The City of Dreadful Night

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 10 September 1885 and the United Services College Chronicle on 7 March 1887. Collected in Life’s Handicap, 1891.

The story

Sleepless on a hot August night, the narrator sets off towards Lahore City. The moon blazes down onto sleeping men, lying like corpses. A restless child stirs on a rooftop, and is stilled by its mother. Through the Delhi Gate he enters the walled city, where it seems even hotter and more stifling. He hears men talking and pulling at their hookahs, and a shopkeeper balancing his books behind the shutters. At the Mosque of Wazir Khan he climbs a dark stair to a minaret high above the moonlit city. A muezzin gives his splendid cry to prayer, briefly rousing the sleeping men. As the narrator makes his way home in the dawn, a woman’s corpse is carried down to the burning ghat. The city was of Death as well as Night.


See Something of Myself, p. 53.

… the night got into my head…. and I would wander till dawn….

For more by Kipling on night life in Lahore, see “In the House of Suddhoo”, “Beyond the Pale,” “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows,” and other stories in Plain Tales from the Hills, and “Without Benefit of Clergy” earlier in this volume. See also “On the City Wall” in Soldiers Three. See also ‘The City of the Two Creeds writtten for the CMG in October 1887, which reports on the Mohurrum festival in Lahore.

Francis Adams, quoted in R L Green (Ed) Kipling, the Critical Heritage p. 157, calls this ‘excellent first-class journalism’, while Lionel Johnson (the same collection, p. 93) includes it in his list of five stories in this volume that he sees as ‘mediocre examples of Mr. Kipling’s various manners’, but allows it to be ‘the most striking’.

Mrs Oliphant, however, reviewing this volume in Blackwood’s Magazine for November 1891 (the same collection p. 141) comments:

Never was there a more astonishing picture than that, all done in black and white, which is called ‘The City of Dreadful Night’. We pant in the air which is no air, we sicken for the evanescent breath of dawn…. If her Majesty herself…. desires a fuller knowledge of her Indian empire… we desire respectfully to recommend to the Secretary for India that he should place no sheaves of despatches in the royal hands, but Mr. Rudyard Kipling’s books.

Angus Wilson (p. 37) speaking of Kipling’s insomnia, regards this as: ‘only the most crudely brilliant of the stories that resulted from this misery’.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved