Within the City of Dreadful Night

  • William B. Dillingham


From a fairly early age the Rudyard Kipling that many people knew was sociable (some might say gregarious), disarmingly engaging, avidly interested in other people, and marvelously witty and lighthearted. He genuinely loved children and dogs and wrote about them both with rare understanding. Nearly everyone said that it was a pleasure to be around him. Kay Robinson, editor of the Civil and Military Gazette when Kipling wrote for it as a young man in India, remembered him for his eye glasses and his laughter: “That trick of wiping his spectacles is one which Kipling indulges more frequently than any man I have ever met, for the simple reason that he is always laughing; and when you laugh till you nearly cry your glasses get misty. Kipling, shaking all over with laughter and wiping his spectacles at the same time with his handkerchief, is the picture which always comes to mind as most characteristic of him in the old days.”1 But in “the old days” the riant Rudyard conveyed a somewhat misleading impression; what was “most characteristic of him” even then was not gleeful high spirits and enjoyment of the wonders of life around him—though he certainly did manifest those qualities—but an underlying dark vision of existence. One side of“The Two-Sided Man,” as he called himself in a poem of his middle years, was more pervasive in his nature than the other. It was distressingly persistent. Despite all attempts to be and to seem otherwise, Rudyard Kipling was a pessimist.2


