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The City of Dreadful Night Within

  • William B. Dillingham

Abstract

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

Keywords

Great Darkness Short Story Retributive Justice Eternal Life Nervous Breakdown 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 7.
    C. A. Bodelsen, Aspects of Kipling’s Art ( Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1964 ), 22.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Angus Wilson, The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works ( New York: Viking, 1977 ), 270.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    J. M. S. Tompkins, The Art of Rudyard Kipling ( London: Methuen, 1959 ), 215.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Bonamy Dobrée, Rudyard Kipling: Realist and Fabulist ( London: Oxford University Press, 1967 ), 29–30.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Charles Carrington, Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1978 ), 422.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Lord Birkenhead, Rudyard Kipling ( New York: Random House, 1978 ), 178.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    Quoted in Andrew Lycett, Rudyard Kipling ( London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999 ), 176.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Arthur Gordon, “Six Hours with Rudyard Kipling,” in Kipling: Interviews and Recollections, ed. Harold Orel (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1983), 2: 386.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    Quoted in Cohen, Rudyard Kipling to Rider Haggard, 107. Even Haggard was not as close to Kipling as he thought he was. He seemed to take great comfort in what he conceived to be the exclusive place that he occupied in Kipling’s heart. On occasion Kipling told him that they were much alike, praised his works often above their true merits, and said that he was more at ease in his presence than with anyone else. In fact, Kipling sometimes occupied himself with his writing while Haggard was with him, feeling, as he claimed, an unusual sympathy and ease. Haggard was highly flattered, felt uniquely favored, and consequently perceived their friendship to be more intimate than it was. Actually, Haggard was not uniquely favored in being allowed to occupy Kipling’s study while he was writing if one is to believe Julia Taufflieb, who remembered that her husband was granted the same privilege: “One person was allowed to sit in one corner of the room and paint, and that was General Taufflieb. Rud said ‘The General is the only person in my life that I have ever allowed in the room when I am writing. I seem to work better when I feel his presence there.’” Madame J. H. C. Taufflieb, “Memories of Rudyard Kipling-II,” Kipling Journal, 10 (December 1943), 4–5.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Hilton Brown, Rudyard Kipling ( New York: Harper, 1945 ), 92.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    “Prisoners and Captives (By One of them),” in The Readers’ Guide to Rudyard Kipling’s Work, ed. R. E. Harbord, 5 vols. (Canterbury: Gibbs, 1961–70), 2:1099.Google Scholar
  12. 39.
    Philip Mason, Kipling: The Glass, The Shadow and The Fire ( London: Jonathan Cape, 1975 ), 97.Google Scholar
  13. 46.
    Miss Henschil discovers, thanks to her companion, Nurse Blaber, that her nightmare results from the visit by her pregnant mother to a leper colony. Conroy likewise finds out that when he was in his mother’s womb, she experienced a frightening episode at sea. Both occurrences scared the pregnant women so much that they passed the horror on to their unborn children, an explanation for the visitations that fails the test of authenticity in the view of most critics of story. Angus Wilson, e.g., argues that “the psychic element is so irrelevant or so metamorphosed into an appearance of medical psychiatry that its use as a solution or a means of identification of the source of the ill obscures and weakens otherwise interesting situations” (268–69). J. I. M. Stewart probably speaks for many readers when he states that “we are not very convinced” by Kipling’s explanation of why his characters in the story experience nightmares. Rudyard Kipling (London: Victor Gollancz, 1996), 168. Apparently, Kipling was attempting (though admittedly without total success) to find a way of showing that the nightmare visions of Conroy and Miss Henschil did not result from guilt or from some wrong that they had committed. He wanted the horror to be something “laid” upon them, as Nurse Blaber explains, and not the product of sin or overactive imaginations.Google Scholar
  14. 61.
    Though “reference to hypnagogic experiences extends as far back as Aristotle,” according to Andreas Mavromatis, the phenomenon came under earnest scientific scrutiny beginning with the work of the Frenchman Maury in 1848. In 1890, S. W. Mitchell indicated that “the borderland of sleep is haunted by hallucinations… voices… distressingly real visions.” Quoted in Mavromatis, Hypnagogia: The Unique State of Consciousness Between Wakefulness and Sleep (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987), 4.Google Scholar
  15. 69.
    In an early estimate of the story, Francis Adams considered it one of Kipling’s “deliberately supernatural tales,” and declared it a “distinct failure.” “Rudyard Kipling,” in Kipling: The Critical Heritage, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), 154. Angus Wilson sees ghosts (89) in the story and describes it as a work of “Gothic horrors” (156). J. M. S. Tompkins includes it among Kipling’s “early ghost-stories” of which she does not wish “to enter into any close examination” (198). Similarly, Bonamy Dobrée appears to believe that in the story Kipling’s concern is with ghosts and mentions the work only in passing (12, 27). Although Charles Carrington calls “The Phantom’Rickshaw” a tale “of horror written markedly in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe,” he veers off from the critics mentioned earlier when he states that the story “has some claim to consideration as a study of hallucination, the first and not the weakest of the many tales of psychopathic states which he was to publish” (105). Louis L. Cornell feels that Kipling was himself undecided about the nature of the apparitions and thus created a fascinating ambiguity. Kipling in India ( London: Macmillan, 1966 ), 106–07.Google Scholar
  16. 83.
    James Tod, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971),3:1821.Google Scholar
  17. 84.
    James Tod, Rajput Tales ( Delhi: Cosmo, 1996 ), 22.Google Scholar
  18. 86.
    Randall Jarrell, “On Preparing to Read Kipling,” in A Sad Heart at the Supermarket ( New York: Atheneum, 1962 ), 127.Google Scholar
  19. 92.
    Phillip Mallett, Rudyard Kipling: A Literary Life ( Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 ), 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© William B. Dillingham 2005

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  • William B. Dillingham

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