by George Engle and Lisa Lewis)
|notes on the text|
“The central ideas of this story are in themselves simple and very ancient. They are that the love of a woman can dominate her completely and that someone who loves sufficiently can bear the burden of suffering for someone else. The substitution idea is as old as Homer and the Bible; it is to be found all over the world ... The sacrifice of substitution can only take place where there is love and where the victim himself accepts the burden; it is at the heart of the Christian doctrine of the Atonement and it was believed by the Early Church to explain the ability of martyrs to endure suffering.”It can hardly be an accident that Mrs Ashcroft’s first name is Grace.
a marvel of structure in its special kind… The pattern of life flows smoothly through the tale and through the talk of the women, for it is against a background of regional and national changes that the individual life suffers it mutations… If ever there was a “built” story, it is this. Almost every paragraph, beside doing its narrative or descriptive work, adds a stroke to the figure of Grace Ashcroft, that formidable woman … This, then, is the way in which Kipling came to master the material of the novel, but he did it by relinquishing the novel form.Of the supernatural element in the story, she wrote [p. 207]:
with a very large allowance for coincidence, it can be rationalized; that allowance, however, is a heavy price to pay, and it is not Kipling’s habit to exact it from us.To Angus Wilson [The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling pp. 286-8], “The Wish House”:
is probably Kipling’s most successful single story… Apart, perhaps, from a certain detailing of the food which the old ladies bolt down for their high tea, there is not a moment in “The Wish House” in which we are conscious of Kipling telling us of a narrower, more ignorant world of different manners from his and our own. Everything emerges from the talk of the old women themselves … The supernatural means by which [Grace] secures her wish is neat and frightening and all that a psychic story requires; and since we are only asked to believe that she believes in it, we are easily able to accept ...Sandra Kemp [Kipling's Hidden Narratives pp. 112-113]wrote:
It is a story of fierce, insane possessive love and Kipling conveys his terrible anti-heroine with all the love that he clearly feels for those whose will to endure is as strong as their desire.
"The Wish House" brings together the ordinary and the Divine. Most of the narrative is taken up with the ‘back-lookin’s’ of two women …. The whole setting of their conversation and the narratives of the past suggest that, within the apparently male-orientated world, it is woman’s love and vision and caring which, in secret ways, sustain and support.Kemp added [p. 114] that:
it is also significant that it is a child’s experience of love and selfless caring which inspires the adult’s… the presence of the child is all-revealing. She teaches Grace Ashcroft how to transform egotistical suffering into redemptive love. But more importantly perhaps, she brings, with her return, echoes of the sensuality – the physical intensity of the kiss in “They” – strangely absent in these mature love stories of Kipling’s later years. Held within and without, she is a powerfully daemonic and positive “anima” figure.Nora Crook [Kipling's Myths of Love and Death p. 120] noted some parallels between the story and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, adding:
With the Chaucerian original in mind, it becomes difficult to regard “The Wish House” as simply an exposition of woman’s capacity for self-sacrifice, despite his giving his heroine the name of Grace, and despite her taking her lover’s cancer upon herself. It is a rather tougher story about the obsessiveness of woman’s sexual desire and her exerting what Chaucer called the “maistrie” – the power – through self-inflicted wounds.