Monday, September 10, 2018

Classic Ghost Story Writers (2): Michael Cox



Jerry Bauer: Michael Cox (1948-2009)


Admittedly this is rather a strange follow-up to Sheridan Le Fanu, but Michael Cox gets the nod because he's such an inspiration to nerdy bookworms everywhere.

In one of those classic don't-say-it's-over-till-it's-over turn-ups for the books, Cox published his first novel in 2006, in his late fifties, after a lifetime of compiling anthologies and chronologies and other humble aids to readers, only to find it a runaway success, sold to its eventual publisher John Murray at auction for £430,000!

Is The Meaning of Night actually any good? Well, perhaps not in the absolute sense, but it's a very competent and entertaining pastiche of High Victorian Sensation Gothic, not up to the mark of Wilkie Collins or Le Fanu at their best, but clearly the fruit of passionate adoration of their works.

I suppose my main problem with it is its hero, who veers from amoral Poe-like maniac ("William Wilson") to moony lover with scant consistency. Nor can I quite see why his aristocratic ambitions are of such great interest to so many of the people he meets (a criticism which applies even more sharply to its sequel, The Glass of Time).

I do in many ways prefer this second novel, though: Esperanza Gorst is a far more attractive and sprightly protagonist than her whining papa - though her taste in men is a little difficult to fathom (with the best will in the world, Cox is unable to make her ghastly pompous cousin Perseus seem in the slightest degree plausible as a love interest).

The great thing is, after editing all of those books of other people's work (including a very interesting biography of M. R. James), Cox finally nerved himself up to enter the arena himself. Then, tragically, he died of cancer a couple of years later.

Mind you, he credited his diagnosis with giving him the incentive to finish his long-meditated fiction project. Without it he might well have continued to pile up odd pages without ever finishing either book. However you take it, I think it has to be seen as a very encouraging story for all of those half-completed novels languishing in so many desk drawers. Never say die! Even without the worldwide success and the hugely swollen pre-publication price, Cox would still be a winner.

Seeing how others did it failed to intimidate him: he put himself out there, and his two books bid fair to become minor classics in their own right! Nor is his work as an editor and anthologist likely to be forgotten, either.

The list of his works below is not exhaustive - there are many anthologies missing: of golden age detective stories, thrillers, and a variety of other genres - but it does include all of the really significant highlights in his career as a ghost story writer and fancier (I hope):





Eiko Ishioka: Victorian Gothic Lolita (1983)

Michael Andrew Cox (1948-2009)






Thursday, July 26, 2018

Classic Ghost Story Writers (1): J. Sheridan Le Fanu



Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873)

The Perils of Green Tea


If you want to understand just why Sheridan Le Fanu stands out from all other Victorian ghost story writers, the easiest way is simply to pick up his late collection In a Glass Darkly and take it from there.



Of the five stories included in the book, at least three are perennial horror classics. The other two are pretty good also. They include the short novella "Carmilla," still probably the most poetic and haunting treatment of the vampire theme in existence; "The Familiar," a strangely psychological account of a haunting; "The Room in the Dragon Volant," a terrifyingly effective mystery story; "Mr. Justice Harbottle," a very original approach to the familiar theme of the haunted house, and, finally, perhaps most powerful of all, "Green Tea," where Le Fanu devises the most truly horrifying ghost in all of paranormal literature.

So much comes out of this book! Bram Stoker was greatly influenced by it. It's hard to imagine Dracula without "Carmilla" (which he in fact references directly in the associated short story "Dracula's Guest"). "Mr. Justice Harbottle," together with its 1851 analogue "An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street," also clearly inspired Stoker's short story "The Judge's House."

"Green Tea" is, however, sui generis. The Occult physician Martin Hesselius, whose selected papers In a Glass Darkly purports to be, certainly gifted certain of his traits to a long series of successors, including Stoker's Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Dracula, 1897), Algernon Blackwood's John Silence (John Silence, Physician Extraordinary, 1908), William Hope Hodgson's John Carnacki (The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder, 1913), and even Aleister Crowley's Simmon Iff (The Scrutinies of Simon Iff, 1917-18). None of them came up with anything quite so worrying as the concept of "opening the interior eye" by excessive indulgence in green tea, taken late at night, however.



