'My Son's Wife'


(notes edited
by John Radcliffe)




notes on the text
[May 12 2008]

Publication

First published in A Diversity of Creatures in 1917, accompanied by the poems, "The Floods" and "The Fabulists".

Also collected in: The Story

This tale, like "An Habitation Enforced" in Actions and Reactions, tells of the conversion of a town-dweller to the enduring virtues of English country life. Frankwell Midmore, comfortably off though not rich, leads a pleasant existence in a London flat, mixing with free-thinking friends of a left-leaning persuasion, apostles of social improvement, self-indulgent, artificial, and loose in their morals. His life changes when a distant aunt leaves him a house in the country.

Unenthusiastic at first, he takes up the role of a country gentleman under the guidance of Rhoda, the down-to-earth elderly maid, who had dandled him on her knee when he was a baby. He takes to reading the novels of Surtees, outwits his awkward tenant farmer, gets to know his 'county' neighbours, buys horses, learns to sit a horse and hunt, and abandons his former existence and his bohemian friends.

When he encounters his first flood, a familiar and constant threat to his valley, he rises heroically to the occasion, rescues an endangered neighbour, and finds his true love in the hardy, laconic green-eyed daughter of his country lawyer. He will not be returning to Hampstead.

Background

This story is dated '1913' in A Diversity of Creatures, eleven years after the Kipling's had settled in their country house at Bateman's, getting to know their neighbours, extending their estate, dealing with tenant famers, tangling with the shrewd obstinate close-mouthed Sussex country people, making allies among them, and drawing on their wisdom. Rhoda, in this story, plays the role of counsellor and friend rather as 'Hobden' did for the Kiplings. Philip Mason suggests that this story, and "An Habitation Enforced" are variations on the poem "A Charm":

Take of English earth as much
As either hand may rightly clutch...
... Lay that earth upon thy heart,
And thy sickness shall depart!
Mason goes on to write of this story (p. 236):

...in substance it is saying that it is morally better to splash about in the mud hunting, than to sit on committees trying to improve the world...
Midmore was, of course, taking refuge from the world of London avant-gard left-wing intellectuals, known as the 'Bloomsbury Group', such people as J. M. Keynes, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and Lytton Strachey, to which Kipling was violently hostile, seeing it as self-indulgent, subversive, and morally loose. In those years before the Great War he had railed and written against liberal and radical tendencies in British politics, perceiving them as endangering the security of country and Empire in a dangerous world.

Some critical comments

Angus Wilson (p. 282) criticises Kipling for overstating his case, but allows that there is some justice in the picture he paints of 'Bloomsbury' intellectuals:

...there is a charge of triviality and silliness made. And the picture, exaggerated and without any sympathy, is not too far away from the world of Orage and Middleton Murry as seen in Kathleen Mansfield's journals... Kipling, it must be said, knows it well enough to write a letter for Frankwell Midmore in his unregenerate days that is a passable imitation of a minor Bloomsbury "witty" letter. But he goes too far all the time, especially after he has shown that that Midmore had got involved with "the Immoderate Left"....

His other point has some validity, but once again he thumps it into the story until he almost breaks the fabric. It is this: a good deal of the high-minded talk and cultural concern and social reform of the London intelligentsia turns out simply to be a life of promiscuous sexual affairs covered in romantic talk ... It is the plain man's case against Bloomsbury.
Angus Wilson goes on, though, to note that:

...the picture of Sussex village people, notably here a greedy libidinous cheerful old farmer, is excellent, and its natural setting superbly done.
J M S Tompkins comments (p. 51):

This is one of the 'iceberg' stories, much of it is below the surface. Midmore is a secretive man; we hear what he does, but little of what he thinks. It is not even pointed out that all the suppositions of his 'bright' letter to his mother after his aunt's funeral are reversed by the end of the tale. Even the 'peasants who do not utter' have uttered with force and point ... But when Midmore laughs, the process breaks surface for a moment:

'For a few seconds the teachings of the Immoderate Left, whose humour is all its own, wrestled with those of Mother Earth, who has her own humours...'

Midmore laughs again at Mr Sydney's domestic arrangements. Natural lust, taken with cheerfulness, it seems, is more wholesome than the cerebration and fornication of the Immoderate Left.
See also KJ 118/16 and 153/10, for reports of discussion meetings on this and other Sussex stories.


[J.R.]

ŠJohn Radcliffe 2008 All rights reserved