Bertran and Bimi

(notes edited by John McGivering)


This story was first published on 9th March 1891 in Mine Own People , where its first title was “Bimi.”, and in Life’s Handicap in August of the same year.

The story

This brutal little tale is narrated one night on board ship – in German-accented English – by Hans Breitmann. It tells of a French naturalist, Bertran, in the islands of what is now Indonesia. He has a great orang-outang, Bimi, and lives with him as a brother, letting him sleep in a room rather than a cage, dining and smoking with him, and walking with him hand in hand.

When Bertran takes a pretty young wife, he is warned that Bimi will be jealous, but takes no notice. One day the creature breaks into the wife’s bedroom through the roof, and tears her limb from limb. When Bertran discovers the tragedy he kills Bimi with his bare hands, and himself dies in the struggle.

Critical comments

Marghanita Laski (p. 143) dislikes Breitmann’s German-accented English in phonetical spelling as nearly unreadable as that of the original Ballads, describing this story and the next as: ‘economical, brutish and good’, adding:

This is one of those stories it would be a pity to enlarge on for fear of tempering the finally atrocious impact it makes on the reader.

Gilmour (p. 92) regards this as the most repellent story Kipling ever wrote. Others consider “The Mark of the Beast” (earlier in this volume) to be the most gruesome; we believe there is not much in it.
Norman Page (p. 70) quotes an undated Edinburgh Review:

… a kind of thing that ought never to have been written …. nightmare literature…

while the Spectator said:

…detestable, and …. not in the least saved by being extremely cleverly written.

Hart, however, (p. 90) looking at the final words of this story says:

This, if you will, is a somewhat crude sensationalism . But it is the same art that gave us the far more subtle visit of Holden to his ruined home at the end of “Without Benefit of Clergy” (earlier in this volume) In each case the full emotional value of the story is impressively borne in upon us by the closing incident.

Hart also discusses the setting of the stage for the death of Bertran’s wife. He concludes (p. 96) that it is not as subtle as the preparation by Edgar Alan Poe (1809-1849) for the climax of his story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) in Tales of Mystery and Imagination, in which the killer is also an orang-outang.

See also KJ154/2, 165/3, 213/19, 243/32, 258/2, 265/16.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved