January 28th, 2010


We collected my father-in-law from the hospital yesterday and took him home. The doctor had offered him a couple more days on the ward if he'd wanted them. He didn't.

So that's a weight lifted.

Starting Life's Handicap

I'm re-reading Kipling- as I do periodically. I'll be blogging my progress. Expect this to be the first such post of many.

Life's Handicap is an 1891 collection that contains some of the best of the Indian short stories. "The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney" is a shockingly amoral farce with flashes of tenderness and beauty; really there's a whole world contained in its 30 odd pages. "The Courting of Dinah Shadd" is about love and sex and loyalty- male fecklessness and female singlemindedness- and if it doesn't quite deliver the punch it intends one has to remember that Kipling was only about 25 and romantically inexperienced- indeed possibly still a virgin-  when he wrote it.  Both stories deal with the life lived by British soldiers in India and- allowing for a heightening of incident and a toning down of  language (sanguinary for bloody)- deal with it truthfully. No-one of talent had handled this material before. And no-one- certainly no Englishman- had written with such a focused, arts-and-craftsy attention to structure, detail and polish.  Kipling is an English Zola, but also an English Flaubert-  and finally- and this is what makes him uniquely great- a poet with a poet's instinctive knowledge of the inwardness and connectedness of things.

An Example Of What I Meant...

At the climax of "The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney"- a heartless yarn about heartless men behaving heartlessly- Mulvaney, the drunken Irish squaddie, escapes from a temple full of high caste Hindu women by pretending to be the god Krishna.  So far, so farcical. But Mulvaney knows that the women are there to pray for children- and is himself the father of a child that died. As he exits sideways, draped in the silk lining he's ripped out of a palanqueen and tootling on a beer bottle, he sees how one of the "darlin's" is working her fingers "one in another as if she wanted to touch my feet. So I dhrew the tail av this pink overcoat over her head for the greater honour, an' I slid into the dhark on the other side av the temple". Suddenly- in the middle of all the brazenness and cynicism- we have a entirely gratuitous moment of connection between one human being and another- which we don't linger on because an instant later Mulvaney is roughing up the temple priest for cash. The story doesn't need this touch of grace. It would be entirely effective without it. But the sudden change of register- Shakespearian in its daring-  lifts it from effectiveness into greatness. This is an example of what I meant when I spoke of Kipling as essentially a poet- and  a reason why I love him.