"Miss Youghal's Sais"

(notes edited
by John McGivering)




notes on the text
[July 14 2012]


Publication

The story was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on April 25th 1887, in the first Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in subsequent editions of that collection. See David Alan Richards p. 17, passim.

The Story

Strickland, a police officer with deep knowledge of the local Indian people, falls in love with Miss Youghal, but is disapproved of by her parents. He disguises himself as a native servant, and is taken on as her groom. When an elderly general flirts with the girl, Strickland listens for a while, and then jumps out and threatens in fluent English to throw the general over the cliff. The general is amused and impressed, and puts in a good word for Strickland with her parents. He is accepted, and the story ends happily.

See the Kipling Journal 209/15, and R.E.Harbord's article in ORG.

Some Critical Comments

The passage on page 28, introducing Strickland - "when a man knows who dance the Hálli-Hukk, and how, and when, and where, he knows something to be proud of..." - is often quoted as an example of how the young Kipling sought to impress his readers with his own inside expertise. In The Glass, the Shadow and the Fire [Jonathan Cape 1975], page 65, Philip Mason comments;

"This is almost self-parody. It is meant to impress - but this time with a special esoteric kind of knowledge denied to the rest of us...Anyone who has ever passed an examination must know something of the trick of implying that the knowledge displayed is only the tip of the ice-berg...


Strickland

This is the first tale in which Strickland appears. He also figures in "The Bronckhorst Divorce Case", "A Deal in Cotton", "The Mark of the Beast", "The Return of Imray", and "Kim". He gets his come-uppance in "The Son of his Father", in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides (1923), when it becomes apparent that his little son knows a great deal more about what is going on in his household than he does.

Kipling was clearly impressed by Strickland's expertise in the intricate and often obscure byways of native life in India, and liked to imply that to some extent he shared it. An alternative, and rather sceptical view of Strickland was expressed in a report in issue 209 of the Kipling Journal, by Shamus Wade, an active member of the Kipling Society. Under the heading "Kipling and the Bent Copper", he was quoted as follows:
"Mr Wade confessed that he never really liked Strickland but felt guilty about it: a feeling akin to not liking games at school.

"He attended Mr. Greenwood's examination of "The Return of Imray" in April 1976, and was inspired to look into the question of why, in fact, Imray did return, and to take a long cool look at what Kipling tells us about Strickland, who is mentioned in connection with twenty specific crimes. Three of them were solved by Strickland. Kipling uses an oddly qualified form of words for two of them. Two were solved by Strickland's dog and two were solved by his son, but Strickland's incompetence causes many innocent people to be arrested. Of the remaining thirteen crimes, twelve were committed by Strickland himself, while he was an accessory after the fact in the last one.

"There is something else that Kipling tells us about Strickland; natives hated and feared him, not native criminals, but natives in general. This point is made in "Miss Youghal's Sais" and "The Return of lmray". So no wandering puppeteers display Strickland's adventures to cheering Indian crowds and no mothers in the Rukh sing."
See also “Kipling, Policing India and the Uncanny” a paper by Jo Collins, University of Kent, delivered at the Kent Conference in September 2007.


[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2012 All rights reserved