Dayspring Mishandled

(Notes edited by John Radcliffe and John McGivering. We have been grateful for critical comments and suggestions from Peter Havholm)


First published in McCall’s Magazine for March 1928 and the Strand Magazine for July the same year; collected in Limits and Renewals in 1932, and later in the Burwash and Sussex editions. The illustrations, four in number, were by C. E. Brock, R.I. It is accompanied by the verse “Gertrude’s Prayer”.

The story

This is a dark story of hatred, and long matured plans for revenge which in the end are abandoned. As young men, the writers Manallace and Castorley love the same woman, but she loves only the husband who has left her. When she falls mortally ill, Manallace cares for her and Castorley refuses money for her treatment. She dies in Manallace’s arms, yearning for the man who has left her. When the two men are in the same civil service department during the war, Castorley says something viciously insulting about the woman that causes Manallace to find a new, dominating, life’s woek.

After the war, Manallace makes a living from popular historical novels, of no great literary merit, and dabbles in various aspects of medieval book-making. Avid for fame, Castorley makes himself a world expert on Chaucer. When Castorley tells the story’s narrator about the discovery of a lost Chaucer manuscript which he has authenticated, the narrator realizes that Manallace has devoted years to creating a forgery that fits Castorley’s theories about Chaucer’s texts. Manallace confirms the fraud.

Castorley is knighted and Manallace becomes his collaborator on the book that will bring Castorley yet more honour. Manallace tells the narrator that he plans once the book is out either to reveal the forgery in the tabloids or to tell Castorley privately, forcing him to back it to preserve his reputation. “But if you tell this you’ll kill him,” says the narrator. “I intend that,” says Manallace.

Castorley falls ill, and is attended by a surgeon who is his wife’s lover. Lady Castorley, an unattractive and sinister woman, has detected Manallace’s scheme. and is keen for him to press ahead with it and destroy her husband. With vengeance within his grasp, Manallace holds back; he does not wish to be the tool of an evil woman, and has lost his thirst for retribution. Castorley senses that something is wrong somewhere, but dies without ever knowing the truth.

Critical comments

Daniel Karlin comments (p. 639) that Kipling is presenting what he sees as the diseased relationships of the years after the Great War, looking back to literary London of the 1890’s – when he was establishing himself as a writer – a place of ‘temptation, jealousy and loss’.
J M S Tompkins sees this story as a masterpiece, with the substance of a novel in the words of a short story. In her chapter “Hatred and Revenge” she writes (page 147):

The tale is very tightly written. There are no flourishes in it; every sentence tells and matters. The writing is of that `infolded’ sort which, at first reading, may seem to present a crumpled mass, but which gradually fills and spreads and tightens with the fullness and tension of its meanings, until it is a House of Life itself, a tent covering the erring and suffering spirit of man. The title offers us two handles. It is a phrase from the Chaucerian fragment that Manallace forges, as an instrument of his revenge on Castorley, the Chaucer specialist; it is also the condition of Manallace which has nourished that revenge. He is the oak-spray of ‘Gertrude’s Prayer‘, bruised and knotted and twisted on itself in youth through his unhappy love, which brings him nothing but the opportunity of nursing and supporting a deserted and paralysed woman, whose eyes look always for the husband who has left her. Thus his ‘dawning goth amiss’, and when she dies, after many years, his life is emptied, until it is filled by his secret hate for Castorley.

Charles Carrington (page 475) calls this:

…an astonishing performance, a profound, obscure, and singularly unpleasant story about a vindictive feud between two expert bibliophiles, or rather the vindictive persecution of a sham expert by a genuine expert … But more engaging than the revenge-motif is the virtuosity with which a spurious poem by Chaucer is composed, a fifteenth-century manuscript is faked and the specious scholar is deceived. As if this involution were not enough, the progress of the plot is contrasted with the degeneration of the victim as disease wears him down, until the combined assault of pain and disillusion reveal his breaking strain.

Carrington adds, in a footnote:

It was just like R.K. to go through the whole process of faking a mediaeval manuscript with his own hands before writing the story.

Martin Seymour-Smith (pp. 359-363) pays tribute to Dr Tompkins’s analysis of the story, and also writes of it at length:

‘Dayspring Mishandled’, the title of the story, has many meanings here, but one is certainly Manallace’s inertia and failure to handle the dawn of inspiration in him. For his life is doomed, ironically, to turn into one long work of art, and that work malicious and evil. You don’t, Kipling is telling us, escape the daimon so easily.

Philip Mallett (page 5) groups this story with others containing a solitary driven character: Larry Tighe in “Love o’ Women “ (Many Inventions), Vickery in “Mrs Bathurst” (Traffics and Discoveries), and Grace Ashcroft in “The Wish House”(Debits and Credits).

He goes on (p. 193) to describe the subject as:

Forgiveness, or at least the fading away of the desire for revenge … one of the most complex of Kipling’s stories …. (he) weaves three further texts into this already complicated story. There is an epigraph , taken from a poem by Charles Nodier …. There is a frame story which involves a narrator who appears initially as a disinterested observer of events. And following the story proper there is a poem, ‘described as ‘Modernised from the “Chaucer” of Manallance’ called ‘Gertrude’s Prayer,’ which asserts the futility of all hopes of renewal: ‘Dayspring mishandled cometh not againe’. The three texts work subtly to shape our reading.

Angus Wilson (page 337) examines “Dayspring Mishandled” at some length, suggesting:

… this fine story is weakened by our not knowing what enormity Castorley said, for we are not allowed to be judge of Manallace’s justification, which is a centre to the story. Yet if, as I suspect, Castorley declared that her paralysis was syphilis contracted by whoring it is hard to see how a man like Kipling could have written it out, even in 1928.

See also Andrew Lycett, p. 127:

Harry Ricketts (pp. 379/81) in a fascinating survey and summary of the story also sees it as a condensed novel, noting that Kipling wrote it in a fortnight, and told his daughter Elsie: ‘It is not at all a nice tale… (but has) a pretty title.’ Ricketts writes:

He almost certainly borrowed the forgery idea from his friend Ian Colvin, who had once nearly pulled off a similar hoax on The Times with some ‘early’ Keats sonnets. However, the story’s narrative obliquity and its moral and other dilemmas, owed a different debt, which was to Henry James’s treatment of literary themes … there was something eminently Jamesian about Kipling’s reluctance to let the reader know what dreadful thing Castorley said to Manallace. In his last great story he had fully imbibed the lesson of the master.

‘So long as the events are veiled, the imagination will run riot, and depict all sorts of horrors, but as soon as the veil is lifted, all mystery disappears, and with it the sense of terror’. [Leon Edel, Henry James, A Life, Harper & Row New York 1977, p. 467.]

Though the main protagonists in the story are Castorley and Manallace, Jan Montefiore comments tellingly (pp. 166-7) on the role of the women:

Manallace, who was always too passively clever to make a likely assassin, rapidly
realizes that his beautiful plot has only formed one strand in the stickier and more deadly web woven by Castorley’s wife, a ladylike Englishwoman as frighteningly vicious as Lady Macbeth or Goneril
(in Shakespeare’s “King Lear”) . This ‘unappetising ash-coloured woman’,
bored with her husband and intelligent enough to sense that there is something wrong with his find, is unlike Manallace quite prepared to commit murder, slowly and respectably….

… while in “Dayspring Mishandled”, the ‘secret’ of the practical joke is disclosed half-way through, followed by the joker’s ever more frantic attempts to protect his victim, it is the briefly appearing women named only as “Dal’s mother or ‘Castorley’s wife’ who are the real hidden power-houses. Castorley’s boasted scholarship and even the revengeful Manallace’s chivalrous devotion to the memory of a wronged woman, look like weakness compared with the total attachment of “Dal’s mother’ (who apparently never thanks him or even notices his devotion) to her faithless cad of a husband, and the unswerving hatred and lust which draw Castorley’s ladylike viper of a wife to betray the husband whom she so badly wants dead. It is a strangely fitting finale from the writer whose first book Plain Tales from the Hills opened with the tale of ‘Lispeth’ the jilted Kashmiri girl whose passion and honesty lead her to reject the respectable, deceitful English.

See also “Poor Old Castorley” by E. N. Houlton in KJ 238/61 for another analysis.

[J H McG/P.H./J.R.]

©John McGivering JOhn Radcliffe and Peter Havholm 2008 All rights reserved