His Chance in Life

(notes edited by John McGivering)


The story was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on April 2nd 1887, in the first Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in subsequent editions of that collection. See David Alan Richards p. 17, passim.

Charles Allen (p. 31) writes:

Plain Tales from the Hills has its weaknesses, but as a body of work produced by a young man just entering his majority it is an astonishing literary tour de force. in which the whole emerges as better than the best of its parts.

(‘Majority’ in this context then indicated that a man had attained the age of 21 and was able to vote in parliamentary elections, enter into contracts etc. Ed.)

The story

Michele D’Cruze is a lowly railway clerk, of mixed ancestry, seven eighth Indian and one eighth English. His community are very conscious of their European descent, however remote it may be. He wishes to marry, but the lady’s mother insists that first he must achieve a much higher salary. Then he has his chance. There is a riot in the small town he has been posted to as a Telegraph Signaller, and – aware of his European blood – he takes command of the situation, and keeps order until the Assistant Collector arrives. He is promoted as a result, and is married in formal old-fashioned style.

This is a brief and, on the whole, fairly sympathetic glance at the very sensitive question of mixed race which is also touched upon in “Kidnapped” and “Beyond the Pale” both later in this volume. See also “Without Benefit of Clergy” in Life’s Handicap and Bhowani Junction (1954) a novel by John Masters. Kipling’s confidence in the innate imperial capacity of Europeans to exercise command over Indians seems anachronistic today, but would have been a familiar and comfortable doctrine to his readers in Lahore in the 1880s.

On the question of mixed marriages, Marghanita Laski (p. 41) writes:

Kipling’s most offensive story on this theme though kindly meant is “His Chance in Life.” Miss Vezzis the nursemaid, ‘black as a boot came from a family that ‘lived on the borderline’ … (she summarises the story and continues….) Kipling did not mean to be offensive. He had nothing against Eurasians in their right places – which were not in Sahib’s social lives or their jobs.

See also “The Bold ‘Prentice” Land and Sea Tales, and “Among the Railway Folk” in From Sea to Sea. vol II.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2012 All rights reserved