Early Writing Literary Naturalist Nursery Rhyme Bitter Truth Young Gentleman 
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  1. 1.
    Kay Robinson, “Rudyard Kipling as Journalist,” in Kipling: Interviews and Recollections, ed. Harold Orel (Totowa, NJ: Totowa, 1983 ), 1: 80.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See Ann M. Weygandt, Kipling’s Reading and Its Influence on His Poetry ( Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1939 ), 106.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Louis L. Cornell, Kipling in India ( London: Macmillan, 1966 ), 28.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Rudyard Kipling to Rider Haggard: The Record of a Friendship, ed. Morton Cohen (London: Hutchinson, 1965), 136.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    The review, which originally appeared in the Review of the Week for March 24, 1900, is reprinted in R. Thurston Hopkins, Rudyard Kipling: A Literary Appreciation (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, 1915 ), 83–86.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Edgar Saltus, The Philosophy of Disenchantment ( New York: Brentano’s, 1925 ), 223.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Charles Carrington, Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1978 ), 74.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, ed. Thomas Pinney (Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1990–2005), 1: 88.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    J. M. S. Tompkins has written that in this stanza of Thomson’s, the words naturally and just were for the admiring Kipling “weighted with the futility of man and the nullity of the gods.” She thus suggests the basic ingredients of Kipling’s philosophical pessimism. These words, she claims, “infected” Kipling. The Art of Rudyard Kipling ( London: Methuen, 1959 ), 100.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Precisely when Kipling read Zola is a matter of speculation. Cornell speculates that as “an accomplished schoolboy,” Kipling may have read Zola in French, thus being “well in advance of his countrymen,” whose interest in the French naturalist developed some years later with translations into English (28). The first English translations of Zola’s works appeared in 1884. While on Christmas holiday from the United Services College, Kipling went to see Charles Reade’s play Drink, an English version of William Busnach’s melodramatic adaptation of Zola’s L’Assommoir. G. C. Beresford reports that Kipling was so taken with a scene involving delirium tremens that he enacted it repeatedly for his schoolmates, much to their delight. G. C. Beresford, Schooldays with Kipling ( New York: Putnam’s, 1936 ), 103–04.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    “The Burden of Nineveh,” in The Readers’ Guide to Rudyard Kipling’s Work, ed. R. E. Harbord, 5 vols. (Canterbury: Gibbs, 1961–70), 5: 2063.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    Angus Wilson writes that “Kipling was drawn to Zola’s work from early days,” appreciating his realism and frankness. Wilson believes, however, that Kipling was somewhat “alarmed” by the “element of sensuality” in Zola’s novels because “he was frightened of his own sensuality.” The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works (New York: Viking, 1977), 141.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    Norman Page, A Kipling Companion ( London: Macmillan, 1984 ), 166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 36.
    Kipling originally wrote silently but changed it to the more effective merrily. Andrew Rutherford, ed., Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling, 1879–1889 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 187.Google Scholar
  15. 39.
    “Hush-a-by, Baby” was one of the fifty-one rhymes published in England in 1781 as Mother Goose’s Melody: or, Sonnets for the Cradle. Its words are as follows: “Hush-a-by baby/ On the tree top,/ When the wind blows/ The cradle will rock;/ When the bough breaks/ The cradle will fall,/ Down tumbles baby,/ cradle and all.” For a facsimile of the original publication, see Jacques Barchilon and Henry Pettit, The Authentic Mother Goose Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes ( Denver, CO: Alan Swallow, 1960 ).Google Scholar
  16. 62.
    R. Thurston Hopkins’s harsh view of those enthusiastic about the Aesthetic Movement is probably close to Kipling’s: “It was a world largely composed of would-be literary dandies, and superior persons, into which the young writer [Kipling] entered. Everywhere he found the imitation ‘style,’ the pose point of view, the smart, cynical, sophisticated attitude. Besides these literary fops with sweet fawn-like eyes, there were, to be sure, a few men of sterling worth, but they were not voicing any original ideas…. The whole trend of the period was artificial” (4). For a more extended description of the Aesthetic Movement and Kipling’s reaction to it (“derision and contempt”), see Lord Birkenhead, Rudyard Kipling ( New York: Random House, 1978 ), 102–07.Google Scholar
  17. 66.
    Robert Buchanan, “The Voice of the Hooligan,” in Kipling: The Critical Heritage, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971 ), 240.Google Scholar
  18. 69.
    Colin MacInnes points out that it seems “likely there are parallels, and even cross-fertilizations, between his art and theirs,” and argues that “when Kipling becomes brash, bumptious, and even outright vulgar, he stands close to the spirit of the Halls.”“Kipling and the Music Halls,” in Rudyard Kipling: The Man, His Work and His World, ed. John Gross (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972), 59. Oddly, in his discussion of Kipling and the London music halls, MacInnes never mentions “My Great and Only.”Google Scholar
  19. 86.
    “Rudyard Kipling’s Diary, 1885,” in Rudyard Kipling: Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings, ed. Thomas Pinney ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990 ), 207.Google Scholar
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    See Charles L. Ames, “Lalun, the Baragun,” Kipling Journal, 22 (July 1955), 6–8.Google Scholar
  21. 97.
    R. Thurston Hopkins writes that “An American scenario writer visited Kipling at Burwash, and there the whole thing was devised and worked out in a rough draft.” Rudyard Kipling’s World (London: Robert Holden,1925), 200. Hopkins gives a lengthy synopsis of the scenario, emphasizing at the end that he filled in some of the details of the plot and that the scenario was not the sole work of Kipling. See also Cornell, Kipling in India, 97–98.Google Scholar
  22. 98.
    To be sure, Kipling’s story was not the first to deal with London slums. Numerous writings about the East End preceded his, including George Gissing’s The Nether World (1889) and much fiction by now forgotten authors of decidedly inferior ability. However, writings with which “The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot” is most often associated appeared after it.Google Scholar
  23. Arthur Morrison’s collection of stories about London’s East End, Tales of Mean Streets, e.g., was published in 1894, and with the possible exception of “Lizerunt,” nothing in that book approaches the frank and brutal detail of Kipling’s story. Morrison’s novel of the slums, A Child of the Jago, was not published until six years after “The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot.”Google Scholar
  24. W. Somerset Maugham’s Liza of Lambeth, his first novel and certainly one of the best about slum life, did not come out until 1897.Google Scholar
  25. 100.
    See, e.g., Edward Shanks, Rudyard Kipling: A Study in Literature and Political Ideas (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1940), 135–37. Ignoring Kipling’s considerable body of work that deals with naturalistic subjects and settings, work that comes before “The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot,” Shanks declares that “this not very good story,” pronounces it highly uncharacteristic, and conjectures that it may have been written simply because of a suggestion from W. E. Henley, who wanted something “fashionable” from Kipling.Google Scholar

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© William B. Dillingham 2005

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  • William B. Dillingham

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