The City of Dreadful Night Within

  • William B. Dillingham


Human life as hell, the city of dreadful night within, was a stark reality to Kipling, who began thinking about it probably as a child, who began writing about it early in his career, and who became more concerned with it as time went on. References to it abound in his works. He was thrown into despair by the inner hell of the prostitutes in Hong Kong. He perceived that a derelict he met in San Francisco, once a promising young Englishman trained at Harrow, was trapped in “the Inferno of his own wretchedness.”1 His short story “At the End of the Passage” (1890) deals with a character’s recurrent nightmare about hell, “a place—a place down there,” which is actually a place within himself.2 In another story, “The House Surgeon” (1909), the soul of the narrator seems to descend during a moment of utter despair into a living hell, dropping “into the bottom of unclimbable pits.”3 An inner hell is frequently on the mind of the main characters of “In the Same Boat” (1911), who say of their mental torment, “It’s Hell.” The protagonist explains, “I’ve been in Hell for years,” and his companion-in-suffering tells her nurse, who has been scolding her, “Ay, but you’ve never been in Hell.”4 In his lecture on “Values in Life” (1907), Kipling called despair “one of the most real of the hells in which we are compelled to walk.”5


Great Darkness Short Story Retributive Justice Eternal Life Nervous Breakdown 
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© William B. Dillingham 2005

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  • William B. Dillingham

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