"Little Foxes"

(notes edited
by John McGivering)


notes on the text

[December 26 2006]

Publication

First published in Colliers Weekly for 27 March 1909 and then in Nash’s Magazine for April the same year. Collected in Actions and Reactions, 1909, the Sussex Edition, Volume 8, p. 219; Burwash Edition, Volume 8, and Scribners, Volume 24, p. 243.

The story

This tale light-heartedly extols the merits of firm Imperial rule and makes fun of its Liberal critics. It was published soon after a Liberal goverment came to power in Britain. The setting is a recently acquired colony on the banks of a great river - the Sudan, thinly disguised - where the British have taken over from oppressive 'Emirs'. and where the great concern of the local villagers is to secure their title to their lands.

The local Governor, a keen huntsman, observes that the country is teeming with foxes, and decides to bring out a pack of hounds to have some sport. As in England, it is necessary to stop up the foxes' earths to prevent them 'going to ground' and the Governor hits on an ingenious way of achieving this. He decrees that farmers must stop up the earths on their land, on pain of being beaten. Men who have failed to do so are soon found to be claiming the right to be beaten, as a badge of ownership, and thus sport is combined with justice. The 'beatings' are soon transmuted into a token tap on the shoulder.

When, however, the Governor's Inspector is home on leave, on a mission to bring back some new hounds, he encounters at the dinner table a Liberal Member of Parliament who is deeply committed to righting the wrongs of the oppressed. The young man gives him a racy and entirely fictitious account of the brutal beatings regularly administered in the colony. Soon after the MP, who has taken all this entirely seriously, comes out to see for himself, and makes an impassioned speech to the local villagers. Unfortunately it has been translated in a way that makes him seem to be a madman, and his words are swept away in a gale of laughter.

Origins

ORG, Volume 6, p. 2859, carries useful first-hand information on the origin of this story, with personal reminiscences of some who served in the Sudan. The present Editor feels that this is worth study, but is not strictly necessary for the enjoyment of the story.

See also Something of Myself pp. 167-168) and KJ143/20 269/49 and 294/06 & 08.

Critical comments

Dobrée (p. 122) examines Kipling’s views on democracy as shewn in this story and draws our attention to Bernard Shaw’s “Epistle Dedicatory” to his Man and Superman (first performed 1905) wondering if Kipling ever read it, believing that: 'if he had, he would have applauded ... our political experiment of democracy, the last refuge of cheap misgovernment, [which] will ruin us if our citizens are ill-bred. See also his Chapter 4 – where he discusses Kiplings views on the Empire.

J I M Stewart (p.168) sees this as: '…a story betraying, or rather parading,some of Kipling’s most shocking prejudices, and it will not commend itself to persons instinctively respectful towards politicians or earnest in the cause of developing multiracial communities’ . Stewart then relents, and admits: '...it is exceedingly funny all the same.

It is a tribute to Kipling’s powers of absorbing information and atmosphere that his first visit to Egypt (as recorded by Charles Carrington (p. 419) was not until 1913, on a journey decsribed in Letters of Travel. It is strange to reflect how slight had been his earlier acquaintance with Egypt, and that the author of The Light that Failed and of “Little Foxes” set eyes on the Nile valley for the first time at this late date.

For more on hunting, see “The Great Play Hunt” and “Toby Dog” (Thy Servant a Dog) “My Son’s Wife” (A Diversity of Creatures), “Verses on Games” and “Fox-Hunting” ("The Fox Meditates").

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved