One View of the Question

(notes edited by Peter Havholm)


This story first appeared in the Fortnightly Review, February 1890, some four months after Kipling had established himself in central London in chambers in Villiers Street.

It is collected in:

  • Many Inventions, page 71
  • Scribner’s Edition, Volume IV, page 274
  • Sussex Edition, Volume V, page 77
  • Burwash Edition, Volume V

The story

The story takes the form of a letter from ‘Shafiz Ullah Khan’, agent of the fictional ‘Rao Sahib of Jagesur, which is in the northern borders of Hindustan’ to one of the prince’s ministers, reporting first on the success of his mission to London, then conveying his personal impressions of that city, and finally recommending a course of action for Muslims that will allow them to use the Indian National Congress and its support in a spinelessly democratic Britain to ease the British out of India so that Muslim rule can be forcefully reestablished..

Some critical responses

Walter Morris Hart notes that this story is:

…pointing out the defects of the English and their government. It continues the studies of the English from the native point of view, begun in “Lispeth”, (Plain Tales from the Hills) and comes much closer to the original tradition represented by The Turkish Spy, Voltaire’s L’Ingénu, and Addison’s Four Indian Kings. In a later story “A Sahib’s War” (Traffics and Discoveries) Kipling once more criticizes English affairs from an outsider’s point of view.

Angus Wilson sees the story, ‘if it can be so called’ as reflecting the young Kipling’s initial hatred for London, in which ‘everything [is] seen as corrupt, decadent, and potentially anarchic.’ Carrington calls it Kipling’s ‘virulent prose satire on the state of London as seen by an Indian Moslem visitor.’ Other comment is difficult to find.
ORG comments that in expressing contempt for educated Indians, “One View of the Question” has been written by someone who should have known better, whereas the evidence in other later works is otherwise, from Purun Bhagat in “The Miracle of Purun Baghat” to Umr Singh in “A Sahib’s War”, and indeed including Ullah Khan, the ‘writer’ of this story. But it calls for re-reading, comments ORG, for this reason, and because of the Mussulman’s view: ‘When they have in all things made light of the State, they cry to the State for help, and it is given, so that the next time they will cry for more…’

This expresses the young Kipling’s own strong aversion to the views of those of a liberal persuasion whom he encountered in the London of the early 1890s.

The ORG comments further:

This story or article has been described as ‘Kipling at his worst’ and we may as well acknowledge that not all are first class.

One could perhaps most fairly criticize the story for creating in its narrator a character made exclusively of stereotypes: the unscrupulously brutal Muslim gentleman who despises educated Bengalis, sees women as purpose-built mothers, and seizes on British weakness as an opportunity to usurp power. The simplicity of the character’s morality fits neither his political position nor the sophistication of his language.

[P. H.]

©Peter Havholm 2007 All rights reserved