For reasons old and new, I started rereading Kipling about three months ago: just as I did for O-Level Eng Lit in 1974-75 , except a lot more systematically this time (ie all of it, soup to nuts: 1888-1937). I won’t be posting big reviews, probably — but I will be drawing attention, without too much comment, to stuff that made me LOL or gasp and stretch my eyes.
The first I actually unleashed on tumblr a few weeks ago:
“The rain had turned the pith of his huge and snowy solah topee into an evil-smelling dough, and it had closed on his head like a half-opened mushroom.” (From ‘The Arrest of Lieutenant Golightly’, in Plain Tales of the Hills, 1888)
The second is from the children’s story I remember most fondly (so the fact that I’m issuing a MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING about what’s under the cut perhaps signals the wtf-ness of it):
“We entered the back room where everything was in order, and a screeching canary made us welcome. The uncle had added sausages and piles of buttered toast to the kippers. The coffee, cleared with a piece of fish-skin, was a revelation.” —From 1911’s ‘The Horse Marines’, in 1917’s A Diversity of Creatures, bold mine. And WAIT! WHUT!?? What can “cleared” mean that you can do with FISH-SKIN, and the coffee be good? Emmanuel Pyecroft is a semi-amusingly prankish naval fellow whose conversational agility somewhat prefigures Wodehouse, who lives with his uncle when not at sea. To be fair, Kipling being Kipling, a “revelation” may NOT AT ALL mean good: but Pyecroft is playing the sincerely fulsome host here…
“One does not expect the make-and-break of the magneto — that tiny two-inch spring of finest steel — to fracture (…).” From 1924’s ‘The Prophet and the Country’, published in 1926’s Debits and Credits. Does anyone today who isn’t a Kipling scholar associate him with the cult of fast motors? There’s actually a whole slew of stories — beginning with “Steam Tactics” in 1902 — which set him up to be the Jeremy Clarkson* of his day, not least because he liked to travel fast, and to take revenge on the foolish officials who baulked him (he was a motorist as early as 1899, when “fast” wasn’t even 20 mph…) (*Wind in the Willows, about the ACTUAL J.Clarkson of his day, didn’t appear till 1908…)
“The Cantor of St Illod’s being far too enthusiastic a musician to concern himself with its Library, the Sub-Cantor, who idolized every detail of the work, was tidying up, after two hours’ writing and dictation in the Scriptorum. The copying-monks handed him in their sheets — it was a plain Four Gospels ordered by an Abbot in Evesham — and filed out to vespers. John Otho, better known as John of Burgos, took no heed. He was burnishing a tiny boss of gold in his miniature of the Annunciation for his Gospel of St Luke (…).” From 1920’s ‘The Eye of Allah’, published in 1926’s Debits and Credits. As you maybe recall, the two monkish antagonists in Umberto Eco’s 1980 novel The Name of the Rose (translated 1983), were named William of Baskerville and Jorge of Burgos
Something of Myself was Kipling’s fragmentary autobiography, unfinished and posthumously published in 1937. It’s evasive and abrupt by turns: Almost Nothing of Myself would also have been a good name, and it may be that his death is not the only reason for this strangeness. [SERIOUSLY GORY TRIGGER ALERT]
“There was not a sting upon him, for the smell of the garlic had checked the Little People for just the few seconds that he was among them. When he rose Kaa’s coils were steadying him and things were bounding over the edge of the cliff — great lumps, it seemed, of clustered bees falling like plummets; but before any lump touched water the bees flew upward and the body of a dhole whirled down-stream. Overhead they could hear furious short yells that were drowned in a roar like breakers — the roar of the wings of the Little People of the Rocks. Some of the dholes, too, had fallen into the gullies that communicated with the underground caves, and there choked and fought and snapped among the tumbled honeycombs, and at last, borne up even when they were dead on the heaving waves of bees beneath them, shot out of some hole in the river-face, to roll over on the black rubbish-heaps. There were dholes who had leaped short into the trees on the cliffs, and the bees blotted out their shapes; but the greater number of them, maddened by the stings, had flung themselves into the river; and, as Kaa said, the Waingunga was hungry water.” From ‘Red Dog’, in The Second Jungle Book, 1895.