Green Tea (1872)


Mind you, Le Fanu's fiction is a pretty mixed bag. M. R. James said that Le Fanu “succeeds in inspiring a mysterious terror better than any other writer”; whereas Henry James wrote that his novels were “the ideal reading in a country house for the hours after midnight.” He may have meant that quite a few of them are likely to send you to sleep, however.

E. F. Bleiler once estimated that the proportion of mystery and detective to supernatural fiction in Le Fanu's output was something like four or five to one, and even the stories with ghostly overtones seldom commit themsalves definitively to a paranormal explanation. Human psychology was always his major preoccupation, which is why so many of them seem so startlingly - if not modern, at any rate proto-Freudian.



Uncle Silas (1864)


If you like lengthy Victorian sensation novels such as Wilkie Collins' classic The Woman in White (1859), No Name (1862), Armadale (1866), and The Moonstone (1868), however, you'll find Sheridan Le Fanu to be a worthy rival to that master of intertwined plots replete with somnambulism, stolen identity, and downright raving madness.

Uncle Silas (1864) is his one undoubted classic in this line. It's not that the plot of the book is so clever, so much as the appalling strain on the nerves built up by so much terror and suspense in so horribly confined a space. Almost all of his other books have something to be said for them, though: some individual contribution to the mystery genre.

For myself, I find the madhouse scenes in The Rose and the Key (1871) particularly effective - and while it's hard to have patience with Wylder's Hand (1864) as a whole, the strange utterances and prophecies which emanate from at least one of the minor characters lend it a particular poetic atmosphere all its own.



The same characters - under different names - tend to recur almost obsessively in Le Fanu's fiction: innocent and easily affrighted young girls are one of his staples; another is a particularly reprehensible and amoral type of self-indulgent young man: Captain Richard Lake in Wylder's Hand would be one example, Sir Henry Ashwoode in his very first novel, The Cock and Anchor (1845), another.

Even though their machinations - like those of Uncle Silas himself, the epitome of this type - always come to ruin, Le Fanu seems fascinated by the mechanics of their smooth roguery. His bona fide heroes and heroines seem, by contrast, more one-dimensional and far less erotically charged. An atmosphere of erotic complication - confused gender identities and lines of attraction - is an almost invariable feature of a long Le Fanu narrative, in fact. As well as his fourteen full-length novels, he wrote many novellas and long short stories, not all of them collected to this day.

Strangely enough, although he's been canonised as a quintessentially Irish writer, only his first three novels are actually set there. All the others take place in old, off-the-beaten-track parts of England. It's hard to see that this makes much difference, though. His ancient, shadowy wooded estates really exist nowhere but in his own imagination, and that imagination remained staunchly Irish throughout his life: for the most part, though, the guilty Anglo-Irish culture of the Protestant ascendancy. It's no accident that Jonathan Swift has a walk-on part in his first novel, and that the sole topic of his conversation is his need to find a living on the other side of the Irish sea.

Le Fanu's own lifestyle was, by all accounts - at least latterly, after the death of his wife - bizarre. He wrote at night, in his grim old house in Dublin, with the help of copious doses of green tea. Like one of his own characters, he had a recurring dream that the house would come down on his head. When he was found dead one morning, at the fairly early age of 58, the doctor who examined him commented wryly that the house had fallen at last. He is reputed - though on somewhat uncertain evidence - to have died of fright.

All I can say in conclusion is that work is distinctly addictive. The more of it you read, the more appetite you feel for it. I've read about half of his novels, and am anxious to read all the others. There's something particularly satisfactory about lying in bed with what my own doctor calls "para-influenza" and reading a series of Le Fanu novellas and novels. The slightly visionary effect of the illness brings out the best in his long, convoluted - at times dreamlike - narratives.

The ghost stories, though, can be read at almost any time, in almost any mood. He was unquestionably a genius. His work may have its limitations, but is almost perfect of its kind within them. If you haven't experienced it yet, bon appétit!



