First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 2 January 1890. Collected Volume IX, No. 57 of Turn-overs, 1890, and in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.
Kipling had been living in Villiers Street, London for three months before this story was first published, after his return to England from India in 1889.
The narrator is looking for someone with whom he can talk. He meets a friend and asks for suggestions, whereupon the friend introduces him, successively, to three young men. Each of these can be described as having a Purpose in Life (my capitals) about which it is soon apparent that they know virtually nothing.
Roger Lancelyn Green in an article in July 1950 (KJ 094, p. 5), “The Coming of Kipling” writes:
Of greater interest are Kipling's first reactions to the minor literary “coteries” amongst which he found himself during the few months before he discovered his true level. “Culture” at that time was the plaything of London society, and new “crazes” swept the capital in blind and exaggerated waves of uncritical “movements.” In vogue at that moment seem to have been the works of Guy de Maupassant, Pierre Loti and Paul Bourget: in “The Three Young Men” (2 January 1890) Kipling narrates how he was introduced to various youths most grievously afflicted with the new cult, and how, not to seem out of the fashion, he himself perused the works of those authors and came to the conclusion that:As was the case in “On Exhibition”, the narrator having become completely disenchanted with the offerings, and ‘to get exercise’ accepts an invitation from his friend, to go shooting on this occasion, as opposed to finding a place ‘where cabbies call, and drink something.’‘unwholesome was a mild term for these interesting books, which the young men assured me that they read for style. When a fat Major makes that remark in an Indian club, everybody hoots and laughs. But you must not laugh overseas, especially at young gentlemen who have been at Oxford.’
This is the fourth of the four items collected in Abaft the Funnel which deal with Kipling’s experiences and views of the London literary sets to which he was exposed in 1889-1890.
In order of date of publication, rather than collection in Abaft the Funnel, the sequence is:
Kipling displays his own knowledge of French and French literature, obtained under the encouragement of his father Lockwood, his headmaster Cormell Price, and his first Editor on the Civil and Military Gazette, Stephen Wheeler, by pretending only to have read French works in translation, or the more risqué magazines. At the end of the story however, he skewers one pretentious young man by quizzing him in detail about one of the works that he claims to know. Under pressure it is quite clear that he had never read the work in question, and in all probability was unable to do so. As the narrator says:
“Get a dictionary and read him,” which severed our budding friendship.
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