The Big Drunk ‘Draf

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in The Week’s News on 24 March 1888, and collected in Soldiers Three (Indian Railway Library No. 1) the same year, and in Soldiers Three and other Stories in 1899.

The Story

This story is told by Mulvaney, now working as a foreman on railway construction after leaving the army. The previous week he had encountered a draft of discharged men from the ‘ould regiment on their way to Bombay, drunken and insubordinate because they were technically out of the army. Mulvaney dealt summarily with the drunkest of them, and encouraged their young officer to ignore the regulations and keep them under draconian military discipline. He did so, they knuckled down and behaved themselves, and were delivered to the docks chastened and sober.

Some critical comments

Kingsley Amis (page 62) does not care for these stories…

The soldiers have not yet come to their maturity….. Mulvaney recounts long, not very fumy anecdotes in Irish dialect, every other word conscientiously mutilated..

Marghanita Laski, however, (page 33) disagrees:

Kipling’s common soldiers are often, and often with superb effectiveness, tragic not comic, and the written dialect was a serious literary experiment of the time, used, not for distancing, but to try to bring a wider range of people into serious treatment in literature. And to those who say that Kipling got the dialects wrong, that, for instance (as Edith Somerville, of the Irish writing pair Somerville and Ross, maintained) no Irishman ever spoke like Mulvaney, one only need play a recording of an imaginative Irishman reading aloud the words Kipling gave to Mulvaney.

See also Giants of Literature, KIPLING (Ed. Arnoldo Mondadori) (page 34):

The language used by Kipling for the soldiers’ dialogue is an absolutely faithful reproduction of actual barrack-room slang and local dialect, vividly suggesting the temperament and origins of the individual characters. Needless to say, it came as a shock to the reserved readers of the Victorian age who had been raised on much more delicate and tasteful literary fare.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved