"Mrs Bathurst"

Kipling Journal articles

notes on the text
textual differences
the critics
Kipling Journal articles
the timescale
some problems

(April 22 2008)

The tale has been widely discussed in the pages of the Kipling Journal. The table below lists the articles up to the publication of the ORG notes:

The following lists the articles since that date, and summarises their contents.

KJ 150
June 1964
An editorial, which, while approving Professor Bodelsen's book, pours cold water on his suggestion that Mrs. Bathurst was dead before Vickery saw her in the cinema, and that it is her ghost which is the second lightning-struck corpse.

KJ 151
Sep 1964
An article by Admiral Brock, much of which was reproduced in the ORG and which has in turn been carried over, with slight changes of emphasis, in the 'Notes on the Text' of this Guide.

KJ 164
Dec 1967
A letter from R.E. Harbord, the Society's Secretary and Editor of, and major contributor to, the ORG. In it he cites a letter from Kipling himself (not in Letters, vol 3) dated 26 November 1904, to a Miss Tulse:

'As to Mrs. Bathurst no man but Vickery knows what Vickery had done. He may have represented himself as a single man and so have won her widowed heart. Whatever it was, it was The Thing Too Much which a man mustn't do.'

KJ 172
Dec 1969
A letter from Elizabeth Coxon, questioning whether there was a purpose in the introduction, for no more than a single brief mention, of Mrs. Bathurst's niece, Ada (p. 351, line 5)

KJ 178
June 1971
Two letters: the first from Professor Carrington, In it he says:

Near the beginning of "Mrs. Bathurst", the narrator falls into a doze. Perhaps this gives us the option of believing that the whole story is a dream and not an actual occurrence. Or is this merely 'throwing up a catch' as Kipling said he did in "The Wish House" (Something of Myself p. 212) ? I cling to the supposition that he shortened this story till it became unintelligible … But in revising, why did Kipling leave so much background? Again we find a clue in Something of Myself (p. 210), where he discusses "The Captive", another important story in the same volume: 'The background insisted too much', until he toned the lighting down. He ought to have given the treatment to Mrs. Bathurst, eliminating half the introduction and building up the story itself. The rather flat 'boy Niven' episode is irrelevant to the theme while the Captain 'with his court-martial face' is so cut back that one can make no sense of him. I do not say that this is what Kipling did but what he might have done.'

The second letter is from Mr. A.M. Punch:

Mr. Capel Hall wrote in Journal 47 (October 1938), 'interest in the story of Mrs. Bathurst inspired an author friend and myself to work out an explanation, and this we forwarded to Rudyard Kipling. He thanked us, but only committed himself to the reply, 'That was very interesting'.

Furthermore, the photostat letter, which we hold, signed by Kipling and dated November 26th, 1904—the handwriting is undoubtedly his, and on Batemans paper—reminds us that no one but Vickery knew what Vickery had done, thus setting the seal on random speculation, and guiding us to the recognition that in a world so fraught with hazard, the story of Click Vickery's trial and his failure represent, with no great disparity, average human life ...'

KJ 212
Dec 1979
An article by T.L. Williams, “The Tramps in Mrs. Bathurst”. Mr. Williams questions Elliott Gilbert's contention that the second tramp could not be a woman, suggesting that it is at best 'not proven'. Unfortunately Mr. Williams falls into same error as Martin Seymour-Smith, in assuming that Hooper knew Vickery's name before it had been given. (See the note on textual differences, which shows that this was due to an editing error by Kipling himself, in making changes between the text in the Windsor Magazine and the collected version.)

KJ 216
Dec 1980
There are two "Mrs. Bathurst" contributions in this issue: one is a reproduction of an illustration from the American issue of Traffics and Discoveries. It shows Mrs. Bathurst at Paddington, walking towards the camera.

The second is an important article by Lisa Lewis. It must be said that these editors do not agree with Mrs. Lewis's interpretation of the Paddington scene, but we fully agree with her conclusion, that it was his betrayal of Mrs. Bathurst (and his wife) which drove Vickery over the edge of madness.

KJ 248
Dec 1988
An article by Philip Mason. “Two Puzzles”. The first concerns the tale "Friendly Brook". The second concerns "Mrs. Bathurst". In it he examines the theory that the second tramp was Mrs. Bathurst, and considers the possibility that they might have met in Cape Town. He argues that if that had been possible, then there would have been no need for Vickery to desert.

There is also a note by Philip Mason on two reproductions of the Prout drawings from the Windsor Magazine. The second is of the two tramps as they were found dead by Hooper. Having decided that the second tramp is not Mrs. Bathurst, he asks, 'Why did Kipling introduce him', and likens him to the Third Murderer in Shakespeare's Macbeth:

'It is pure speculation but, knowing how Kipling's mind did often weave a story round one or two fragmentary scenes, I think he may have begun this story with a newspaper report of two tramps found near the railway line struck dead by lightning, and a conversation about a strangely attractive woman in a bar in New Zealand. These he linked in a story in which — and again, this is speculation — he was influenced by the basic idea of the cinematograph —motion conveyed by a series of still pictures. But he worked hard at framing in his own mind what happened in between the still shots.'

KJ 261
March 1982
Here we have another important article by Philip Mason, “More thoughts on "Mrs. Bathurst".” In it he makes two major points – one is the importance of the phrase about Mrs. Bathurst being capable of 'setting 'er foot on a scorpion''. He believes that Vickery and Mrs. Bathurst must have met in England in the summer of 1902 , and that, having discovered that he has lied to her (about his marital status), she rejects him out of hand, treating him as she would a scorpion. When he subsequently sees her on the screen in Cape Town (and almost certainly he knows at that time that his wife is dead, and that he would have been free to marry again), he is so filled with remorse for what he has lost, and guilt for the deceptions he has practised, that he feels quite suicidal. The end result is the same though – it drives Vickery to desert, and ultimately to death in the teak at Wankies.

KJ 262
June 1982
Yet another important article about the tale: this is by Geoffrey Plowden, who suggests that "Mrs. Bathurst" has all the elements of a Greek Tragedy. (We have seen that Kipling himself referred to it as a tragedy). Geoffrey Plowden notes that:

' ... there is a sprinkling of Greek books at Bateman's, including translations of Aeschylus, Sophocles and part of Euripides – all nineteenth-century volumes and therefore preceding "Mrs. Bathurst"...

... once past the prologue, the story conforms closely to the Greek tragic pattern. Like Oedipus, Vickery starts in apparent prosperity, but then guilt overtakes him, he 'blinds' himself with drink, and wanders away to die.'

... as to Kipling's intentions, I find it hard to believe that such a complex series of effects could have come into being except through calculation and effort. It is more credible that he read the books on his shelves, and decided to see what he could achieve in imitation, using his favourite theme of the outcast: after all, Oedipus was the supreme outcast.'

KJ 285
March 1992
This has another contribution by Geoffrey Plowden. In it he suggests that there is 'Dantean Imitation' in "Mrs. Bathurst". Again, we may accept his contention, but it doesn't add a great deal to our comprehension of the story. After all, the tales that Dante told (and the Greek tragedians, come to that) had been told since Man first started to tell tales round the fire outside the front of his cave.

Geoffrey Plowden adds: In these articles I suggest that Kipling used some of the techniques of those elevated art forms to achieve the extraordinary intensity of his tale. Dantean echoes in "Mrs Bathurst" had already been discovered by others, and I was luckily able to add one or two. I think Kipling expected readers to pick up these echoes as allusions, and so to see the story as a visit to Hell, with Vickery suffering the punishment of adulterers, as in Canto V of the Inferno.

I also tried to identify Dantean allusions in "They", showing the story as a visit to the Earthly Paradise, where, like Dante, Kipling was able to meet the one he loved best among the dead. Any reactions of readers to these ideas would be most welcome. [G.P.]


©Alastair Wilson 2008 All rights reserved