Printer Friendly

Whispering to the converted: narrative communication in Rudyard Kipling's Letters of Marque and Indian fiction.

Letters of Marque is a series of travel articles on the native states of Rajputana, written by Rudyard Kipling late in 1887, shortly after he lei the Punjab-based Civil and Military Gazette to take up a position at its sister publication, the Allahabad Pioneer, an influential newspaper with an India-wide circulation. Despite being the largest unified body of writing Kipling produced in India, the Letters have been until recently the subject of relative critical neglect. However, readings by Gail Chian-Liang Low, Bart Moore-Gilbert, and Mary Conde have gone some way to redressing this, with each of them focusing on how the Letters reveal the ambiguities and tensions in Kipling's relationship with India. (1) These ambiguities are then referred back to the established idea of Kipling as a writer split between an authoritarian imperialism and a part-unknowing sympathy to native life. (2) From this perspective the Letters alternate 'between the affectation of control and a daytime need for surface stability', (3) they show 'the nuanced and ambivalent nature of Kipling's representations of the Princely States and also, by implication, of British India', (4) and are 'permeated with contradictory desires'. (5) In this reading of Letters of Marque I shall demonstrate that Kipling's writing was far more precisely located, and its ambiguities more deliberate and functional, than any of these observations would suggest. The Letters reveal the skill with which Kipling could use his writing to bolster the position of a particular Anglo-Indian ideological milieu, commonly associated with the Punjab, to which he was affiliated. (6) Furthermore, by going on briefly to examine two of Kipling's more critically scrutinized Indian pieces, 'Beyond the Pale' and 'On the City Wall', I shall demonstrate how the Letters might be used to help synthesize their more familiar tensions into a coherent account of Kipling's work through his time in India. The continuities in formal technique provide a model for how Kipling's heterogeneous writings might be construed as a meaningful unity. However, the subtle modifications in that technique can also be matched to changes in Kipling's location and readership. The various nuances and ambivalences in his Indian work profit from comparison with one another, but they are not all of a piece.

Early in the first Letter of Marque the narrator, having outlined his reasons for travelling, summarizes and continues:

For these reasons, and because he wished to study our winter birds of passage, one of the few thousand Englishmen in India on a date and in a place which have no concern with this story, sacrificed all his self-respect and became--at enormous personal inconvenience--a Globe-trotter going to Jeypore, and leaving behind him for a while all that old and well-known life in which Commissioners and Deputy-Commissioners, Governors and Lieutenant-Governors, Aides-decamp, Colonels and their wives, Majors, Captains, and Subalterns after their kind move and rule and govern and squabble and fight and sell each other's horses and tell wicked stories of their neighbours. But before he had fully settled into his part or accustomed himself to saying, 'Please take out this luggage,' to the coolies at the stations, he saw from the train the Taj wrapped in the mists of the morning. (7)

Conde reads this as a straightforward evocation of a 'sense of holiday freedom', (8) as does Low. (9) However, while undoubtedly valid, such a reading does not take account of how carefully the narratorial position is finessed in this passage. The narrator does express a desire to escape from a bureaucratic routine whose demands were a common source of complaint throughout Anglo-India. (10) However, he also takes care to remain affiliated to those still undertaking the labours which he leaves behind. He remains one of the 'few thousand Englishmen in India', even though he is become 'a Globe-trotter'. He is travelling to 'study' the Globe-trotter, but he is also taking pleasure in travelling as one. The phrase 'at enormous personal inconvenience' is effective because it is an overplaying of an actual 'personal inconvenience' which proves his Anglo-Indian status--although both reader and writer are aware that it is not, in fact, undesirably inconvenient. Whatever denigration is present in the descriptions of squabbling and fighting can take place only because the narrator has taken part in it: the tone is one of good-natured familiarity." The mention of 'wicked stories' sounds denigratory, but it also acts as a not particularly covert reference to Kipling's own reputation as purveyor of stories about the seamy side of Simla. (12)

This coercively serpentine sentence deliberately occupies a position of tantalizing ambivalence, with the narrator both separate from his readership and still connected to it. The subsequent image of the Taj is finessed in a similar way. It is 'all things pure, all things holy, and all things unhappy': a reaction which acknowledges its undeniable splendour, while also accommodating the kinds of unease which Anglo-India felt towards the most prominent symbol of the magnificence of Mughal rule. (13) To introduce the Taj Kipling invokes a Frenchman who acts, like the Globe-trotter, as an alternative identity he can simultaneously use and disavow. This also prefigures the first naming of the narrator as 'the Englishman', a manoeuvre which objectifies Kipling's narrative identity as an Everyman member of the Anglo-Indian community, while displacing the travelling Englishmen from that title. In an article that had appeared three years before, Kipling had reported from a place called Dhariwal as 'the Outsider', with this objectification serving precisely the opposite purpose, to maintain a categorical separation between journalist narrator and the native India upon which he was reporting. (14) Both Conde and Low register the presence of these various personas and their 'self-conscious adoption' by Kipling. (15) However, they also intimate that he is sometimes not fully aware of their function and effect: 'the oscillation between narrative personas reveals an underlying anxiety', (16) they are 'casually' taken up and abandoned. (17) The many voices in the Letters are not genuinely 'dialogic', as Low suggests of the 'speaking subject [...] with the voices of self and Other', but authorial projections that are consciously designed to collapse into the one Anglo-Indian significance. (18)

This is seen in the first Letter when the Taj episode leads into what is almost a non sequitur, despite a superficial harking back to Kipling's having been taught 'reverence' in the previous sentence: 'But there is no reverence in the Globe-trotter: he is brazen' (p. 6). A rational non sequitur at least, because there is an emotional logic in reverting to a satiric attack upon the Globe-trotter. After the potentially divisive ambiguity of the Taj he presents an easy target that can clarify the narrator's fidelity to his audience and his audience's fidelity to each other. The political significance of the Globe-trotter and his travels is then made clear:

If one were bold enough to generalise after the manner of Globe-trotters, it would be easy to build up a theory on the well incident to account for the apparent insanity of some of our cold-weather visitors. Even the Young Man from Manchester could evolve a complete idea for the training of well-bullocks in the East at thirty seconds' notice. How much the more could a cultivated observer from, let us say, an English constituency, blunder and pervert and mangle? (p. 8)

The Globe-trotter is typical of those who come to India and try to impose their ignorantly liberal ideas upon the country: and Kipling's audience would no doubt have thought of the Ilbert Bill at this point, whose attempted introduction four years before had provoked mutinous rage amongst conservative Anglo-Indians and their British sympathizers. At the end of the first Letter the Englishman watches the Globe-trotter depart, 'pleased as a child' with his souvenirs of the 'Delhi atrocities' (p. 8), and all the contradictions that have gathered around the narrator's position are unjammed. He is neither Globe-trotter nor Frenchman but Anglo-Indian, living in the society that actually endured the Delhi atrocities, and his resemblance to a Globe-trotter is, after all, only a game.

This playful ambivalence would no doubt have been titillating for a colonial society preoccupied with questions of affiliation and orthodoxy. More specifically, its appearance so early in the sequence reflects Kipling's anxiety at moving from the intimate Anglo-Punjabi milieu, which he knew to be in accord with his conservatively authoritarian ideological affiliations, to one in Allahabad where other schools of thought were more in evidence; (19) and to a newspaper which was, as Andrew Lycett has noted, both 'physically and politically' closer to central government. (20) It must, then, have seemed gratifyingly neat to Kipling to be using his first assignment for his new newspaper to bolster the position of an ideological community whose heartland he was leaving behind. In the Letters a major part of this bolstering involves the insinuation that native India remains inherently chaotic and violent, and is therefore not only unsuited to a role in government but an ongoing threat. Previous readings of the Letters have observed how Kipling sometimes praises the governance of the native states and have taken this as further evidence of his sympathy for native India. (21) However, the major import of such praise is implicitly to criticize a centralized governmental bureaucracy that keeps its 'little people bound down and supervised, and strictly limited and income-taxed' (p. 125)--as the final letter will make clear. On other occasions Kipling uses his successive visits to various Rajput palaces to undercut any apparent native modernity, exposing violence and chaos at its heart.

One of the first remarks on Amber, the first palace visited, provides the cue for how the presentation of these places should be read:

If, as Viollet-le-Duc tells us to believe, a building reflects the character of its inhabitants, it must be impossible for one reared in an Eastern palace to think straightly or speak freely or--but here the annals of Rajputana contradict the theory--to act openly. The crampt and darkened rooms, the narrow smooth-walled passages with recesses where a man might wait for his enemy unseen, the maze of ascending and descending stairs leading nowhither, the ever-present screens of marble tracery that may hide or reveal so much,--all these things breathe of plot and counter-plot, league and intrigue. (p. 20)

Such an architectural reading compounds several influences. One was the melancholy Romantic significance of ruins, which had long been a stock feature of Indian travel accounts; (22) another was the Ruskinian subversion of the picturesque tradition, another strong influence on Indian travel writing, (23) by Kipling's refusal to frame, fix, and neuter his subject. The Romantic antiquity of Rajputana was also a cliche: Edwin Arnold, in his 1886 travel account written for a British readership, had termed it a land of 'romance and chivalry', 'immeasurably old'. (24) However, in Kipling's hands all of these sources are given a new and urgently relevant Anglo-Indian life.

The hidden menace that shadowed the Taj is brought alive, devolved into screens and passages which might allow an enemy to hide, to plot, to spy--or, given Anglo-Indian history, to mutiny. Andrew St John has written of the significance of the 1857 mutiny and its heroes to Kipling's ideology, demonstrating as it did the irreducible difference between Anglo-Indian and native, and the virtues of a direct and unmediated exercise of power. (25) The portrayal of the Rajput palaces, which become threateningly alive in the narrator's presence, creates a dynamic that extrapolates easily to the native population of British India, its template matching the circumstances of the mutiny of only thirty years before, when apparently subservient Indians--apparently ruined Indians--had risen and slaughtered their masters. In 1893 and 1894, as Margaret Macmillan has described, 'planters and officials in Assam grew alarmed at the appearance of pats of mud with hair stuck in them on the trunks of trees', which recalled the 'mysterious passing of chapattis from Indian to Indian' that had preceded the mutiny (26) These mutiny-oriented decipherings of strange native codes are anticipated by the practice of Kipling's Englishman, who decodes ruins and other fragmentary perceptions in much the same way--indeed, with far more success, as his only grounds of evaluation are the prejudices of his readership.

Throughout the Letters the reader is manoeuvred with great skill into an interpretative position that is congruent with Kipling's ideological perspective. In the palace at Jeypore Kipling discounts the palace's Western trappings to note that 'the old, old game of intrigue goes on as before'. And how does he know this? He glimpses a cryptic exchange between a'figure in saffron' and 'one in pink' that 'might have meant a great deal or just nothing at all' (p. 36). The narrative gaze ignores the physical evidence of Western civilization in favour of what is at best an intriguing mystery and at worst a potential threat: much like the distant image of the Taj, indeed. This gaze then elides onto 'the extreme end' of the palace gardens where there is 'nothing of the West' and where resides 'a lake-like tank swarming with muggers [crocodiles]' (p. 37). The image of the two strangers talking becomes, by guilt of association, an overtly inhuman menace. Their existence mirrors that of the muggers: they are both hidden for most of the time beneath the surface, be it of palace life or the lake waters. In case we still have not made the connection, the narrator then notes how the crocodile's sigh 'suggested'

first the zenana buildings overhead, the walled passes through the purple hills beyond, a horse that might clatter through the passes till he reached the Man Sagar Lake below the passes, and a boat that might row across the Man Sagar till it nosed the wall of the Palace-tank, and then--then uprose the mugger with the filth upon his forehead and winked one horny eyelid--in truth he did!--and so supplied a fitting end to a foolish fiction of old days and things that might have been. But it must be unpleasant to live in a house whose base is washed by such a tank. (pp. 37-38)

This 'foolish fiction' cannot help but impact on the narrator's return, in the next paragraph, to the 'very, very civilised' lamp-posts and monograms of the current court. Unsurprisingly, the Globe-trotters are 'much pleased' by Amber (p. 39). The outsiders perceive a touristic, picturesque India. In the light of this difference, the narrator's occasional disavowals of the significance of what he has just written--'foolish fiction'--can be seen as a test of fidelity, a password prompt. Only an Anglo-Indian, it is implied, would look beyond the disavowal, which exists on the same superficial level as the Globe-trotters' reactions. The misreading--which is not entirely a misreading--of Kipling's bravura description of a nightmarish Chitor, by a reviewer in a London-based journal when the Letters were collected and reissued in 1899, is instructive in this regard:

Now this description is repulsive if true; but is it true? I doubt it. The stairs and rocks were smooth--yes, so are our mantelpieces and spoons--but why slimy? True, they had some centuries of use, but they have had others of disuse to get clean again. I fancy Chitor is not quite rainless, and surely the sun, wind, and dust storms would in time have removed all taint. The fact is that smooth suggested slippery, and slippery slimy, and slimy an opportunity for shocking us, like the smell in 'The Mark of the Beast' or the greasy soot in the 'Bleak House' spontaneous combustion scene. In each case the repulsive horror is invented and daubed on by the artist; we disbelieve and resent it. And worse, it saps our faith in his most veracious marvels. (27)

The intention to shock is no doubt present in the Chitor description, but is not as randomly gratuitous as 'Y. Y.' seems to think. His earlier complaint that the Letters 'were written for Anglo-Indian readers, and are not always easy to follow, being crowded with topical jokes and illusions' is more pertinent than he realizes. (28) The foregrounding of the narrator's felt reactions to the palace--the slime and so forth--makes the historic threat it represents real and immediate, as well as advertising again the ability of Anglo-Indians to detect what there is to be detected. Kipling goes on to quote from a guidebook description of the Gau-Mukh chamber which, after the vividness of his own description, appears both unreal and lacking. The subtext is: you cannot judge this country on apparent facts alone. This is the mistake the interfering English officials make in gathering 'elaborate statistical, historical, geographical' (p. 98) accounts of places like Chitor; and the mistakes that were being made by those Anglo-Indian officials who did not endorse the brusquely individualist administrative method which Kipling believed in. The narrative connects with its chosen Anglo-Indian audience by confirming the value of their irrational responses: they are Ruskinian seers standing before the mystery of native India. And by embodying such prejudices in ruins they are also given, by association, an entirely unwarranted solidity.

Kipling uses the episodically sequential nature of the travel narrative--the traveller moves forward, one thing happens after another--to insinuate intimations of threat into apparently untroubled passages of documentary description. The account of Jeypore comes to rest upon crocodiles; the account of the palace of Udaipur comes to rest upon a caged panther; the account of the meeting with the loafer in the final letter, whose disreputably violent opinions the narrator ostensibly disavows, segues into a meeting with some British soldiers, the official agents of institutional violence in the Raj. By implying connections which the ideologically sympathetic reader then completes, the communality of this section of Anglo-India is re-enacted: one might compare it to the ritual repetition of a pledge of allegiance. And by naturalizing these messages into an apparently--but not too apparently--innocent travel narrative, Kipling animates a situation in which he and the like-minded receivers of these covert truths are the victims of a censorious government in thrall to ambitious natives:

Perhaps our extreme scrupulousness in handling may be statecraft, but, after even a short sojourn in places which are dealt with not so tenderly, it seems absurd. There are states where things are done, and done without protest, that would make the hair of the educated native stand on end with horror. These things are of course not expedient to write; because their publication would give a great deal of unnecessary pain and heart-searching to estimable native administrators who have the hope of a Star before their eyes, and would not better matters in the least. (p. 182)

This is why, when summing up in the final Letter, Kipling jumps through a series of telling non sequiturs and contradictions. In the Letters these are always an invitation to supply the conservative logic needed to link the sequence together, while simultaneously enacting a situation where it is 'not expedient to write' such truths. The passage quoted above lurches onwards--'Note this fact though'--to describe how 'there are no independent papers in Rajputana' (p. 183). The hidden train of thought is obviously that 'educated native' opinions are closely linked to the native press. Kipling's everyday Indian journalism frequently attacked items in native Indian newspapers, countering them with pro-Anglo-Indian evidence. Indeed, in the Civil and Military Gazette on 31 May 1886 Kipling had written an article (unsigned as usual) describing how 'There is a gentleman of Bengal loose in the North American Review with letters of marque from the Editor to "sink, burn and destroy" all men and things English in India. His name is Amrita Lal Roy.' This is the likely source for Kipling's own title: he is a retaliatory Anglo-Indian raider. For all the archaic-modern contrast developed in the Letters between native and British India, the battle between the two is being fought in a recognizably modern way. Indeed, this is part of the problem, as legally constrained governance and propaganda battles have replaced the archetypal ruler-ruled dynamic. (29)

Having approved of the suppression of the press in the native states, Kipling abruptly switches to these states' administration. He observes that their governmental institutions are merely overlaid with English forms, but there is nothing wrong with this; that the country is 'used' effectively; that 'the institution of the Political agent has stopped the [money] grabbing'; but that there is still a 'difference between our ways and the ways of other places', and that British India, despite being criticized for its 'brutal bureaucracy', is in fact highly civilized compared with the native states, where it is 'the proper thing to smite anybody of mean aspect and obstructive tendencies on the mouth with a shoe' (p. 184). The chain of thought is confusing: it starts by praising the free and implicitly brutal efficiency of the native states, but moves on seemingly to praise the British leniency and civility which hinder such efficiency. At this point there follows another switch of direction, without even the commencement of another paragraph: 'Hear what an intelligent loafer said. His words are at least as valuable as these babblings. He was, as usual, wonderfully drunk, and the gift of speech came upon him' (p. 184). Once again, the controversy of what is to follow is doubled with an excuse, even as it retains its direction and impact. 'Gift of speech' recalls Acts z in the New Testament, and 'drunk' is a conceptual synonym for divine inspiration in the Islamic mystical tradition. (30)

