An introductory note
As with other notes for the New Reader’s Guide (NRG), the starting point has been those prepared by our predecessors for the Old Reader’s Guide (ORG) edited by Reginald Harbord. It has seemed to this Editor that much of what was written for the ORG has remained relevant, and so, where this text is substantially that of the ORG, it appears in black type. However, the great difference between writing for the ORG and for this new Guide is that the ORG had a very limited circulation of Kipling enthusiasts, mainly in Britain, whereas, thanks to the Internet, our new readership comprises people from all over the world, for many of whom English is not their first language. So new or substantially amended entries have been added, and appear in the dark blue type of this paragraph.
This story was first published in Century Magazine, a New York publication, in August 1905. It was collected in:
The tale is a romance: it describes how a young American couple, on a visit to Edwardian England, discover the wife’s roots – her family emigrated to the newly independent USA round about 1800 – and, drawn by the association of place, settle down to make their home there.
The Chapins are young and affluent. He is a successful American businessman who has suffered a nervous breakdown, brought on by over-work. They come to Europe for a rest-cure, and after wandering aimlessly for several months, come to England. There, they are recommended by a fellow-countrywoman to go and stay in the country.
They go to East Sussex, to stay on a farm on an estate which has been neglected by an absentee landlord. They discover the mansion which is the estate’s centre, and Sophie Chapin feels more and more drawn to the place. They decide to buy the estate to put it into good order as something for George Chapin to do. On the first Sunday of their ownership, while in church, Sophie finds her mother’s maiden name on a tombstone.
Thereafter the tale concerns their tracing of the family connection, which proves that inadvertently they have bought the home of Sophie Chapin’s forebears; and their acceptance into local Society, culminating in the birth of their son, and their realisation that they have come Home, and can build for the next generation.
The tale, which this Editor regards as a great personal favourite, represents an Edwardian England seen through rose-tinted spectacles. The countryside is idyllic; society is stable, with everyone in their place and 'knowing their place'. It may be suggested that Kipling was writing out a wish-fulfilment of his own, an expanded and idealised version of his and Carrie’s purchase of ‘Bateman’s’ and its mini-estate. The ORG quotes Roger Lancelyn Green in Kipling and the Children (1965):
Perhaps Kipling did not know when he came to ‘Bateman’s’ in 1902 that the old order was about to change and that he was taking part in the very end of a great tradition. Possibly realising something of this subconsciously, he caught the whole spirit of that tradition in three stories, "An Habitation Enforced", "My Son’s Wife", and "Friendly Brook", and enshrined in them some of the most perfect pictures in our literature of that lost world. This he did as of a world in full flowering, with no trace of a nostalgia for something that was about to pass: and this increases the authenticity as well as the moving quality of his picturesThat world is also caught in the pages of Punch magazine, where the cartoons and illustrations in the period 1900-1910 always suggest bright sunlight. Of course, it wasn’t all like that: for just one illustration of what rural life was like for the poorer members of our society, Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford (OUP, Oxford, 1945) can be recommended. And another much wider-ranging novel covering the same period, and basically in a similar setting, is R.F. Delderfield’s A Horseman Riding By (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1966).
But it was all about to change, as the Kiplings themselves found. The continuity of life would be rudely shattered by the First World War. The break applied to all levels of society, from the landed proprietor, through the squire, to the yeoman farmer, all of whom had thought that they were building for the next generation, but whose sons died in or above the trenches of the Western Front, or in the waters of the North Sea. Nor was it just in the countryside: the manufacturer who hoped his son would take over the factory, and the small tradesman who hoped that the name "Jones & Son" would mean what it said; all suffered the same loss.
The change was abrupt, and for those who lived through it, cataclysmic. But it would probably have happened anyway, though more gradually. Late Victorian and Edwardian social stability was probably illusory, because the 19th century had seen the pace of life, and the rapidity with which ideas spread, increase dramatically. In urban areas such factors as the second Reform Act of 1867, the rise of the Labour party in the latter part of the 19th century and the coming of the ha’penny press in the 1890s, had already started to undermine the previously accepted social hierarchy.
On another level, the story is about ‘place’, and the effect it has on humankind. Kipling clearly felt the need to settle and put down roots, when once he had married. Brattleborough and the USA failed him, and in any case, the USA had too many associations with his dead daughter Josephine; so, after a short and not-very-pleasant period in Devon, he came to Sussex.
This was a Sussex before the days of the motor car and the spread of bungalows up the seaward face of the South Downs, when iron was still mined and forged as it had been in the 16th century (the last ironworks in Sussex, at Ashburnham, closed in 1923). Almost immediately he felt that this was a place where he could settle and bring up his family, and his deep love of the place was later reflected in his poem ‘Sussex’, written in 1902, the year he went to ‘Bateman’s’, and ‘The Run of the Downs’, from ‘Rewards and Fairies’, first published in 1910 – to give but two examples.