Sheridan Le Fanu

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu
(1814-1873)


  1. The Cock and Anchor. 1845. Introduction by Herbert van Thal. The First Novel Library. London: Cassell, 1967.

  2. The Fortunes of Colonel Torlogh O'Brien (1847)

  3. Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851)
    1. The Watcher
    2. The Murdered Cousin
    3. Schalken the Painter
    4. The Evil Guest

  4. The House by the Churchyard. 1863. Introduction by Elizabeth Bowen. The Doughty Library. London: Anthony Blond, 1968.

  5. Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh. 1864. Ed. Victor Sage. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2000.

  6. Wylder’s Hand. 1864. New York: Dover, 1978.

  7. Guy Deverell. 1865. New York: Dover, 1984.

  8. All in the Dark. 1866. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

  9. The Tenants of Malory. 1867. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

  10. A Lost Name. 1868. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

  11. Haunted Lives. 1868. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

  12. The Wyvern Mystery. 1869. Pocket Classics. 1994. Phoenix Mill, Far Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 2000.

  13. Checkmate. 1871. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

  14. Chronicles of Golden Friars. 1871. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
    1. A Strange Adventure in the Life of Miss Laura Mildmay
    2. The Haunted Baronet
    3. The Bird of Passage

  15. The Rose and the Key. 1871. Pocket Classics. Phoenix Mill, Far Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1994.

  16. In a Glass Darkly: Stories. 1872. Introduction by V. S. Pritchett. London: John Lehmann, 1947.
    1. Green Tea
    2. The Familiar
    3. Mr Justice Harbottle
    4. The Room in the Dragon Volant
    5. Carmilla

  17. Willing to Die. 1872. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

  18. The Purcell Papers. 1880. Serenity Publishers, LLC, 2011.
    1. The Ghost and the Bone-Setter (January 1838)
    2. The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh (March 1838)
    3. The Last Heir of Castle Connor (June 1838)
    4. The Drunkard's Dream (August 1838)
    5. A Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess (November 1838)
    6. The Bridal of Carrigvarah (April 1839)
    7. A Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter (May 1839)
    8. Scraps of Hibernian Ballads (June 1839)
    9. Jim Sullivan's Adventures in the Great Snow (July 1839)
    10. A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family (October 1839)
    11. An Adventure of Hardress Fitzgerald, a Royalist Captain (February 1840)
    12. The Quare Gander (October 1840)
    13. Billy Maloney's Taste of Love and Glory (June 1850)

  19. The Watcher and Other Weird Stories (1894)
    1. The Watcher
    2. The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh
    3. The Drunkard's Dream
    4. The Room in the Dragon Volant
    5. Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess
    6. Schalken the Painter
    7. A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family

  20. Madam Crowl’s Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery. Ed. M. R. James. 1923. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 1994.
    1. Madam Crowl's Ghost (from All the Year Round, December 1870)
    2. Squire Toby's Will (from Temple Bar, January 1868)
    3. Dickon the Devil (from London Society, Christmas Number, 1872)
    4. The Child That Went with the Fairies (from All the Year Round, February 1870)
    5. The White Cat of Drumgunniol (from All the Year Round, April 1870)
    6. An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street (from the Dublin University Magazine, January 1851)
    7. Ghost Stories of Chapelizod (from the Dublin University Magazine, January 1851)
    8. Wicked Captain Walshawe, of Wauling (from the Dublin University Magazine, April 1864)
    9. Sir Dominick's Bargain (from All the Year Round, July 1872)
    10. Ultor de Lacy (from the Dublin University Magazine, December 1861)
    11. The Vision of Tom Chuff (from All the Year Round, October 1870)
    12. Stories of Lough Guir (from All the Year Round, April 1870)

  21. Best Ghost Stories. Ed. E. F. Bleiler. New York: Dover, 1964.
    1. Squire Toby's Will
    2. Schalken the Painter
    3. Madam Crowl's Ghost
    4. The Haunted Baronet
    5. Green Tea
    6. The Familiar
    7. Mr. Justice Harbottle
    8. Carmilla
    9. The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh
    10. An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street
    11. The Dead Sexton
    12. Ghost Stories of the Tiled House
    13. The White Cat of Drumgunniol
    14. An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House [non-fiction]
    15. Sir Dominick's Bargain
    16. Ultor de Lacy

