Notes edited by
Commander Alastair Wilson, R.N.
notes on the text
the Pyecroft stories
It was, in effect, the first modernist text in English. Deliberate obliqueness, formal fragmentation, absence of a privileged authorial point of view, intense literary self-consciousness, lack of closure – all the defining qualities of modernism were present and correct.However, the literary critics have largely disregarded the naval background to the story, which in the view of this Editor helps make it a great deal more intelligible than is commonly supposed. This was, as the ORG points out, both in order of events and in appearance, the fourth of Kipling's stories in which Petty Officer Pyecroft, navy through and through, is one of the main protagonists. The audience for which Kipling wrote were a great deal more au fait with naval matters than today's readers. Naval personnel were forced into similar moulds by training and environment, and in the most general way, what was true of one would be true of most. So when Angus Wilson says (p. 222) that we know 'next to nothing' about the characters in the story, we suggest that a knowledge of the Royal Navy reveals a great deal more general information about the man Vickery that the cinematic flashes of Kipling's narrative.
All I carried away from the magic town of Auckland (1891) was the face and voice of a woman who sold me beer at a little hotel there. They stayed in the back of my head until ten years later when, in a local train of the Cape Town suburbs, I heard a petty officer from Simon's Town telling a companion about a woman from New Zealand who 'never scrupled to help a lame duck or put a foot on a scorpion'. Then – precisely as the removal of the key-log in a timber-jam starts the whole pile – these words gave me the key to the voice and face at Auckland, and a tale called 'Mrs. Bathurst' slid into my mind, smoothly and orderly as floating timber on a bank-high river.In KJ 323 (p. 14) there is an article by Lydia Monin, ‘The Last Lamppost’. In it, citing Carrington as her authority, she identifies Mrs. Bathurst as being a barmaid in Coker’s Hotel in Christchurch, rather than in “a little hotel” in Auckland.
I worked the material in three or four overlaid tints and textures, which might or might not reveal themselves according to the shifting light of sex, youth and experience.This point has been used by commentators, who have suggested that “Mrs. Bathurst" is a multi-layered work. This is a perfectly arguable point of view, but this Editor would suggest, rather simplistically, that when all is said and done, the story is about the destructive effect that infatuation can have on two persons. In this case, it is the effect on a man of a woman, and although Kipling does not use the word infatuation (the word would perhaps not have been in Pyecroft's vocabulary), clearly Mrs. Bathurst has had that effect on Vickery. Ultimately, and unknowingly, she is the cause of Vickery's destruction. (And this is suggested by the epigraph.) We have seen above that Kipling himself described it as a tragedy.
Kipling, as a good craftsman should, when he builds a tale, first erects a scaffolding of facts and circumstances, to which he refers each incident as the story unfolds. He does not – it is not his method – let the reader see more of the scaffolding than is necessary for understanding the action, and this has caused some of the author's critics to make assumptions which are not justified by the narrative.Because 'Mrs. Bathurst' has caused so much comment, and raised so many questions, it is worth trying to “erect the scaffolding" for 'Mrs. Bathurst'. We have therefore set out an analysis of the timescale of the story in a separate note. But, in so doing, we must remember that this is, when all is said and done, a piece of fiction, and authors have been known to bend the rules of time and space in order to produce a good story.