In this tale the setting is East Sussex – ‘Kipling Country’ – and Kipling has put all his personal feelings about place into his female protagonist: George Chapin is very much the lesser character of the two, and there are parallels to be drawn with Kipling’s own life. (Which is not to imply that Kipling was a lesser character than Carrie, merely that in domestic matters it has been shown that she led the way.)
It is interesting to note that although the tale was written in 1905 and published in the USA the same year, it was not published in Great Britain until 1909. It may also be noted that the tale, written in the third person, is (supposedly) seen through American eyes. Kipling himself added a gloss to the character details of his main protagonists in a letter dated 5 April 1910 to Edward Lucas White ( Letters Vol 3, Ed. Pinney p. 418):
Sophie Chapin was New England. I’m not sure about her spouse but I have a notion he was Yale – not Harvard. Anyhow he did his work in New York where the nerves come from and if they wanted to go to Baltimore it was probably on account of the climate for Sophie’s confinement.The ORG Editor for this story, writing in the 1960s concludes his notes with the following comment:
Finally, in addition to the themes of sense of place, and the sense of belonging where one’s ancestors lived, one may note that of duty and responsibility. In our days, to talk publicly about such is not fashionable, but Kipling returns to this theme in many of his tales.Critical Appreciation
The story has attracted a fair amount of favourable criticism, but is not examined in any depth in the major biographies by Carrington, Birkenhead and Lycett. It may be suggested that the tale is not central to Kipling’s life, but it reveals a major facet of his outlook, a love of and an appreciation of England: an attitude which, mostly unspoken or barely even thought of, would have coloured the views of many of his characters: for example young Brevet Major Cottar, in “The Brushwood Boy” from The Day’s Work. And of course, many of the characters in Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies illustrate the same theme. Lycett (p. 534) records that Stanley Baldwin (Kipling’s cousin and Prime Minister 1923-29 and 1935-37, who is frequently portrayed as a quintessential English countryman, usually smoking a pipe and engaged in scratching a pig’s back) said that he had read the story ‘over and over again’.
One of the earliest books about Kipling written after his death is by Edward Shanks Shanks thought highly of “An Habitation Enforced”: the chapter heading under which he discusses the tale is “The Golden Years”. He is referring to Kipling’s work, but the phrase has been used to describe the whole Edwardian, pre-1914, era. However, as has been touched on above, the gold was largely gold-plating, if not mere pinchbeck, and Shanks opens the work by commenting on the effect on the nation, and Kipling, of the Liberal landslide victory in the 1906 election, which had an effect comparable to that of the Labour victory 39 years later, at the end of World War II. But “An Habitation Enforced” is not in the least politically inspired: it is inspired by Kipling’s love of the country (countryside) and his love of his country (England – and that word is used advisedly, rather than Britain, or Great Britain).
Because Shanks’ work is not generally available now, it seems worthwhile to quote him in extenso:
Another way of looking at the facts and their consequences would be to say that his first maturity began when he left India to discover the world and his second when he came home from the world to discover England.The present editor finds that last remark somewhat baffling. The poem quoted is "The Return", which was published in The Five Nations, and collected in the various Inclusive and Definitive Editions of the verse, and in the Sussex Edition, but not, it is believed, attached to, or preceding, any of the tales, in any of the collections. Be that as it may, Shanks quotes the last stanza, and in particular the envoi:
If England was what England seems,Shanks goes on:
Some critics have picked on [these] lines as proof that his loudly expressed patriotism is only superficial or at best selfish. I cannot see any ground for the charge. One loves one’s country for what she is, not as an abstraction. But in any case Kipling was now on his way to discover an England which was not all putty, brass and paint.Twenty years later Joyce Tompkins also commented on the tale, though not so extensively. She sees it from another angle – and is entirely justified in so doing. In the chapter entitled “Healing” she writes:
The theme of healing is not, like that of revenge, one of Kipling’s original themes. It emerges strongly in what I have called the halcyon period of his art, the tales that are collected in Actions and Reactions and Rewards and Fairies, and continues to act as a powerful focus of his imagination until in Limits and Renewals half the tales are in one way and another, concerned with it.It may be suggested that Kipling has, in fact and with consummate skill, combined the two themes of place and healing. That the tale is about ‘place’ is undoubted:
I am the land of their fathers.Equally it is about healing: it is hardly surprising that Sophie is ‘healed’ first. Friars Pardon is her place; for George it is somewhere new. And physically and mentally it is George who has suffered most, and so will be slower to heal.