  22. Ghost Stories and Mysteries. Ed. E. F. Bleiler. New York: Dover, 1975.
    1. The Room in the Dragon Volant (from London Society, 1872)
    2. Laura Silver Bell (from Belgravia Annual, 1872)
    3. Wicked Captain Walshawe, of Wauling (from Dublin University Magazine, 1869)
    4. Ghost Stories of Chapelizod (from Dublin University Magazine, 1851)
    5. The Child That Went with the Fairies (from All the Year Round, 1870)
    6. Stories of Lough Guir (from All the Year Round, 1870)
    7. The Vision of Tom Chuff (from All the Year Round, 1870)
    8. The Drunkard's Dream (from Dublin University Magazine, 1838)
    9. Dickon the Devil (from London Society, 1872)
    10. The Ghost and the Bone Setter (from Dublin University Magazine, 1838)
    11. A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family (from Dublin University Magazine, 1839)
    12. The Murdered Cousin (in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery, 1851 - originally published as "Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess" in Dublin University Magazine, 1838)
    13. The Evil Guest (in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery, 1851)
    14. The Mysterious Lodger (from Dublin University Magazine, 1850)

  23. Cox, Michael, ed. The Illustrated J. S. Le Fanu: Ghost Stories and Mysteries by a Master Victorian Storyteller. Equation. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: Thorsons Publishing Group, 1988.
    1. Schalken the Painter
    2. The Familiar
    3. The Murdered Cousin
    4. An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street
    5. Ghost Stories of the Tiled House
    6. Wicked Captain Walshawe, of Wauling
    7. Squire Toby's Will
    8. Green Tea
    9. Madam Crowl's Ghost
    10. Mr Justice Harbottle
    11. The Room in the Dragon Volant

  24. Spalatro: Two Italian Tales. 1843. Mountain Ash, Wales: Sarob Press, 2001.

  25. The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of J. Sheridan Le Fanu. 8 vols. UK: Leonaur, 2010.
    1. The Haunted Baronet / The Evil Guest / Carmilla / A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family / 10 short stories: A Debt of Honour; An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street; An Adventure of Hardress Fitzgerald, a Royalist Captain; An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House; Billy Malowney's Taste of Love and Glory; Borrhomeo the Astrologer; Catherine's Quest; Devereux's Dream; Doctor Feversham's Story & The little Red Man
    2. Uncle Silas / Green Tea / 5 short stories: Ghost Stories of Chapelizod; Ghost Stories of the Tiled House; Haunted; Jim Sulivan's Adventures in the Great Snow & Laura Silver Bell
    3. The House by the Churchyard / 1 short story: Dickon the Devil.
    4. The Wyvern Mystery / Mr. Justice Harbottle / 9 short stories: Madam Crowl's Ghost; Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess; Pichon & Sons, of the Croix Rousse; Schalken the Painter; Scraps of Hibernian Ballads; Wicked Captain Walshawe, of Wauling; Squire Toby's Will; Stories of Lough Guir & Sir Dominick's Bargain.
    5. The Rose and the Key / Spalatro, From the Notes of Fra Giacomo / 2 short stories: The Bridal of Carrigvarah & The White Cat of Drumgunniol.
    6. Checkmate / 6 short stories: The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh; The Child That Went With the Fairies; What Was It?; Ultor De Lacy: a Legend of Cappercullen; Fireside Horrors For Christmas & The Questioning of Paddy Mullowney's Ghost
    7. All in the Dark / The Room in the Dragon Volant / The Mysterious Lodger / The Watcher / 3 short stories: The Drunkard's Dream; The Ghost and the Bone-Setter & The Legend of Dunblane.
    8. A Lost Name / The Last Heir of Castle Connor / 6 short stories: The Phantom Fourth; The Quare Gander; The Secret of the Two Plaster Casts; The Spirit's Whisper; The Vision of Tom Chuff & Some Gossip About Chapelizod.



Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Eleven Books of Rudyard Kipling



John Collier: Rudyard Kipling (1891)


"There are nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays
and - every - single - one - of - them - is - right!"

- Rudyard Kipling, 'In the Neolithic Age' (1892)


Of course Kipling wrote far more than eleven books. According to the editor of his online Collected Works, he was responsible (depending on how you count) for at least 4 novels, 351 stories, 553 poems, and 12 volumes of non-fiction.

It is, however, the eleven major books of short stories (excluding the seven collections written - at least ostensibly - for children) that I'd like to discuss here. The list below is arranged in order of publication:



Rudyard Kipling: Plain Tales from the Hills (1888)


  1. Plain Tales from the Hills (1888)
    [40 stories]

  2. Soldiers Three / The Story of the Gadsbys / In Black and White (1888)
    [24 stories]

  3. Wee Willie Winkie / Under the Deodars / The Phantom 'Rickshaw (1888)
    [14 stories]

  4. Life's Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People (1891)
    [28 stories / 1 poem]

  5. Many Inventions (1893)
    [14 stories / 2 poems]

  6. The Day's Work (1898)
    [12 stories]

  7. Traffics and Discoveries (1904)
    [11 stories / 11 poems]

  8. Actions and Reactions (1909)
    [8 stories / 8 poems]

  9. A Diversity of Creatures (1917)
    [14 stories / 14 poems]

  10. Debits and Credits (1926)
    [14 stories / 21 poems]

  11. Limits and Renewals (1932)
    [14 stories / 19 poems]

  12. = 193 stories / 76 poems

The Folio Society put out a very handsome edition of all eleven in one giant boxset a few years ago:



Rudyard Kipling: The Collected Short Stories (2005)


This set is broken up as follows:
  • Vol.1, Plain Tales from the Hills, Soldiers Three and other stories
  • Vol.2, Wee Willie Winkie and other stories and Life's Handicap
  • Vol.3, Many Inventions and The Day's Work
  • Vol.4, Traffics and Discoveries, Actions and Reactions and A Diversity of Creatures
  • Vol.5, A Diversity of Creatures (continued), Debits and Credits and Limits and Renewals









Mind you, one should probably add to this tally of published collections the volume of Uncollected Stories included in the posthumous, authorially sanctioned Sussex edition of Kipling's works. There are also a few other miscellaneous collections such as Abaft the Funnel (1909) and The Eyes of Asia (1917) to one side of his official tally of works.

Full details on the contents of all of these can be found in the supremely useful New Reader's Guide, maintained by the Kipling Society, which includes a complete list of stories, indexed alphabetically, by order of date, and by collection. This indispensable site also includes the full text of many of the stories, including such otherwise unobtainable gems as the classic "Proofs of Holy Writ" (1934), which has never been separately reprinted.



Rudyard Kipling: Sussex Edition (35 volumes: 1937-39)


The stories divide fairly readily into a few well-defined groups. "Kipling," as we know him, started with the remarkable spurt of stories created and published in India, then collected in a set of seven small Indian Railway paperbacks there in 1888:
  1. Plain Tales from the Hills
  2. Soldiers Three
  3. The Story of the Gadsbys
  4. In Black and White
  5. Wee Willie Winkie
  6. Under the Deodars
  7. The Phantom 'Rickshaw
The extraordinary variety and accomplishment of these stories literally - and almost unprecedentedly - put him on the world literary map. Contemporary readers appear to have been most struck by the Maupassant-influenced Plain Tales from the Hills, but probably modern readers will find the insights into race relations in the small collection In Black and White of more enduring interest, and certainly far from the cliché of blind and jingoistic imperialism he's now unfortunately (though not, alas, entirely unjustifiably) identified with.

Next we come to the later Indian and transitional stories, published throughout the 1890s, though with a gradually increasing admixture of American and British settings, dictated by his various places of residence during that decade.
  1. Life's Handicap
  2. Many Inventions
  3. The Day's Work
The stories here are becoming longer and more ingenious, and include a number of experiments in different voices, both animate ("The Children of the Zodiac," "A Walking Delegate") and inanimate (".007," "The Ship that Found Herself"). For the most part, however, they maintain the immediacy of his Indian work, and are seen by many as the summit of his achievement in the form.

