by John McGivering)
I have a short yarn by me ...‘ "The legs of Sister Ursula". The only hint of impropriety lies in the title…And in another letter dated 10 December 1893 to Edward Lucas White, Kipling writes of the story:
[Letters, vol 2., ed. Thomas Pinney p. 60]
I’m glad (it) made you laugh…Some critical comments
[Letters, vol 2., ed. Thomas Pinney p. 114.]
Laughter is also the solvent of despair and hatred. Its impact shivers the insubstantial, impassable wall of of glass between the sufferer and the reality of life. The best example of this is the later tale “The Miracle of St. Jubanus” (Limits and Renewals) … The same theme, however, has been handled nearly forty years earlier ... “The Legs of Sister Ursula”See KJ 321/08 for text and further Notes.
Like many of the early tales, it is an anecdote, no pre-history attaches to it, we are given the rich man in his fifth-storey flat – the scene is American -….In the first paragraph Kipling invokes Sterne – the only time, I think, that he mentions this tightrope dancer over the gulfs of sentiment and ribaldry. The caretaker’s wife prays that there will be no wind; but Sister Ursula’s legs, with elegant ambiguity, appear only in the title ...
... laughter to Kipling was as essential to the well-being of man as music to Shakespeare, a bond of union, a strong hold on sanity and health of mind, a relaxation and restoration of human temper ...
In those days righteous woman ended at the neck and instep. Presently she saw what was troubling the General. Her skirts were adjusted. \nd all was peace and piety.Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) Irish-born novelist and Anglican clergyman, best known for his novels The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy He also published sermons and memoirs.
[Something of Myself, p. 102]
This is the cow with the crumpled horn,Sister Ursula may also have been thinking of the echoing line:
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
'This is the maiden all forlorn'leads in this context the lead used to cover the roof.