The City of Dreadful Night

(notes edited by David Page, drawing on the work of the ORG Editors)

(The Kipling Society presents here Kipling’s words as
he wrote them,  but wishes to alert readers that the text
below contains some derogatory and/or offensive language)

First publication of the individual chapters

Chapter Title First Published Location
I. A Real Live City 2 March 1888 Pioneer
II The Reflections of a Savage 5 March 1888 Pioneer
III The Council of the Gods 18 February 1888 Pioneer
IV On the Banks of the Hughli 9 March 1888 Pioneer
V With the Calcutta Police 14 March 1888 Pioneer
VI The City of Dreadful Night 22 March 1888 Pioneer
VII Deeper and Deeper Still 5 April 1888 Pioneer
VIII Concerning Lucia 9 April 1888 Pioneer

The Letters were also all published in the Pioneer Mail, usually within a day or two of appearing in the Pioneer. Extracts also appeared in the Week’s News. The reason why Chapter III “The Council of the Gods” was published first by the Pioneer is not known.

Publication History of the Collected Series

The City of Dreadful Night and Other Sketches was first prepared for publication by A.H. Wheeler & Co. in 1890, but was suppressed by Kipling. In 1891, much of this material was published under the title The City of Dreadful Night and Other Places by A.H. Wheeler in India and together by Wheeler and Sampson Low, Marston & Co. in England as no.XIV in the Indian Railway Library series.

In 1979 Dr. F.A. Underwood wrote an essay comparing this edition with the material which appears in From Sea to Sea, the essay being held in the Kipling Society Library.

Details of early publication can be found in Rudyard Kipling, a Bibliography   edited by David Alan Richards (p. 50 et sequ.).

In 1895, an unauthorised American collection was published under the title Out of India by G.W. Dillingham Co., New York, which included the material from The City of Dreadful Night and Other Places as well as Letters of Marque.

The Title

The City is of Night; perchance of Death,
But certainly of Night.


This is from the poem “The City of Dreadful Night” by James Thomson, (1834-1882). Kipling first discovered this work in his school holidays while he was at United Services College [Martin Fido, p. 30]. Kipling used this title, but including quotation marks, for a story about Lahore first published in the Civil and Military Gazette of 10 September 1885, which was later collected in Life’s Handicap. An article by Ken Frazer entitled “Cities of Dreadful Night” (KJ 293, March 2000, pp.41-61) explores Kipling’s uses of the Thomson poem in his works.


This series of eight articles, collected in From Sea to Sea Vol. II, reports on Kipling’s explorations in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1888.

In November 1887 Kipling was transferred from the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore to the Pioneer in Allahabad. In a diary letter to his cousin, Margaret Burne-Jones, of 25 January-24 March, 1888 (Letters Vol 1, Ed. Pinney pp.149-156), he wrote beginning on 25 January:

…In my absence (in Rajputana in November and December 1887 with results that appeared as Letters of Marque) the Pioneer had started a new weekly paper and I, as the author of Plain Tales from the Hills was advertised as the writer of a series of “Anglo Indian Studies”. On my return to Allahabad—the place where the Pioneer is printed—I had to turn to and hatch out stories; for they had told me nothing of this new departure.

One of my proprietors made me welcome for a month and I worked like a nigger, because I love him, and would do anything for him and went to all the dances and dinners that were going for thirty days. Then they cut me adrift afresh, bidding me chuse my own ground for exploration. I have taken the 19th century and the Railway colonies in India, and the opium factories and the out of the way life of Calcutta, and Benares, and a relic of the Mutiny for my subjects and am come here to Jamalpur, which is a sort of Crewe of Eastern India, where men make locomotives and control many hundreds of miles of lines.

Jan. 26th. Been out on business all day in soft warm drenching rain and return to you now, having competely lost the thread of my egoistical argument. Where was I? At Jamalpur. It’s a wonderful place and I see that I shall have my work cut out to describe it. I’ve got my first harvest of notes and have been writing out for three hours continuous…

Jan. 27th. Be shot if it is. The blot has runned away all down the page and I’ll get you another as soon as ever I get to Calcutta if I live. I’ve had a riotous day cutting about over the “shops” and inspecting 120 diseased locos, a quarter of a million of pound’s worth of stock and goodness knows what all. It’s all down in a notebook somewhere but I’m too dead fagged to write it out (and there is an “interesting” tale for the week after next to be written) and so I fly to you for consolation. Tomorrow I go to a big meeting of the local Masonic Lodge. Curious thing to think that though I’ve come south 980 miles I am certain tomorrow of finding men who will talk to me as though they had known me all their lives on subjects on which both I and they will be able to discourse about with freedom and camaraderie. Let us hope they’ll give me some decent material for Studies. I’m in low water again…

The Critics

Although several critics mention the work, the only ones that I have found who give it more than passing notice are
Andrew Lycett (pp. 210-211),
Andrew Hagiioannu (pp. 43-48), and
Charles Allen (pp. 254-57). All these authors discuss the complete journey which includes Benares, Ghazipur, Jamalpur, Giridih and Calcutta, and whilst in my view Hagiioannu gets the sequence the wrong way round as well as some directions (Jamalpur is northwest of Calcutta, not southeast); I agree with Lycett and Allen (see Headnote to the complete collection of From Sea to Sea).

Lycett writes:

One of his more strongly held opinions – his hostility to educated Indians – could not have been more blatantly expressed when he reached Calcutta … A visit to the debating chamber of the Bengal Legislative Council only confirmed his prejudices, as he heard a babu spouting John Stuart Mill in a live version of his nightmare in “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes”.

Hagiioannu writes:

Profoundly suspicious of Calcutta’s openness to new ideas and values, Kipling turns his attentions to liberalism and policies of native self-government, ridiculing the contribution of the Bengal Legislative Council to the running of the city. The ‘ferocious stench’ of refuse, bad water, and sewage is taken by Kipling as a metaphor of the corruption of the Council and the city.

In somewhat similar vein, Charles Allen comments:

This deeply unpleasant attack on Calcutta and its Bengali inhabitants extended over seven articles, afterwards republished under the title of The City of Dreadful Night and Other Places. The heading of the last chapter, ‘Deeper and Deeper Still’, is an allusion to Dante’s Inferno. Calcutta is depicted as a hell on earth and Kipling sees himself as a modern Dante, touring one circle of hell after another, albeit with a police escort rather than Virgil.

Early maps of Calcutte

Readers may find it useful to open on line either the 1893 map of Calcutta, or that of 1924 on a slightly enlarged scale.
The 1893 map of the Calcutta environs is also useful.