After this we move to (so-called) "late Kipling":
  1. Traffics and Discoveries
  2. Actions and Reactions
  3. A Diversity of Creatures
  4. Debits and Credits
  5. Limits and Renewals
These collections are marked by an intermixture of verse and prose. Most of the stories are preceded or followed by poems which make veiled and far-from-straightforward comments on their themes and contents. Their style is more oblique and self-consciously "experimental" - sometimes to the point of extreme obscurity and even (presumably deliberate) bafflement.

Just what is the point of "Mrs Bathurst," from Traffics and Discoveries, for instance? Jorge Luis Borges and Paul Theroux debated it during the latter's visit to the former in Buenos Aires (according to Theroux's 1979 travel book The Old Patagonian Express, at any rate). It's a story of particular interest to New Zealanders, given the fact that the bar Mrs Bathurst keeps is in "Hauraki," a (fictional) small town just outside Auckland. The story's other settings include Cape Town and a London train station, in keeping with its themes of human loyalty versus cosmopolitan, machine-made division and alienation.

These later stories are probably now Kipling's main claim to fame as a writer - as anything but an historical curiosity, that is. The extreme obliquity of their technique, the obsessive use of the recondite jargon of trades, and of multiple levels of narration, certainly place him among the more technically accomplished - not to mention tirelessly innovative - masters of the short story in English.

The last three of these collections constitute a kind of sub-group, dominated by the shadow of the Great War, which added the final ingredient of horror and despair at the waste of a civilisation which we tend to associate with modernists such as Eliot and Woolf. Kipling's late work does not really resemble theirs either in tone or content, but it certainly rivals it in depth and seriousness.

Many other points could be made about Kipling, but the variety and accomplishment on display in these eleven books certainly negate any facile attempts to denigrate him as some kind of also-ran writer, inferior in subtlety to contemporaries such as Conrad or James. They took him seriously, and so should we.

His fascination with the extreme edges of human psychology, ranging off into the paranormal (a subject of particular interest to him from his very first Poe-influenced stories - such as 'The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes' - to such late masterpieces as 'Wireless' or 'The House Surgeon') provided strange fuel for these last war-shadowed books. In stories like 'The Janeites' or 'The Gardener,' a sense of common humanity and compassion began to emerge, finally, from the man whose adoration of bullies and imperialists had earlier threatened to align him, almost, with Fascism.

Perhaps Kipling's popularity will, in future, be forced to rely on his almost equally ingenious - and rather more palatable - children's books: The Jungle Books, Puck of Pook's Hill, and The Just So Stories. These are by no means devoid of politics and his own strange brand of Manichaean extremism, but they need not be read with these things in mind. Who, having experienced them in childhood, can ever subsequently forget the adventures of Mowgli or Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?

It would be a shame to pass by these 11 superb collections of stories, however, without understanding that they do collectively constitute a kind of testament to posterity - a tour-de-force display of his sheer skill as a creative writer.



Rudyard Kipling: Traffics and Discoveries (1904)


One of the most interesting teaching experiences I've ever had came when I was discussing Kipling's story 'They' with an Honours English class at Edinburgh. They allowed some of us graduate students to acquire a bit of (unpaid) teaching practice, and I'd been allotted a class in Edwardian and pre-war fiction.

'They,' if you haven't read it (and who nowadays has?) is a story about a blind woman who lives in a house full of ghost children whom she is unable to see and therefore able to postulate as 'real' and 'alive.' The narrator can also see them - as it turns out - because he has lost a child himself, and is therefore attuned to their vibrations (or so one assumes). When he finally realises that the children are all ghosts, he self-exiles himself from the house, explaining to her that it is fine for her to live with them, but not for him: perhaps because, being childless, none of them are actually flesh of her flesh.

This theme of lost children is strong in Kipling, both before and after losing his only son in the trenches of the First World War. The circumstances were particularly unfortunate and tragic. Kipling had pulled strings with his influential friends to allow the short-sighted 'Jack' to enlist, and thus - not unreasonably - blamed himself (and was blamed by his wife) when John Kipling died in a particularly futile attack on the Western front.