The brutality of the Loafer's attitudes will break the impasse Kipling has framed for himself. The Loafer is the alter ego of the respectable Raj official, the expression of imperial brutality that comes with imperial benevolence. Indeed, the first extended appearance of the Loafer was in the twelfth Letter, which bridged the nightmare visit to Chitor and the redemptive vision of the Indian Civil Service 'Hat-marked Caste': a jump which, in retrospect, seems to need the mediating idea of violence to be accomplished. Once the hidden logic of this sequencing is unpacked, we see that although Kipling raises the justness of British governance as a defence against charges of brutality, the invocation of the violent Loafer shows that he is on the side of those who would hit persons of 'obstructive tendencies' over the mouth with a shoe (note 'mouth' rather than 'face' or 'head', surely significant given the preceding remarks about the native press: Kipling's fingers seem to be itching for a shoe here). Segueing into the persona of the Loafer, part of a group of lower-class whites renowned for their casual violence towards Indians, (31) is another means of denying responsibility for a controversial imperial attitude and so evading the disapproval of liberals, government, and 'the educated native'. Such narratorial manoeuvrings are a histrionic exaggeration of the fetters under which conservative Anglo-Indians were languishing and the provocative imaginative indulgence of a violence that was normally restrained by those in officialdom. The narrator is not preaching to the converted, so much as whispering to them--albeit in a stage whisper.

Peter Havholm has recently written of how Kipling, in his Indian fiction, constructs 'an elaborate private joke [for his chosen readership] told in a manner that protects it against attack by anyone who might object to its attitudes about race'. (32) Letters of Marque confirms the potential in approaching the fiction from this perspective, but care needs to be taken to distinguish between the different ways in which Kipling conducted these 'private' communications, which in turn depends on when they were being conducted. In the Letters Kipling played at making his writing a covert exchange in order to reinforce the group bond of its ideological sympathizers, to provoke those who might disagree with it, and to make a propagandistic point: that changes in Anglo-Indian society and governance were creating a world in which conservative Anglo-Indians such as Kipling were no longer masters of their situation. This marked a development from some of the fiction he had produced prior to this point, which had displayed an almost reckless penchant for exploring the troubled spaces in the Anglo-Indian psyche: presumably as a consequence of Kipling being, when he started out, a young writer unburdened by reputation or expectation, working and publishing amongst an intimate and trusted community who were also his readership.

The ambiguities present in one of these pre-Pioneer stories, 'Beyond the Pale' (1888), have been registered by many critics. (33) However, a reading of the story in the context of the Letters makes possible a new perspective on those familiar ambiguities, showing how they are generated through the manipulation of a narrative strategy that is ostensibly geared towards propagandistic communication. If the Letters mimed a covert transmission of ideas that were barely covert at all, then 'Beyond the Pale' plays at the open communication of an ideological given even as it undermines that given. Propagandistic intent and the ludic are two sides of the same technical coin in Kipling's early writing, just as the 'two sides' which are often attributed to his personality can be understood only in the context of their binary totality.

'Beyond the Pale' begins with the maxim:

A man should, whatever happens, keep to his own caste, race and breed. Let the White go to the White and the Black to the Black. Then, whatever trouble falls is in the ordinary course of things--neither sudden, alien, nor unexpected.

This is the story of a man who wilfully stepped beyond the safe limits of decent everyday society, and paid for it heavily.

He knew too much in the first instance; and he saw too much in the second. He took a deep interest in native life; but he will never do so again. (34)

Where the travel sequence gradually appropriated those other voices which initially seemed to compete with it, in 'Beyond the Pale' Kipling starts quite happily with this singular certainty and then proceeds to erode it. Trejago, the character whose story is recounted, initiates a love affair through his knowledge of 'The Love Song of Har Dyal' and his partly 'instinctive' decoding of object letters. The narrator will voice his condemnation of this--and yet, because he is relaying the story he is also made to seem, to a degree, complicit in it. In the first Letter of Marque the ambiguity of the narrator's position had resolved, very clearly, into an Anglo-Indian orthodoxy. Here, that orthodoxy is constantly being tugged away from its anchorings, even while those anchorings are being hammered in harder. Trejago's wooing, for instance, carries the glamour and allure of the exotic. However, it is also kept at a distance from us through the elaborately bewildering decipherment of the object letter, and the fact that the love song is, as the narrator explains, conveyed to us in a language that cannot do it justice: 'The song is really pretty in the Vernacular. In English you miss the wail of it. It runs something like this' (p. 238). We are caught between Trejago with his love affair and the narrator who is standing back from it: between the events themselves and the translated version of the events. In the Letters, the ruins possessed no meaningful existence apart from the narrator's unambiguously horrific interpretation of them. In this story a breach is opened up between embedded interpretation and event.

Robert H. MacDonald, in perhaps the most comprehensive critical reading of the story, has noted these 'shifts up and down a hierarchy of discourses' (35) in relation to 'the contradictions of the dominant ideology' (36) within it. While MacDonald's focus is largely upon that 'hierarchy of discourses', a reading of the Letters suggests that in considering Kipling's narrative technique as much attention needs to be paid to the precise timing and operation of those 'shifts up and down'. Ordering and sequence are crucial determinants in Kipling's manipulation of meaning. For instance, the evocation of the romance's delights is preceded by this narrative false start: 'Who or what Durga Charan was, Trejago never inquired; and why in the world he was not discovered and knifed never occurred to him till his madness was over, and Bisesa ... But this comes later' (p. 239). In the Letters Kipling would use unspoken connections in the prose sequence to imply an unambiguous teleology. Here, the connection does not resolve itself either way, sending us backwards and forwards between the destined calamity and the romantic drive. Where the interpretative movement of the Letters was always towards its telos, 'Beyond the Pale' might be referred away to either the maxim with which it started or to its epigraph which focused on the power of love: to the Anglo-Indian consensus or to the equally powerful tradition of Eloise and Abelard. It is this uncertainty which would inform an English reviewer's later, unsettled description of it as 'an equally strange mixture of love and horror'. (37) Similarly, in an even earlier story, 'The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes', the eponymous narrator's descent into a native egalitarianism of savagery was concluded with his escape rather than resolution: the horrors into which Jukes descended were left behind at the story's end but they were not terminated. This is despite Kipling's later adding a narrative frame to the beginning of the story in an attempt, as Zoreh T. Sullivan has noted, to 'mediate' its horrors, turning what was originally the lone narratorial voice of Jukes into a voice like that of the Frenchman or the Globe-trotter, dependent on the securely foundational Anglo-Indian position for its playful existence. (38)

'On the City Wall' is another story which has received a great deal of critical attention, and it touches on similar concerns to 'Beyond the Pale' and the Letters. Like those earlier works, it has sometimes been interpreted as unconsciously undermining the colonial position, revealing it to be, as Moore-Gilbert has put it, 'riven with contradictions'. (39) However, by coming to the story with a plan of Kipling's narrative communication derived from the travel journalism, we can see that 'On the City Wall', like the Letters, is a controlled reinforcement of the imperial status quo: no doubt because it was written after Kipling's move to Allahabad and the Pioneer, and his consequent development into a well-known and frequently discontented writer for a readership beyond his original, intimate circle of conservatively like-minded Anglo-Punjabis. Peter Havholm has recently produced a series of highly interesting readings by focusing on this idea of Kipling communicating with a particular Anglo-Indian readership. However, his interpretation does not recognize a shift in Kipling's writing with the move to the Pioneer and engages differently with its aesthetic mechanics. Thus, while Havholm concludes that 'On the City Wall' does not inadvertently express the weaknesses of empire, his reading highlights the besotted narrator and the ignorantly racist Captain of the fort as crucial in this, because they ironically suggest that 'the Indian people are so needy, so incapable of successful action' that 'English incompetence' is required for the escape to take place. (40) My reading suggests that while it would be absurd to neglect either of these things, the narrative's total formal arrangement is of greater consequence in determining its propagandistic character. This perspective also allows me to distinguish between 'On the City Wall' and 'Beyond the Pale', endorsing the conventional critical view of the latter as short-circuiting the ideological gaze, where Havholm reads it as embodying its opening maxim. (41)

'On the City Wall' begins with the narratorial voice of an insider communicating with other insiders, but in a jesting guise that plays at disguising its sophisticated outlook--which, it is intimated, is neither of the East nor the West--in the opinions and language of outsiders. Such a collapsible two-levelled discourse obviously recalls that of the Letters rather than 'Beyond the Pale':

Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world. Lilith was her very-great-grandmamma, and that was before the days of Eve, as every one knows. In the West, people say rude things about Lalun's profession, and write lectures about it, and distribute the lectures to young persons in order that Morality may be preserved. In the East, where the profession is hereditary, descending from mother to daughter, nobody writes lectures or takes any notice; and that is a distinct proof of the inability of the East to manage its own affairs. (42)

What 'every one knows' depends on whom you regard as being 'every one'--and, for that matter, whom you regard as being 'nobody'. Kipling implies a hardened Anglo-Indian reader who would believe, like his parents and himself, that it was a mistake to apply Western ideas to natives who both did not want and did not need them: to try to convert those you were there to administer. Meanwhile, the 'distinct proof' of that Western 'every one' playfully enacts the dissimulation of an initiate who actually knows better--and coerces the reader into discounting the Western position.

Having introduced the native characters, the story then switches to discussing the administration of India via a non sequitur so blatant it has escaped critical comment: 'But first it is necessary to explain something about the Supreme Government which is above all and below all and behind all.' Again, the technique is familiar to us from the Letters, with the underlying logic of British India being reproduced into the sequential drive of a narrative, thereby gracing it with the illusion of inevitability and veracity. The bolting together of these two sections, which sees the pleasantly frivolous exotica of native India underwritten by the serious life-and-death business of British authority, maps the coming story in a comparable way to that attempted by the maxim which opened 'Beyond the Pale'--though 'On the City Wall' contains none of the earlier story's perturbations.

The story's narrator can be duped by Lalun into assisting in the escape of a native rebel because the military efficiency of the British provides an unbeatable corrective to native cunning and sensuality. If in an earlier story such as 'The Mark of the Beast' forbidden violence had preyed on a distorted sensuality, here authoritative violence happily straitjackets the attractively sensual: it is both contacted and contained. The suppression of the native riot by police and army, which takes place as the old rebel is escaping, is also the narrative answer to that escape, the effect happening simultaneously with the cause. The accumulatively sequential method of the Letters, which was disrupted in 'Beyond the Pale', is utilized again in 'On the City Wall', though in a more sophisticated way. Although we do not receive the explanation of the rebel's disillusionment and voluntary return to captivity until later, the juxtaposition of the native riots with salutary British force--like the earlier juxtaposition of Lalun's exoticism with the grim efficiency of the Indian Civil Service--has already communicated to us the inevitable destination of his rebellion. This teleological narrative succession possesses suggestive parallels with the logic of British primacy in India: as when, in the second Letter of Marque, Colonel Jacob is introduced after a long recapitulation of the history of Jeypore, in a fashion that makes it clear he is the natural 'successor' (p. 11) to whatever has gone before him.

All of the various Anglo-Indian fears in 'On the City Wall' are neutralized by such progressions. The educated native throws off his education when stimulated, the military rebel is an impotent anachronism, native violence is channelled into interfaith (and in this context internecine) conflict, the double-meaning of Indian discourse is stamped out by British boots, and neither the labyrinthine city nor the sexy female's wiles can compete with the stern flux of the imperial forces. Indeed, Lalun is allowed to be both physically attractive and rather admirable because her threat has been neutralized by salutary British force: it can be indulged because it will be, and has been, contained, much as the Indian past was contained, on show, in Jeypore museum in Letters of Marque. As in the travel narrative, Kipling has consciously mastered the potential ambivalences in 'On the City Wall', and he ensures that they are never more than titillating: the orthodox Anglo-Indian position is never truly threatened. There is more sensual pleasure in the riot control than there is in any of Lalun's gatherings --'parties of five or six British soldiers, joining arms, swept down the side-gullies, their rifles on their backs, stamping, with shouting and song, upon the toes of Hindu and Mussulman' (p. 371)--and when placed in the context of Kipling's other Indian fiction we can see that the narrator's succumbing to Lalun's charm and cunning is a variant on a persistent Kipling scenario in which the beauty and sensuality of India seduce and then destroy the solitary Englishman. It is a cathartic warning, but one which is comic in spirit--a trait which has garnered surprisingly little comment--and lacks the gruesome tragedy of 'Beyond the Pale' because it has been embedded in a determinedly optimistic account of Anglo-Indian group governance and the maintenance of the status quo, of 'Wali Dad, the educational mixture and the supreme government'--to quote from that digression earlier in the text, which we can now see to be a safety net slung beneath the narrator's exotic indiscretion. As readers of Letters of Marque we might also note that the dramatization of the narrator as flawed does not necessarily impact on the story as a whole. Kipling had demonstrated there how he could manipulate the position of the narrator to better display--in relief, as it were--other forces in the narrative, though these will still be subordinated to a governing authorial schema.

This narrative communication of an ideologically conservative perspective anticipates Kipling's practice upon his return to London, where stories such as 'The Head of the District' (1890, 1891) and 'The Man Who Was' (1890, 1891) would attempt to provide an even more determinedly propagandistic service for his Anglo-Indian community in relation to a British readership. However, the liminal genius which charges earlier works such as 'Beyond the Pale' would also resurface in London, encouraged by Kipling's removal from the immediate circumstantial pressures of India, in stories such as 'On Greenhow Hill' (1890, 1891) and 'The Courting of Dinah Shadd' (1890, 1891) which would reveal evidence of a new scope and complexity in his writing. Letters of Marque embodies the moment when the division between these two kinds of story begins to emerge: its brilliantly controlled contradictions draped like veils over the granite certainties of its particular Anglo-Indian position.

(1) Gail Chian-Liang Low, White Skins/Black Masks (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 136-47; Bart Moore-Gilbert, '"Letters of Marque": Travel, Gender and Imperialism', Kipling Journal, 281 (March 1997), 12-24; Mary Conde, 'Constructing the Englishman in Rudyard Kipling's Letters of Marque', Yearbook of English Studies, 34 (2004), 230-39.

(2) See Sandra Kemp, Kipling's Hidden Narratives (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988); Zoreh T. Sullivan, Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

(3) Conde, p. 238.

(4) Moore-Gilbert, p. 23.

(5) Low, p. 146.

(6) For Kipling's Punjabi politics see Andrew St John, "'In the Year '57": Historiography, Power and Politics in Kipling's Punjab', Review of English Studies, 51 (2000), 62-79; Andrew Hagiioannu, The Man Who Would Be Kipling (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), PP. 3-34; Peter Havholm, Politics and Awe in Rudyard Kipling's Fiction (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 19-87.

(7) Rudyard Kipling, From Sea to Sea (1899), 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1938), I, 4.

(8) Conde, p. 232.

(9) Low , p. 138.

(10) E. M. Collingham, Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c. 1800-1947 (Oxford: Polity, 2001), p. 139.

(11) The listing of ranks will later be redeemed in the field, when the narrator comments: 'The wise man will visit [Amber] when time and occasion serve, and will then, in some small measure, understand what must have been the riotous, sumptuous, murderous life to which our Governors and Lieutenant-Governors, Commissioners and Deputy-Commissioners, Colonels and Captains and the Subalterns, have put an end' (pp. 21-22).

(12) The Letters of Marque were not signed: nevertheless, in the small Anglo-Indian world the identity of their increasingly popular author would have been widely known. On getting into Allahabad Kipling found 'the railway stations blazing with my name' (The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, ed. by Thomas Pinney, 6 vols (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1994-2004), I, 151).

(13) To the extent that a theory even circulated that it had been designed by an Italian: Thomas R. Metcalfe, An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain's Raj (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 46-48.

(14) A District at Play', Civil and Military Gazette, 27 August 1886; repr. in Kipling, From Sea to Sea, II, 441-53.

(15) Low, p. 137.

(16) Ibid., p. 142.

(17) Conde, p. 232.

(18) Low, p. 137.

(19) Hagiioanu, pp. 34-37.

(20) Andrew Lycett, Rudyard Kipling (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999), p. 207.

(21) Moore-Gilbert, p. 18; Conde, pp. 237-38.

(22) Nigel Leask, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 174.

(23) Ibid., p. 169.

(24) Edwin Arnold, India Revisited (London, 1886), p. 137.

(25) St John, p. 69.

(26) Margaret Macmillan, Women of the Raj (London: Thames and Hudson,1988), pp. 103-04.

(27) 'Y. Y., 'From Sea to Sea', The Bookman, 18 (April 1900), 19-20 (p. 20).

(28) Ibid.

(29) Chadrika Kaul, Reporting the Raj (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 5; C. A. Bayly, Empire and Information (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 373-76.

(30) See e.g. Omar Khayyam, Quatrains, trans. by E. H. Whinfield (London: Octagon, 1980).

(31) Collingham, p. 143.

(32) Havholm, p. 41.

(33) Craig Raine, 'Kipling's Stories', Grand Street, 5 (Summer 1986), 138-76 (p. 139); Robert H. MacDonald, 'Discourse and Ideology in Kipling's "Beyond the Pale"', Studies in Short Fiction, 23 (Fall 1986), 413-18; Daniel Karlin, 'Plain Tales?', in Kipling Considered, ed. by Phillip Mallett (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1989), pp. 1-18 (p. 12); Low, pp. 130-35.

(34) Rudyard Mpling, Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) (London: Macmillan, 1937), p. 235.

(35) MacDonald, p. 414.

(36) Ibid., p. 413.

(37) Anon., review of Plain Tales from the Hills, in Quarterly Review, 175 (July 1892), 141.

(38) Sullivan, p. 71.

(30) Bart Moore-Gilbert, 'Reading Kipling, Reading Bhabha', in Writing India, ed. by Moore-Gilbert (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), pp. 111-38 (P. 114). See also Salman Rushdie, 'Kipling', in Imaginary Homelands (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), pp. 74-81 (p. 80); Hagiioannu, pp. 48-52.

(40) Havholm, p. 76.

(41) 'Ultimately, these stories embody the well-known warning in "Beyond the Pale": "Let the White go to the White and the Black to the Black"' (ibid., p. 81).

(42) Rudyard Kipling, Soldiers Three (1891) (London: Macmillan, 1937), p. 344.


COPYRIGHT 2009 Modern Humanities Research Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Sergeant, David
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Previous Article:The logic of the Clerk's Tale.
Next Article:The perversion of time: jealousy and lyric in The Romance of Flamenca.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |