Poor Dear Mamma

The Story of the Gadsbys (1)

(notes by John McGivering)


The first of a series of eight linked stories in dialogue form, this one appearing first in The Week’s News of May 26th, 1888. the series collected in Volume 2 of the Indian Railway Library as The Story of the Gadsbys ; A Tale without a Plot, with one of the several sets of verses called “L’Envoi” (What is the moral ? Who rides may read …. He travels the fastest who travels alone.) Finally collected in the first English edition of Soldiers Three in the same year and various editions thereafter.

See the Headnote to “The Hill of Illusion” (Wee Willie Winkie) for other stories by Kipling written in dialogue, and adaptations of his work for the stage by other writers.

The Preface by Kipling in the Indian Railway Library version is not usually included in later editions.

The story

Young Miss Minnie Threegan is gossiping in her bedroom with her bosom friend Miss Emma Deercourt, about her adventures at the last ball. The dashing Captain Gadsby arrives to take her mother out for a ride, but Mrs Threegan is not ready and Minnie entertains the Captain to tea. She flirts with him, and puts in a few well-timed words about the age and infirmity of her mother. Captain Gadsby is much taken with her looks and savoir faire. Eight weeks later they are engaged to be married. Poor dear Mamma !
Andrew Lycett (p.156) records:

Finding it difficult … to get the hang of conversation between girls, Kipling asked Mrs. Hill to look over and check the thing in proof.

Some critical comments

Carrington (page 98), with his usual acumen, puts his finger on it:

If “The Story of the Gadsbys” had been written by an elderly roué in 1912 it would have been nothing much; written in 1888 by a young bachelor aged twenty-two, it was astonishing…The notion was taken from a fashionable French novel of the period, Gyp’s Autour du Mariage. [In his autobiography Something of Myself (page 71), Kipling called it ‘an Anglo-Indian Autour du Mariage’ ]

Lisa Lewis writes:

“Gyp” was the nom de plume of Sibylle-Gabrielle-Marie-Antoinette de Riquetti de Mirabeau, Comtesse de Martel de Janville (1849-1932). In Autour du Mariage, a wealthy aristocrat marries a very young girl, daughter of a self-made millionaire, thinking he can mould her to his wishes. She turns out to be spoilt, greedy and wilful, soon gets the upper hand (through sexual blackmail) and ruins him with her extravagance. Their contrasted monologues before the wedding, with very different plans for their life together, evidently intrigued and amused RK. The man wanted a quiet life on his country estate, the girl wanted to live in Paris, have lots of parties and unlimited money to spend on clothes, jewellery and every imaginable luxury.

Kipling says in a letter to Edmonia Hill (25-27 May, 1888) that he based the character of Gadsby on a Lieutenant Beames [Carrington (page 99) calls him ‘a Captain in the 19th Bengal Lancers’] but planned to run ‘a silver thread’ through the material. Unlike Beames, Gadsby serves in a fashionable regiment. Like Gyp’s hero, he is a wealthy aristocrat. Both novels are written in dramatic dialogue, but Kipling lacks Gyp’s satirical edge and her outspokenness on sexual matters.

In Something of Myself (Page 72) Kipling commens rather wryly on the critical responses to The Story of the Gadsbys:

…when it first appeared in England I was complimented on my ‘knowledge of the world’. After my indecent immaturity came to light, I heard less of these gifts. Yet, as the Father said loyally: ‘It wasn’t all so dam’ bad, Ruddy.’

[J H McG/ LL]

©John McGivering and Lisa Lewis 2005 All rights reserved