First published in the Week’s News, Allahabad, 15 September 1888. Collected in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.
In November 1887, Kipling was transferred from the staff of the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore to that of the Pioneer in Allahabad. At the beginning of 1888 he was put in charge of a new supplement to the Pioneer called the Week’s News, and expected to provide a steady flow of fiction for it as well. In May, he had determined to return to England in February 1889, but meanwhile during May and June 1888 he was transferred temporarily back to Lahore as Acting Editor of the Civil and Military Gazette in E. Kay Robinson’s absence. After a final visit to Simla, he returned to Allahabad in July where he took lodgings with Prof and Mrs ‘Alex’ Hill. (Letters 1, ‘Chronology’).
As the title indicates, this was the last of the series of stories that he contributed to the Week’s News.
This is the one story in which it is pointless not to acknowledge that the narrator can be none other than Kipling himself.
His swearing at the punkah-coolie summons:
the Devil of Discontent, who lived in the bottom of the inkpot, but emerges half a day after each story has been printed with a host of useless suggestions for its betterment.
The Devil takes the author on a guided tour of the Limbo to which go the souls of all the characters in fiction, and shows him, among others, the spirits of many of the characters from his own stories which had been published in the Week’s News. But the author sees his Characters with all the physical imperfections that his unintentionally careless delineations had left in them, so that they are not the robust and lifelike forms as he had imagined them.
At last the Devil brings him back to Earth and he wakes up with the punkah stopped again.
This is one of the few stories collected in Abaft the Funnel that have attracted critical mention.
in his biography (p.113) comments:
The last contribution called, indeed, “The Last of the Stories”, tells of all the fictional characters who await their authors in a kind of limbo. It is notable chiefly for the strange mixture of novelists who at that time interested him – Balzac, Gautier, Zola, Rabelais, Browning, Stevenson and Twain rub shoulders with Haggard, Besant, Mrs Humphry Ward, Mrs Hodgson Burnett, W.S. Gilbert and Blackmore. He remained all his life an unselective reader, but that is less important than the fact that what he read truly fed and enlarged his imaginative powers.
Charles Carrington in his biography (pp.108-109) writes:
In September, he boldly wrote a sketch called “The Last of the Stories”, in which he called up these [the Soldiers Three] and others of his characters to bid them farewell. It was no good; he could no more kill them than Conan Doyle, a year or two later, could kill Sherlock Holmes. Mulvaney would crop up time after time with an Irish accent that was ever more outrageous.
J M S Tompkins
(p. 236) in her chapter on ‘Change and Persistence’, remarks that:
Even his Infernos are up-to-date in their fantastic equipment. The approach to the Limbo of Lost Endeavour in “The Last of the Stories” is like that to a big railway junction. The incoming souls stop at the distance-signal for line clear, and whistle.
Bonamy Dobrée (p.161) refers to this story as:
one of ‘Kipling’s fables about art, the artist, and his relation to the public [which] are the most intriguing, since they are the most personal. . .’
He goes on to describe the plot, and comments at the end of the paragraph that: ‘humility was not Kipling’s strong point in his early days, and in his next fables, of the early ’nineties, all of them in verse, mostly maintain his own point of view as a practising writer.’
Andrew Lycett in his biography (p.224) describes the story as:
…an amusing conceit about a visit to a limbo-land inhabited by his fictional characters. On one level it allowed him to run a roll-call of everyone from Mrs Hauksbee to Mulvaney, and them to get their own back. On another it provided an insight into his own working methods: later he liked to talk of the daemon who guided him as he wrote; in this story he wrote of this daemon’s cousin, the Devil of Discontent .
See also Mary Hamer’s essay
“Kipling and Dreams”
©David Page 2007 All rights reserved