First published in Story-Teller Magazine — December 1930. This magazine had a coloured picture on the outside cover illustrating lines 7 and 8 of page 336 of the story (Macmillan Uniform and Pocket Editions). Collected in 1932 in the volume Limits and Renewals.
Like many of Kipling’s tales in his last two collections, this is another story of the aftermath of the Great War. It is set in a little village in central France, and narrated by the tall old priest, who himself had served in the war.
Many young men from the village had gone away to fight in the trenches. One, Martin Ballart, the only one of his family to survive, had returned a broken man, ‘blasted, withered, dumb.’ The priest had prayed to St Jubanus for him to be healed, but to no avail.
But then, on the Saint’s feast-day, all the village are in the church for Mass, and there is a hilarious episode. Two mischievous young altar-boys cannot resist playing with the priest’s huge umbrella. They get entangled in it, and as they struggle to escape, the umbrella appears to walk down the aisle of its own accord. The pompous atheistical schoolmaster intervenes, and is caught too, by the beard. The Mass collapses in gales of laughter, led by the priest, and then there comes the miracle: Martin laughs too; with the laughter his terrors are dissolved away, and he is healed.
The ORG Editors write that: ‘There is a traditional story of St Jubanus, and, of course he is credited with a miracle– only one in his case’. However, the present Editor has been unable to find any trace of a St Jubanus in the abundant relevant litterature, so we assume that the ORG authority for this was Kipling himself. Lists of saints can be readily found , using a search engine to scan the literature, but the closest one this Editor has found was a St Jubin living in Dijon around 1037. It is likely that the variants ‘Jubans’ and especially ‘Juvans’ have been created by Kipling to suit his need for a rhyme. (See the poem “The Curé”).
Some extracts from the criticism
Angus Wilson sees the story as the expression of a love of the French countryside shared by many English people of that time:
The evocation of France is that of a man who loves that country, but perhaps the love is a little self-conscious, a little the stereotype of France made by many Englishmen, especially of the upper middle classes, in the twenties, when many of them decided to settle there. It is a real affection – and, of course, with Kipling, a splendid eye, but it is (and Kipling says so) the France of the bonne bourgeoisie and of village life, that they loved.
Wilson sees the story as somewhat marred by: ‘the clichê quality of the wise country curé and the foolish atheist village schoolmaster.’ But J M S Tompkins takes it more seriously as one of a group of four stories in this collection, written between 1927 and 1930, on the theme of healing, in the aftermath of the terrible experiences of the Great War trenches; “The Woman in his Life” “Fairy-Kist”, “The Tender Achilles” and “The Miracle of Saint Jubanus”. Of Martin Ballart she writes (p.176):
…we see little more than his shadow before `the laugh of Faunus himself’, his response to the involuntary ministrations of the group attached to the priest’s umbrella, breaks the obsession. To the priest, though he is not ignorant of what he conveys by the term `moral therapeuthy’, this is a miracle; and the design of the tale may remind us of some picture of a miraculous healing by an Italian artist of the Renascence, with its lost young man on a litter, the diamond-clear landscape behind him, and the cluster of ordinary people assisting at the divine intervention. The attention of all these figures is directed to the possessed in love or wonderment, but the painter’s art has found richer material in the keen, experienced, humorous, devout priest, the atheist schoolmaster, with his thick black beard and his stomach, biting his nails with shame in the henhouse before he is caught in the backwash of the miracle, even in the `yoke of gold and silver oxen with sheepskin wigs’, ascending the hill before their driver, and passing out of the picture.
In a number of tales Kipling writes of the power of laughter to move, and sometimes to heal. In this case Tompkins (p. 48) links it to the power of the ‘Demon of Irresponsibility’:
In “The Necessitarian” … the verses prefixed to “Steam Tactics”, we meet the suggestion that, like all Kipling’s ultimate powers, this Power too is outside man. Time, Chance and Circumstance are merely the instruments of the unknown jester, the culmination of whose play is called the Sacredly Absurd, as if a manifestation so excessive, so unaccountable and so complete must, like lunacy in former ages, somehow belong to the divine…
The human being, perceiving and drawn into the operations of this Power, feels the ecstasy of mirth in the full meaning of this somewhat flattened word, and the Curé of Saint Jubanus has no difficulty in acknowledging a divine intervention in the farce that heals the despair of his young parishioner.
See also the second article on “Kipling and France” by Basil Bazley, in KJ 86.
©Max Rives 2008 All rights reserved