The Courting of
Dinah Shadd

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in Macmillan’s Magazine and Harper’s Weekly in March 1890. Collected in The Courting of Dinah Shadd and Other Stories in the same year, in Mine Own People in the United States (1891) and Life’s Handicap (1891)

The story

There is an extended ‘frame’ to this tale, in which the narrator is out on manoeuvres with the ‘Ould Regiment’. After a lively day, they bivouac companionably for the night. He falls in with the ‘Soldiers Three’, and settles down by their camp fire. Mulvaney is thoughtful, reflecting on the adventures and misadventures of his life. ‘For all we take, we must pay,’ he murmurs, ‘but the price is cruel high’.

He goes on to talk of his many loves, often the wives of his comrades; he was confidemt with women, often foolhardy, often made bold by drink. Then he meets Dinah Shadd and falls seriously in love with her. fighting and defeating a rival. and – one evening – finally winning her heart and the approval of her mother. On his way back to his quarters he has a drink or two; when another girl, Judy Sheehey, asks him in for a cup of tea, he accepts out of sheer devilment, flirts with her and kisses her. When her mother comes in, Judy tells her that Mulvaney is her ‘promised man’. Mulvaney denies this hotly; Judy was talking nonsense, he says.

Next day, when Mulvaney is at Dinah Shadd’s house, Judy and her mother come to the door, and claim him as Judy’s ‘promised man’. He denies this again, and the women leave, but not before Mother Sheehey has cursed him and Dinah with the ‘Black Curse of Sheilygh’. Mulvaney would never be free from sorrow. His strength would be a curse to him. He would always be a slave to drink, and he and Dinah would be childless.

Mulvaney is is left with Dinah. But in the years since, all the evils of the old woman’s curse had fallen on them.

Some critical comments

Charles Carrington (p. 109) writes:

After his return to England, Kipling again revived the “Three Musketeers” and then wrote the stories about them which have been most noticed by modern critics, “The Courting of Dinah Shadd”, “On Greenhow Hill” (later in this volume) and “Love o’Women” (in Many Inventions). They made a deep impression on the public and won extravagant praise from some critics, bitter hostility from others. Liked or disliked, they could not be ignored.

Philip Mason (p. 74) notes that: this story and “On Greenhow Hill”, are by some critics reckoned among the best stories Kipling ever wrote. There are three more in Many Inventions, and one of them, “Love o’Women”, is of high quality.
Seymour-Smith (p.208) who respects but does not usually admire this author – one occasionally wonders why he took the trouble to write a biography of him – observes that this story is authoritative and compelling:

…it was regarded by both Lionel Johnson and Henry James as an example of Kipling at his best …. (his) colloquial achievement here is as good as it ever was, and is occasionally Shakespearian – or, more appropriately – Hardyean. It is immediately apparent that the author of this story about Mulvaney has had much more experience of life that the author of the earlier Soldiers Three, in which he also figured.

See R L Green, The Critical Heritage (p. 92) for the review of this volume by Lionel Johnson, and ORG (Vol 2, p. 935) for Henry James. Charles Carrington (p. 106), Marghanita Laski (p. 33) and J M S Tompkins (several references) are among those who have noted the Shakespearian connection.
Harry Ricketts (p. 173) feels that: this story, for all its melodrama, is genuinely moving, almost justifying the tragic, if strained grandeur of its conclusion.

This is another story that was almost made into a film, see Norman Page (p. 193) and Andrew Lycett (p. 577).
C A Bodelsen (p. 103) discusses Kipling’s use of the frame in this and other stories and observes that such frames often strike a note that expresses the mood of the story they introduce.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved