The Dream of Duncan Parrenness

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 25 December 1884 and collected in Life’s Handicap in 1891.

The story

Duncan Parrenness is a young administrator for the East India Company, in eighteenth century Calcutta. He is an expert swordsman, afraid of no man, a successful lover of women, and a hard drinker. On his bed, drunk, after the Governor-General’s ‘great yearly dance’, he muses on his loves and on his ambitions, which are boundless. One day he ‘could become Governor-General, Nawab, Prince, ay, even the Great Mogul himself.’

He falls asleep, and his reverie continues in the form of a dialogue with a ghostly figure he recognises as himself. What Faustian bargain must he strike if he is to gain his ambitions ? What must he sacrifice ? His trust in men, says his alter ego … his faith in women … his own boyish warmth and conscientiousness… In return he will have the ‘strength to live as long as God or the Devil pleases’ In parting, the strange figure makes him a gift – a little piece of dry bread.


This is believed to be the first or second story Kipling wrote for the Civil and Military Gazette; whether it was inspired by opium, which Kipling had tried for medicinal and possibly recreational use, or his somewhat tenuous engagement to Flo Garrard, is open to question . See Andrew Lycett (p. 96), and Harry Ricketts (p. 69). See also “The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows” (Plain Tales from the Hills) and “The Vision of Hamid Ali” (Early Verse, Ed. Rutherford, p. 272) also in the Sussex and Burwash Editions. Ed.)

Some critical comments

Lionel Johnson in Kipling, the Critical Heritage dismisses this story as one of the ‘mediocre examples of Mr. Kipling’s various manners’.
Lycett (p. 99) , however, discusses the tale at some length calling it:

…vivid and mature. It provides astounding evidence of that rare phenomenon, a precocious talent managing to articulate thoughts that he had not even begun to understand on a conscious level. Later, he would talk of his ‘daemon’, a creative force he submitted to when he wrote. This story shows that energy at work.

Walter Morris Hart (p. 50, note) considering the varied manner in which Kipling presents his stories, observes that he only uses the device of the journal in this piece and ”The Phantom ‘Rickshaw” (Plain Tales from the Hills). [Hart presumably regarded “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes” as a narrative and not a journal; as the Narrator tells us. Jukes wrote this quite straightforwardly at first, see Wee Willie Winkie p. 169.]

C.S. Lewis discusses this story in his “They Asked for a Paper”, reprinted in KJ 127/8 and 128/ 7. It is also to be found in Kipling and the Critics (Ed. Gilbert) p. 112.

See also Mary Hamer’s essay
“Kipling and Dreams”

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved