Spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling (was Re: HP review)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Fri Jul 4 05:36:09 EDT 2003

Jenne wrote:

>Part of my thoughts on that come from reading and re-reading Stalky & Co
>(Kipling) as well as Kipling's other coming of age stories, along with
>commentary on such stories.

Please do not take what follows as being personally aimed at you.  It
isn't.  It's wot I sed in the subject line, ok?  I've even been good and
left it a few hours so I can recollect it in tranquility.

I haven't yet found a commentary on Kipling and his work that didn't annoy
me extremely.  He seems to have attracted more people who insist on
foisting views onto him than any other author I have ever studied in depth.
It ranges from the absurd "he was a fascist" to the imbecile "of course it
was all about sex because he doesn't talk about his relations with his wife
in his autobiography (and his moustache grew early)".

>Speaking of _Them_ have you ever come across the poem _We and They_ by
>Kiping of all people?

Why "of all people"?  That's a serious question.  Of all people, Kipling
probably *listened* more to everyone he met, travelled more widely and
therefore met more, and more various, people, and had a wider view of
humanity, than any I have encountered whether in literature or in life.
It's surely reasonable that he would admit that the local mores of his own
tribe were not the only mores that worked, given how many other sets he had
encountered and seen to be working quite well thankyou.  He admits it all
the time: taking his characters in *Kim*, would you say that the Lama, or
Mahbub Ali, or Hurree Babu, or Lurgan Sahib, or Creighton, or the
Hill-Woman, or the Padre, or Kim himself, is presented as being somehow
less or less worth respecting for not being a typical British Raj Sahib of
the Ruling Class?  'cos I wouldn't!  I'd say the person shown in the worst
light in that book is the C of E chaplain, who is a silly man, on the
whole.  (But then, I'd hate to try to extrapolate Kipling's religious
beliefs, if any, from his writings.  His Masonic stuff makes it clear that
he wasn't going to condemn *any* religion, and that a good part of the
attraction of being a Mason, for him, was that it transcended sects, and
creeds, and class, and colour, and every other consideration of any kind
apart from "this man is a Mason and therefore my brother".)

>I'll quote only the last verse:
>"All good people agree,
>And all good people say,
>All nice people, like Us, are We
>And every one else is They:
>But if you cross over the sea,
>Instead of over the way,
>You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
>As only a sort of They! "

Yes: that seems to me to be a very typical-of-Kipling reaction to a narrow
view of the world.  Similarly

"There are nine and ninety ways
Of constructing Tribal Lays
And - every - single - one - of - them - is - right!"

doesn't sit easy with the idea that Kipling thought that only the way *he*
saw things was the Right way.

Sorry.  Mild rant.  I got very fed up with the quick-and-easy
interpretations of Kipling I have waded through, the sort that take "A
woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke" as being a serious
statement of Kipling's own view of women (because they haven't read the
whole poem, and haven't read the newspaper cutting that inspired him to
write it -- which is given at the top).  Gaaaaahh.  *wibble*......  One
might as well assume one knows the social rules approved by Betjemen from
reading his "How to Get On in Society" and taking it as instructional, or
assume that Noel Coward meant every word of "Don't Let's Be Beastly to the
Germans" to be taken at face value, or that Tom Lehrer isn't taking the


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