the poem "Nuit Blanche" and I think you can see it in the portrait of the dying undersea dinosaur in "A Matter of Fact," which I'll go ahead and quote because I think it's really cool:

From that wideringed trouble a Thing came up—a gray and red Thing with a neck—a Thing that bellowed and writhed in pain. Frithiof drew in his breath and held it till the red letters of the ship’s name, woven across his jersey, straggled and opened out as though they had been type badly set. Then he said with a little cluck in his throat, ‘Ah me! It is blind. Hur illa! That thing is blind,’ and a murmur of pity went through us all, for we could see that the thing on the water was blind and in pain. Something had gashed and cut the great sides cruelly and the blood was spurting out. The gray ooze of the undermost sea lay in the monstrous wrinkles of the back, and poured away in sluices. The blind white head flung back and battered the wounds, and the body in its torment rose clear of the red and gray waves till we saw a pair of quivering shoulders streaked with weed and rough with shells, but as white in the clear spaces as the hairless, maneless, blind, toothless head. Afterwards, came a dot on the horizon and the sound of a shrill scream, and it was as though a shuttle shot all across the sea in one breath, and a second head and neck tore through the levels, driving a whispering wall of water to right and left. The two Things met—the one untouched and the other in its death-throe—male and female, we said, the female coming to the male. She circled round him bellowing, and laid her neck across the curve of his great turtle-back, and he disappeared under water for an instant, but flung up again, grunting in agony while the blood ran. Once the entire head and neck shot clear of the water and stiffened, and I heard Keller saying, as though he was watching a street accident, ‘Give him air. For God’s sake, give him air.’ Then the death-struggle began, with crampings and twistings and jerkings of the white bulk to and fro, till our little steamer rolled again, and each gray wave coated her plates with the gray slime. The sun was clear, there was no wind, and we watched, the whole crew, stokers and all, in wonder and pity, but chiefly pity. The Thing was so helpless, and, save for his mate, so alone. No human eye should have beheld him; it was monstrous and indecent to exhibit him there in trade waters between atlas degrees of latitude. He had been spewed up, mangled and dying, from his rest on the sea-floor, where he might have lived till the Judgment Day, and we saw the tides of his life go from him as an angry tide goes out across rocks in the teeth of a landward gale.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 13 February 2021 19:15 (three years ago) link

"cannot be spoken about or even thought about," I meant to say.

A couple more passages that stick in my mind:

From "The Children of the Zodiac"

At last he came to that very dark House where Cancer the Crab lies so still that you might think he was asleep if you did not see the ceaseless play and winnowing motion of the feathery branches round his mouth. That movement never ceases. It is like the eating of a smothered fire into rotten timber in that it is noiseless and without haste.

From "The House Surgeon"

Now as soon as the lovely day was broken, I fell into the most terrible of all dreams—that joyous one in which all past evil has not only been wiped out of our lives, but has never been committed; and in the very bliss of our assured innocence, before our loves shriek and change countenance, we wake to the day we have earned.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 13 February 2021 19:27 (three years ago) link

I realize I'm quoting a lot of the more ornate passages because they're very quotable, but they're not all like that - the writing gets a lot more spare over time.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 13 February 2021 19:29 (three years ago) link

Was talking to my housemate the other day about Kipling's obsession with revenge and the difference between him and someone like Tarantino, that while there's definitely a part of Kipling that enjoys revenge fantasies for their own sake, there's also an empathetic side to it; it's part of a larger obsession with trauma, PTSD, and the way people cope with losses or injuries that they have no healthy way to process. Kipling deals in characters whose normal coping mechanisms, capacity for forgiveness or at least forgetting, etc., are fundamentally broken, whose only way out of a feedback loop of grief and anger is through these perfectly tailored revenges. And there's a sense of satisfaction w/the perfection of the revenge mechanism but also a quality of horror, both at the vastness of the anger that's driving it and at the constant threat that it will get away from its creator.

I particularly love the late story "Dayspring Mishandled," the story of a years-long revenge-plot that never comes off; it sort of stirs together a lot of ideas about art-as-revenge, revenge-as-art, the way we narrate our own stories and the roles we cast ourselves in; it's also got a storyline embedded in it that recalls the Dorothea/Casaubon marriage in Middlemarch, but in which Dorothea has never escaped the marriage and has been permanently warped by it; and there's a Rebecca-like technique of never naming the women whose experiences are on some level driving the story (the woman who is supposedly being avenged is referred to only as "the mother of Vidal Benazaquen," Vidal being a character in an entirely different story), and the story is filtered through multiple male narrators, one of whom is unreliable, so there's a lot about gender and the way men cast women in the stories they tell. It's a very off-center, off-kilter story; I can't possibly do its weirdness justice here, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a sense of what very late Kipling is like.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 14 February 2021 18:47 (three years ago) link

typo - Vidal Benzaquen

Lily Dale, Sunday, 14 February 2021 18:48 (three years ago) link

I find this passage from "Without Benefit of Clergy" totally stunning - a sad, steadily-paced story focusing almost entirely on the lives and interactions of a few characters, and then:

Two months later, as the Deputy had foretold, Nature began to audit her accounts with a red pencil. On the heels of the spring-reapings came a cry for bread, and the Government, which had decreed that no man should die of want, sent wheat. Then came the cholera from all four quarters of the compass. It struck a pilgrim-gathering of half a million at a sacred shrine. Many died at the feet of their god; the others broke and ran over the face of the land carrying the pestilence with them. It smote a walled city and killed two hundred a day. The people crowded the trains, hanging on to the footboards and squatting on the roofs of the carriages, and the cholera followed them, for at each station they dragged out the dead and the dying. They died by the roadside, and the horses of the Englishmen shied at the corpses in the grass. The rains did not come, and the earth turned to iron lest man should escape death by hiding in her.

JoeStork, Monday, 15 February 2021 06:35 (three years ago) link

three weeks pass...

Thinking about "The Village That Voted the Earth Was Flat," about a successful viral campaign to humiliate an entire village, and "Dayspring Mishandled," about a literary hoax (also successful in a way, though the creator of the hoax never pulls the trigger on the public-humiliation part of it). There's a line in "Dayspring Mishandled" that you hear from two of the characters: "If you save people the trouble of thinking, you can do anything with them." And it strikes me that one of the really interesting/disturbing things about Kipling is that he has this deep interest not just in revenge but also in how to manipulate people; he's interested in the mental weak points that can make people vulnerable to something like, say, QAnon, but he also has some sympathy with (or at least understanding of) the mindset that would deliberately set something like QAnon in motion.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 14 March 2021 18:56 (three years ago) link

And he's a writer with a really deep capacity for empathy, which I think you can see in a lot of the passages that have been quoted in this thread, but there's also this sort of clinical, journalistic detachment that comes out when he describes people doing violent or cruel things. You're often in the POV of an observer, and that observer may feel a sense of horror or shock at what they're seeing/hearing/being told about, but there's rarely a sense of condemnation that goes along with it; it's an amoral, nonjudgmental horror, if that makes sense. (Where there is always instant and complete condemnation, otoh, is at the idea of anything cruel, thoughtless or neglectful being done to children.)

Lily Dale, Sunday, 14 March 2021 19:23 (three years ago) link

two weeks pass...

If you are looking for a really good short story to read over Easter weekend, let me recommend "The Gardener."

Lily Dale, Saturday, 3 April 2021 21:29 (three years ago) link

Been thinking about "Thrown Away", partly because it's so vividly drawn and partly because the nihilism at the heart of the story has started to gnaw at me. The important thing is that everyone just carry on, his parents needn't know the truth, let's just hide the body as quickly as possible. This is also connected in my mind to the setting, we're out at the edge of civilization (so they believe), what happens here is in some sense not real.

lukas, Saturday, 3 April 2021 21:40 (three years ago) link

Great thread. Turns out I didn't know shit about Kipling. I've just found a good copy of Debits and Credits, where should I go next (essays, short stories, memoirs)?

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 3 April 2021 21:56 (three years ago) link

Have you read Debits and Credits yet, or would you like a guide to which stories in it are worth reading? The first few stories are not essential reading imo; you could probably start at "The Wish House" and just keep going from there.

After Debits and Credits - hmm. There are a lot of good individual stories mentioned in this thread, but if you want another collection to read, I would suggest Rewards and Fairies. It's the sequel to Puck of Pook's Hill, which is also worth reading, but Puck is more or less for kids, while Rewards and Fairies is much darker and more adult.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 4 April 2021 18:54 (three years ago) link

My copy of Debits and Credits came today - will give "The Wish House" a go. I'll get Rewards and Fairies at some point - thanks for the heads up.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 10 April 2021 09:37 (three years ago) link

a weird thing my (very literary) gran told me that i have never forgotten -- but also never uncovered confirmation of -- is that "rewards and fairies" shd actually be pronounced "rue-erds and fairies"

i was a shy and biddable teenager at the time and too baffled to ask how or why and now of course it's 25 yrs too late to ask

mark s, Saturday, 10 April 2021 10:51 (three years ago) link

I've never heard that, but I don't think so? Because it comes from a poem that's quoted in the text, "Farewell rewards and fairies," and it wouldn't scan properly with the accent on the first syllable.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 10 April 2021 14:27 (three years ago) link

Looking through the stories in Debits and Credits, I don't think there's any great need to read "The Prophet and the Country" either, if you're trying to avoid the duds. Everything else from "The Wish House" through to the end should be worth reading iirc.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 10 April 2021 14:55 (three years ago) link

one year passes...

Happy Easter! This is your yearly reminder that "The Gardener" by Rudyard Kipling is a very good story.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 17 April 2022 18:11 (two years ago) link

two years pass...

I read 'The Man Who Would Be King and other stories' recently - a collection of some of his early stories. My first real engagement with Kipling and I'm honestly not sure what to make of it - undeniably he's a very talented writer, inventive and skilled with description and character and story. But I found it hard to enjoy virtually any of the stories. They're almost all about people suffering because they are trapped in some way, and it seems to me they're ultimately trapped by the unnatural hierarchies imposed on them - hierarchies of race, of class, of caste, of gender, of rank. Crucially the characters are unaware of this essential cause their predicament, or the unnatural - inhumane - nature of it. What I don't know, what I would like to know and I feel would fundamentally affect my appreciation of the stories, is how aware was Kipling? How much, if at all, did he intend to point out these iniquities?

ledge, Tuesday, 21 May 2024 10:26 (one month ago) link

I think he's very aware.

I looked at the list of stories and those are all very early indeed. Once his style matures a bit, you get that same focus on people trapped by society, but with less affectation of journalistic detachment and more obvious compassion. Or rather, the journalistic quality is always there, but he stops trying to affect a world-weary cynicism to go along with it.

I used to keep a running journal of vaguely academic stuff, a lot of which was about Kipling, and I just combed through it and pulled this out. "The Gardener" is from a 1926 short story collection, though I'm not sure just when it was actually written.

the fact that Kipling was interested in the human cost of such societies does not necessarily mean that he disapproved of them. It is easy for us, looking at “The Gardener” from a 21st-century standpoint, to make the leap from “enforced secrecy is torture” to “enforced secrecy is wrong.” But if the price Helen is paying for her place in the world is too high, she is not alone. Running through all of Kipling’s late fiction is the conviction that the world puts us through more than we can take, asks of us more than we can give.

In his heart of hearts, Kipling believes that the world exists to torture you. And he’s not here to prevent you from being tortured, or to convince you to defend yourself. He’s here to bear witness to your suffering and enter it in the ledger, so that at the final reckoning it counts in your favor.