Professor J I M Stewart examines “An Habitation Enforced” with “My Son’s Wife (A Diversity of Creatures), as do other critics. Stewart seems, to this editor, to be equivocal in his criticism:
Let us consider something of their sustained power to irritate through the medium of the short story. “An Habitation Enforced” will make a good beginning. [He then summarises the story, and also that of “My Son’s Wife”]So far as “An Habitation Enforced” is concerned, this Editor can see no bullying in the tale. A number of other critics turned their attention to Kipling in the mid-1970s. Martin Fido writes as follows:
Life at Bateman’s provided the motive force for the most positive stories in the next two collections. “An Habitation Enforced” deal(s) with an American couple settling cosily into the life of village and county in (a) house very like Kiplings. The minor landed gentry theme predominated, for although Rudyard wrote respectfully of the skills of the labouring men of Sussex – hedgers, tree-surgeons, water-diviners and well-sinkers – he did not mix with them as easily as he had done with the Indians and soldiers of the Punjab. He made no friends in Burwash apart from Colonel Feilden, who owned a smart William and Mary house.This is fair comment: but Kipling's circumstances in Burwash were very different from what they had been in India, and also from those when he was in Vermont. In India, he was a young journalist: in Sussex, he was an established author, and a celebrity. In the social climate of the time, he could not have readily dropped into the local pub (one must doubt that Carrie would have approved): for one thing, it was the best part of a mile away, up a steep-ish hill, and if he had done so, he would have been expected to drink in the saloon bar, not in the public bar. However, he did mix with the labouring men, but as an employer, working alongside them (his letters suggest as much), and the description, on page 49, towards the end of “An Habitation Enforced”, of George Chapin working with his estate workers probably gives an idea of how Kipling saw his relationships with his men.
Kingsley Amis speaks of the poem “Sussex”, written in 1902, as being:
...well-written, observant, thoughtful and too emphatic, the work of a man putting his roots down by will-power.This editor considers that to be very fair comment, and justified; Kipling, it may be suggested, realised that the years were slipping by ( he was 37, over half-way through his biblical life-span), and if he were to establish roots, it had to be done swiftly.
The same could be said of the story, “An Habitation Enforced”, in which an American couple settle among English country-folk. The latter are too wise and understanding and unchanged and selfless by half. Nobody shows the strangers any hostility, suspicion or even indifference. Some scenes could even form the basis of a heart-warming American film starring Robert Taylor and Sylvia Sidney. To put the matter more colourfully, the tone and content of the story are Anglophile, something which a real Englishman cannot be”.Which may be true – or have a grain of truth in it: but it is suggested that if 'the stranger within your gates' is friendly, and open, and forthcoming, as most Americans (in this editor’s experience) are, then even the most xenophobic ancient Briton will respond: and Kipling was merely trying to suggest this – he wasn’t giving a blow-by-blow description of how every one in the county reacted: so do so would not have improved the story; not to do so did not make it unreal.
Angus Wilson comments substantially on “An Habitation Enforced”:
Kipling was constantly trying, as he thought, to strengthen his work with realistic detail, technical exactitude. It was not his inborn inaccuracy in relation to detail alone, I think, that makes him so often inexact. It was that he was not a realist at all. His forte was the creation of his own world out of his impressions of the real world. The facts – accurate or inaccurate of the real world – are only important in so far as they impress the reader with the truth of the created world.Wilson then summarises the story, and goes on:
There are key sentences that suggest the country’s healing powers: ‘It’s the proportions’ [of the house] … ‘people don’t seem to matter in this country compared to the place they live in’ … the foreknowledge of deliciously empty hours to follow … ‘climate, all climate’ (This last is a peculiarly insincere attribution, for the Kipling’s were to escape English winters all their lives, save for the years of the war.)All the above writers have tended to write negatively about this story. Two others, Philip Mason and Roger Lancelyn Green both of whom were members of the Kipling Society, were more positive. Philip Mason writes:
… but there is also “An Habitation Enforced”, a double-length story, one of the fuller exercises in “Hobdenism” and the ways of English Country folk.”Roger Lancelyn Green also wrote at length about “An Habitation Enforced”:
We do not, I think, know for certain what the local gentry really thought of Kipling – the landowner rather than the author – between 1902 and the end of that particular civilisation they typifies, which came with the First World War.This Editor would echo Roger Lancelyn Green’s words, though from a later and hence more remote, but similar, perspective. His family moved to a Sussex farmhouse, about four miles away from, and much the same size as, Bateman’s, albeit some 50 years older, with the same amount of land as Kipling had originally. The year was 1947, and there were sufficient traces of the old order – just – for it to be recognisable.
See also KJ 336/8.
©Alastair Wilson 2006 All rights reserved