Now, my fourth-year Honours class refused to believe that the children in the story were ghosts. They saw them as illegitimate children from the village. When I asked them why, in that case, the narrator thought it improper for him to spend more time there, they attributed this to snobbery and class consciousness on his part.

Given the elusive, allusive style of Kipling's late stories, it's hard to find direct textual authority for a particular reading of any passage. I nevertheless attempted to persuade them that they weren't reading carefully enough, and were eliding over any amount of evidence to maintain their own reading. They riposted that that was simply my opinion, and that they had just as much right to theirs.

I guess I've been conducting that thirty-year-old argument in my head ever since. It was the age of reader response and Stanley Fish's notoriously provocative book Is There a Text in This Class? Certainly, in their eyes, I represented the past of 'authoritative,' 'agreed-upon' textual opinions, maintained by force of hierarchy rather than by argument. To me, by contrast, they seemed addicts of simplistic under-reading, determined to take the line of least resistance in each case.

Late Kipling is like that, though, as I found again recently when arguing with another student about the true 'meaning' of his armistice story 'The Gardener.' Is the grave the protagonist is trying to find that of her own illegitimate son, or is the true tragedy of the story the fact that he may be her true son (through love and upbringing) but not actually in the physical sense? I've always leaned towards the latter reading, while most people assume that the former, more obvious reading is the one to go for.

Does this shadowy indeterminacy make his stories better or worse? The fact that they continued to hold the attention of Borges in his blind old age would imply the former. And yet it's hard to know if it isn't simply one's own obtuseness which withholds a 'final' reading of each one. 'Dayspring Mishandled,' 'The Woman in His Life,' 'My Son's Wife' - such stories constitute a precious legacy. Nobody ever really wrote like Kipling, early or late, and it's hard to foresee such a body of work ever being seen as obsolete - except, of course, by those most unanswerable of critics, those who haven't actually read him in depth.



Rudyard Kipling: Debits and Credits (1926)



*


Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling
(1865-1936)

    Collections:

  1. Kipling, Rudyard. The One Volume Kipling: Authorized. 1893 & 1928. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1930.
    • Volume I: Ballads and Barrack-Room Ballads
    • Volume II: The Light that Failed
    • Volume III: City of Dreadful Night
    • Volume IV: Plain Tales from the Hills
    • Volume V: Soldiers Three
    • Volume VI: Mine Own People
    • Volume VII: In Black and White
    • Volume VIII: The Phantom 'Rickshaw & Other Ghost Stories
    • Volume IX: Under the Deodars
    • Volume X: Wee Willie Winkie
    • Volume XI: The Story of the Gadsbys
    • Volume XII: Departmental Ditties and Other Verses

  2. Poetry:

  3. Carrington, Charles, ed. The Complete Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. 1892. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1973.

  4. Kipling, Rudyard. The Seven Seas. 1896. The Dominions Edition. London: Methuen & Co., Limited, 1914.

  5. Kipling, Rudyard. The Five Nations. 1903. The Dominions Edition. 1914. London: Methuen & Co., Limited, 1916.

  6. Kipling, Rudyard. Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Definitive Edition. 1912. Second Edition. 1919. Third Inclusive Edition. 1927. Fourth Inclusive Edition. 1933. Definitive Edition. 1940. London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1945.

  7. Kipling, Rudyard. A Choice of Kipling's Verse. Ed. T. S. Eliot. 1941. Faber Paper Covered Editions. London: Faber, 1963.

  8. Rutherford, Andrew, ed. Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling, 1879-1889: Unpublished, Uncollected, and Rarely Published Poems. 1986. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

  9. Novels:

  10. Kipling, Rudyard. The Light that Failed. 1891. Macmillan’s Colonial Library. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1891.

  11. Kipling, Rudyard, & Wolcott Balestier. The Naulahka: A Story of West and East. 1892. 2 vols. The Service Edition of the Works of Rudyard Kipling. London: Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1915.

  12. Kipling, Rudyard. ‘Captains Courageous’: A Story of the Grand Banks. 1896. Melbourne & London: Macmillan & Company Ltd., 1942.

  13. Kipling, Rudyard. Kim. 1901. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1940.

  14. Short Stories:

  15. Kipling, Rudyard. Plain Tales from the Hills. 1888. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1913.

  16. Kipling, Rudyard. Soldiers Three / The Story of the Gadsbys / In Black and White. 1888 & 1895. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1913.

  17. Kipling, Rudyard. The Phantom 'Rickshaw and other Tales. 1888 & 1895. New York: American Publishers Corporation, n.d.

  18. Kipling, Rudyard. Wee Willie Winkie: Under the Deodars / The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales / Wee Willie Winkie and Other Child Stories. 1888 & 1895. Ed. Hugh Haughton. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.

  19. Kipling, Rudyard. Life's Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People. 1891. Ed. P. N. Furbank. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.

  20. Kipling, Rudyard. Many Inventions. 1893. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1913.

  21. Kipling, Rudyard. The Day's Work. 1898. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1913.

  22. Kipling, Rudyard. Traffics and Discoveries. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1904.

  23. Kipling, Rudyard. Actions and Reactions. 1909. Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1920.

  24. Kipling, Rudyard. A Diversity of Creatures. 1917. The Medallion Edition. Dunedin: James Johnston, Limited / London: Macmillan and Co. Limited, n.d.

  25. Kipling, Rudyard. Debits and Credits. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1926.

  26. Kipling, Rudyard. Limits and Renewals. 1932. Ed. Phillip V. Mallett. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.

  27. Kipling, Rudyard. Ten Stories. London: Pan Books Ltd., 1947.

  28. Kipling, Rudyard. A Choice of Kipling's Prose. Ed. W. Somerset Maugham. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1952.

  29. Kipling, Rudyard. Short Stories. Volume 1: A Sahib’s War and Other Stories. Ed. Andrew Rutherford. 1971. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.

  30. Kipling, Rudyard. Short Stories. Volume 2: Friendly Brook and Other Stories. Ed. Andrew Rutherford. 1971. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.

  31. Children's Stories:

  32. Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Books. 1894 & 1895. Illustrated by Stuart Tresilian. 1955. London: the Reprint Society, 1956.

  33. Kipling, Rudyard. The Brushwood Boy. 1895 & 1899. Illustrations by F. H. Townsend. 1907. London: Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1914.

  34. Kipling, Rudyard. Stalky & Co.: Complete. 1899. Ed. Isabel Quigley. The World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

  35. Kipling, Rudyard. Just So Stories for Little Children: A Reprint of the First Edition. Illustrated by the Author. 1902. New York: Weathervane Books, 1978.

  36. Kipling, Rudyard. Puck of Pook's Hill. 1906. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1957.

  37. Kipling, Rudyard. Rewards and Fairies. 1910. Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1920.

  38. Kipling, Rudyard. Land & Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides. 1923. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1923.

  39. Kipling, Rudyard, ed. Thy Servant a Dog, Told by Boots. Illustrated by G. L. Stampa. 1930. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1931.

  40. Kipling, Rudyard. Animal Stories from Rudyard Kipling. Illustrated by Stuart Tresilian. 1932. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1961.

  41. Kipling, Rudyard. All the Mowgli Stories. 1933. St. Martin’s Library. 1961. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1962.

  42. Non-Fiction:

  43. Kipling, Rudyard. From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches: Letters of Travel. 1899. 2 vols. Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1914.

  44. Kipling, Rudyard. Sea Warfare. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1916.

  45. Kipling, Rudyard. Letters of Travel (1892-1913). Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1920.

  46. Kipling, Rudyard. A Book of Words: Selections from Speeches and Addresses Delivered Between 1906 and 1927. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1928.

  47. Kipling, Rudyard. Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown. 1937. Ed. Robert Hampson. Introduction by Richard Holmes. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.

  48. Secondary:

  49. Gilbert, Elliot L., ed. “O Beloved Kids”: Rudyard Kipling’s Letters to his Children. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson., 1983.

  50. Green, Roger Lancelyn. Kipling and the Children. London: Elek Books Ltd., 1965.

  51. Carrington, Charles. Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work. 1955. London: Macmillan Limted, 1978.