Lily Dale, Tuesday, 21 May 2024 14:05 (one month ago) link

I hadn't really thought about it in connection with the early stories, though. It's so interesting that you immediately saw it as a central connecting thread. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts about the early work.

Lily Dale, Tuesday, 21 May 2024 14:28 (one month ago) link

“In his heart of hearts, Kipling believes that the world exists to torture you. And he’s not here to prevent you from being tortured, or to convince you to defend yourself. He’s here to bear witness to your suffering and enter it in the ledger, so that at the final reckoning it counts in your favor.”

as one who has always been only kipling curious- there just seems so much baggage there i don’t wish to sort- yours is an incredibly persuasive description in favor if gittin’ into it.

but i too often believe what you say he believes, and that bums me out a lot, so maybe i should not.

well below the otm mendoza line (Hunt3r), Tuesday, 21 May 2024 14:45 (one month ago) link

and also believing there’s no ledger, that gets me too :-/ ha

well below the otm mendoza line (Hunt3r), Tuesday, 21 May 2024 14:47 (one month ago) link

Double take at my gov name!

I'm not sure that viewpoint of his, if accurate, would endear me to his stories at all! The introduction of my volume more or less supports it though, and the ending to Baa Baa Black Sheep (for me the most horribly affecting of these stories).

It's certainly not true that all these stories directly condemn colonialism & patriarchy. Some people in them suffer for passions which would be problematic in any society, e.g. in A Wayside Comedy, and some people suffer for seemingly no reason. But still there's the overall *vibe* that something is deeply wrong in this society, and it taints all relations.

ledge, Tuesday, 21 May 2024 15:10 (one month ago) link

I didn't get on with all with the stories, especially the ones in dialog or with heavy (british) dialect. And the title story is the most obviously problematic re: colonialism. But really, considering the latest of the stories were written when he was 23, it's an astonishing collection.

ledge, Tuesday, 21 May 2024 15:21 (one month ago) link

Just checked Mrs. Bathurst and Other Stories out of the library. It's got "They, "The Eye of Allah, "Dayspring Mishandled," and "The Gardener," among others.

the talented mr pimply (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 21 May 2024 15:33 (one month ago) link

"The Gardener" - Kipling's best story imo. One of several stories he wrote about ppl who are closeted in some way.

can you expand?

the talented mr pimply (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 21 May 2024 15:51 (one month ago) link

Not without spoiling the ending of the story.

Lily Dale, Tuesday, 21 May 2024 23:43 (one month ago) link

^ this is what the spoiler tags were made for!

(great revive by the way)

budo jeru, Wednesday, 22 May 2024 01:03 (one month ago) link

It's a story that you have to read for the first time without knowing how it ends, and I don't want to cheat anyone out of that experience. I would love to have a spoiler-tagged conversation about it with anyone who has read it, though!

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 22 May 2024 01:34 (one month ago) link


the talented mr pimply (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 22 May 2024 01:54 (one month ago) link

Okay! Discussion for people who have read "The Gardener" starts here. Kipling has three stories about, essentially, the burden of socially enforced secrecy. The first two are the very early story "In the Pride of his Youth" and the slightly later and much more complex story "Without Benefit of Clergy." The first two focus a lot on the burden of grieving in secret; in particular, "Without Benefit of Clergy," which is about a secret interracial marriage between an Englishman and a Muslim girl, shows us someone going through a series of essential life experiences - marriage, the birth of a child, the child's death, and ultimately his wife's death as well - without being able to tell anyone outside of his tiny family circle. And so when his wife dies, there is a sense that he has lost more than his family; that a whole part of his identity has been wiped away as if it had never been.

(It's not just about grief, either; there are all these little details throughout the story about the compounding burdens attached to a relationship that cannot be recognized by society. A man working at another station gets leave when his wife is sick; Holden, whose wife is just about to give birth, is sent to relieve him, with a little aside from his superior about how lucky he is to be a bachelor. That sort of thing.)

"The Gardener" picks up this theme of enforced secrecy years later, but with a narrower focus. Because the emphasis now is not on grieving in secret - we have one character, Mrs. Scarsworth, to represent that experience, but Helen herself is allowed to grieve openly - but rather on the subtler psychic cost of lying every day about something you care about. Helen has managed her fiction about Michael in such a way that she gets essentially everything she would have as his mother. She gets to raise him and mourn him and visit his grave with the full sympathy and approval of the village. The one thing she can't do is say that she's his mother. And that burden alone - the burden of having to open her mouth, day after day, and say "Lieutenant Michael Turrell, my nephew" about someone she gave birth to - is enough that the story ultimately grants her a miracle to rescue her from it.

So yeah, I think Kipling has what seems like a lifelong interest in secret/illicit/unrecognized relationships and the way grief and secrecy intersect. (You see it briefly in "The Eye of Allah" as well, with the Christian artist who has had an affair with a Jewish woman on his travels and has lost both her and their child, and the only lasting trace is a particularly Jewish-looking Madonna and child that he painted before her death.) But "The Gardener" is the one where he really isolates it down to the burden of secrecy itself, absent any practical considerations that would make secrecy difficult or exposure a genuine worry.

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 22 May 2024 04:31 (one month ago) link

Oh no I screwed up the spoiler tags HELP

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 22 May 2024 04:32 (one month ago) link

Mods can you fix this? The whole thing is supposed to be spoiler tagged. DO NOT READ if you haven't read "The Gardener."

Lily Dale, Wednesday, 22 May 2024 04:33 (one month ago) link

I read it yesterday, and then the notes at the kipling society site:

I'm not *certain* that she's meant to be his mother. Most reviewers seem to think that's the case but there's one dissenting opinion at the bottom of that page. I suppose the idea is that the whole 'passage of the child from bombay' is a fiction and the 'lung trouble which had driven her to the south of france' is a cover for her confinement (to use the old fashioned term). It's plausible - otherwise why have the part about the lung trouble and the dismissal of the nurse at all - but as that reviewer says it does require Helen to slander her brother, which goes against her character so carefully built up throughout the rest of the story. And you could read the gardener as still seeing into her secret heart, what she emotionally believes (having raised him entirely herself) even if it's not factually correct. On balance though... yeah you're probably right.

Incidentally the biblical reference in the last line would have entirely passed me by were it not for the footnotes. Probably less of an issue back in those days.

ledge, Wednesday, 22 May 2024 08:13 (one month ago) link

That's one of the difficult but potentially rewarding things about kipling, his stories require very close reading. Even the part with the 'large Lancashire woman', and the last bit with Mrs Scarsworth, have me wondering what exactly is he getting at? And the general air of mystery in the colonial setting (not in this story so much), things like the Stations with a capital S, suggestive of something more than a simply railway station. This mystery no doubt increased by the passage of time but surely still present for a British readership of the time, thousands of miles away and largely ignorant of what was going on over there.

ledge, Wednesday, 22 May 2024 08:26 (one month ago) link

Who exactly she is to Michael didn't even occur to me!

the talented mr pimply (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 22 May 2024 09:15 (one month ago) link

Me neither!

felicity, Wednesday, 22 May 2024 16:59 (one month ago) link

This was my second reading of the story and I still didn't get it, though it's right there in the text. Kipling's intent is clear from the diary entries quoted on the Kipling Society page.

The Lancashire woman has no secrets or repressed emotions; she lacks Helen Turrell's well-organized history, proper papers signed by the right people, and correctly typewritten grave number, but she is present to her own grief in ways Helen can't be and can't bear to see.

Later Helen can't understand why Mrs. Scarsworth discloses her secret, so similar to her own, or why her awkward, conventional, sentimental sympathy is rejected:

‘My God!’ said she. ‘Is that how you take it!’

By 'it' Mrs. Scarsworth isn't referring to her own loss, but to Helen's.

One of the ambiguities of the ending is whether or not Helen has found a different way to take it; in the final sentences it's not plain that she has.

Brad C., Wednesday, 22 May 2024 18:14 (one month ago) link

Disclaimer: I'm just barely recovered from Covid and my brain feels like it's coated in treacle. Sorry if my writing's a little off right now.

Mrs. Scarsworth's reaction to Helen's sympathy is so puzzling, and I'm not sure what to make of it. It often gets read as what you describe - Helen offering a conventional gesture and Mrs. Scarsworth rejecting it as not good enough - but given that Mrs. Scarsworth has no idea that Helen is carrying around a similar secret, I don't know what more she could possibly expect. And I don't really think Helen's response is all that conventional. Her gesture of sympathy is inarticulate, almost wordless, but it reads as heartfelt to me, even intimate. I think it's equally likely that Mrs. Scarsworth is primed for rejection, expecting to confess and be condemned, and has no idea how to react to genuine sympathy when it arrives.

I think Helen does very much understand why Mrs. Scarsworth tells her secret; I think Mrs. Scarsworth is essentially speaking for Helen here, articulating thoughts that we cannot get from Helen's narration because she has so completely barred herself from that part of her own mind. Notice the question she immediately asks, when Mrs. Scarsworth talks about her years of lying, is "how many years?" But for all her similarity to Mrs. Scarsworth, she is trapped in a way that Mrs. Scarsworth is not, because she cannot bring herself to confess to another person - not even one who has just confessed to her. There's a moment at the end of that scene where Kipling writes "Helen could not speak" - not "did not speak," but "could not." And I think this is literally true. This is where you realize that Helen has so thoroughly trapped herself in a prison of her own making that there is no way out for her except by a miracle.

Lily Dale, Thursday, 23 May 2024 05:58 (one month ago) link

i’m glad i skipped the spoilers til after i read it twice and made a lot of maybe(?) bad assumptions about what happened there.

i appreciate kipling’s sorta— intensity in presentation, as i perceive it. i fear i’ve shown i don’t perceive so sharply, i guess.

well below the otm mendoza line (Hunt3r), Friday, 24 May 2024 14:04 (one month ago) link

i’m checking out _stalky and co._. ha it was free. anyhow, it’s not very relatable for me, but reading about how it was received is kinda great.

i can imagine how he was bringing dimensions of social and societal pressures re public school that people both of it and from outside it were not quite prepared for- it turns over some rocks. i feel like we’re properly after that era has lost its swagger— i’m mostly familiar with sagas of hierarchy, dominance, power, and cruel exploitation. _stalky_ looks at all that from the side, with tales of non-conformity, and the desperate amusement underneath that.

well below the otm mendoza line (Hunt3r), Friday, 24 May 2024 14:08 (one month ago) link

My favorite Stalky story is one that he wrote later than the rest, "Regulus." It's partly about King the Latin teacher trying to teach a lesson, and partly about a kid who's earnest and conscientious and very different from Stalky & Co., and it has a generosity to it that you don't see in the rest of Stalky.

Lily Dale, Monday, 27 May 2024 00:30 (one month ago) link

Re: "The Gardener," it's interesting to see how obscure the religious reference is these days, when we're not all raised on Bible verses. I don't think it's meant to be, though. The poem that accompanies the story is pretty straightforward about the metaphor we're working with: one grave to me was given, one watch till Judgement Day, and God looked down from heaven, and rolled the stone away.

I think we are supposed to read the end of the story, get the reference, understand that Helen has had an encounter with Jesus in a military cemetery at Easter Week, and go straight back to the start to read the story again, seeing everything we missed the first time: the misdirection where we are told what the village knows but not whether the village is right, the narration that slides seamlessly from the stuffy voice of the village into Helen's own rigidly controlled mind, and the recurring motif of concealment: the soldier with two names, Mrs. Scarsworth with her outburst about having to lie every day, even the false front on the teashop.

side note: I was listening to the Dylan song "Red River Shore" today, and for the first time thought of that last verse in connection with "The Gardener" - this idea that when we lose someone who is the guardian of a particular part of our identity, a part of us dies with them. The person who needs resurrecting in the Dylan song is not the Girl but the speaker; the grave that Helen guards is her own.

Now I heard of a guy who lived a long time ago
A man full of sorrow and strife
That if someone around him died and was dead
He knew how to bring him on back to life
Well I don’t know what kind of language he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all
’Cept the girl from the Red River shore

Lily Dale, Monday, 27 May 2024 00:55 (one month ago) link

I read Stalky & Co. in my 20s and while I liked it I'm sure much of it went over my head. I'll have to reread Regulus with your posts in mind.

felicity, Monday, 27 May 2024 01:04 (one month ago) link

The first Kipling I ever read was Rewards and Fairies, which doesn't tend to come up a lot in discussions of his work but I think it was a great place to start. Those 15 or so years when he wrote for kids are really peak Kipling.

Lily Dale, Monday, 27 May 2024 01:26 (one month ago) link

I read The Gardener because of this thread and liked it so much I linked to it in our weekend newsletter — a fitting story for Memorial Day, in lots of ways. Thanks, Lily. I was a big Kipling fan as a kid but haven't read much beyond his kid lit.

one month passes...

It's certainly not true that all these stories directly condemn colonialism & patriarchy. Some people in them suffer for passions which would be problematic in any society, e.g. in A Wayside Comedy, and some people suffer for seemingly no reason. But still there's the overall *vibe* that something is deeply wrong in this society, and it taints all relations.

This has obviously been percolating in my subconscious as I woke the other morning with this thought at the front of my mind, it's re: A Wayside Comedy, which I think was the story that most put my hackles up, though I couldn't really put my finger on why. Now I can. We're told right from the start that the story concerns 'the European population' / 'the English people' of the Station of Kashima. That in itself is not necessarily a problem, but the rest of the story acts as if there is no-one else in the Station. There are only 'two women in (the) Station', one of them is 'the only other woman in the Station', 'every one' can drop on 'every one else', the characters are called 'all hands', 'all Kashima', 'Kashima'. The only hint of a non european population is a single mention of a sais (groom) - aside from that the native population is completely erased. Of course there must be one (why else is there a Station), it must outnumber the Europeans, but we're told nothing of it. Can the subaltern speak? The subaltern's existence isn't even acknowledged! Perhaps the oddest part is when we're told 'there are no strangers in Kashima' - so the native population aren't even allowed to be strangers! This sense that there is a hidden population is quite discomfiting and though the love tangle at the heart of the story is, as it were, perfectly normal, as I said above it's tainted by the implicit racism (which itself is made more explicity by phrases like the 'rat hole' of Kashima, and that putting flowers in a vase adds to 'a pretence of civilisation' - so the hidden population are of course uncivilised.

ledge, Tuesday, 9 July 2024 09:02 (one week ago) link

It's obvious from Kipling's many writings about India that he was well aware of the existence of the native population and his views of them included a large measure of admiration. I'd say he knew they were racist, smug, and provincial and his readers are supposed to pick up on that. It wasn't the point of the story, but their strict and self-imposed isolation was knit into the fabric of their lives and a necessary element.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Tuesday, 9 July 2024 17:15 (one week ago) link

they were racist, smug etc.

"they" meaning his characters. sorry for the vague pronoun referent.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Tuesday, 9 July 2024 19:18 (one week ago) link

Yeah that makes sense. I gather than when it comes to his attitudes to race and more particularly colonialism "it's complicated". He is undoubtedly an incredibly gifted writer and though I can't say I loved many of the early stories that I read it's an instinctive recoil from the unpleasant situations and characters. I should read more - Kim certainly, later short stories, maybe some biographical stuff.

ledge, Wednesday, 10 July 2024 20:08 (one week ago) link

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