In the Same Boat

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


First published in Harper’s Magazine for December 1911 and collected in A Diversity of Creatures in 1917, where it is followed by the verse “Helen All Alone”. In Harper’s the story is illustrated by W Hatherell R.I.

The story is also collected in the Sussex Edition Volume IX; the Burwash Edition Volume IX; and Scribner’s Edition Volume XXVI.

The story

Conroy, a wealthy, physically powerful young man, is haunted by terrifying recurrent dreams. He knows when they are coming, and is powerless to stave them off. He takes strong drugs to try to escape them, but this only dulls the pain and leaves him in a poisoned and debilitated state. Through his doctor he is introduced to a Miss Henschil, who is having much the same experience.

At the suggestion of their doctors, the two take train journeys together, make friends, and help each other through the crisis time, avoiding the use of drugs. They find that through this mutual help they can escape their horrors. Then they discover that their mothers had had terrifying experiences while pregnant, which as adults they are re-living in their dreams. That knowledge frees them, they are healed, and go their separate ways.


ORG Volume 7, page 3060 reports that Kipling was writing this story in August 1911 and was, perhaps, inspired by a novel on pre-natal influences, Elsie Venner (1861) by the American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894).

See also “At the End of the Passage” (Life’s Handicap) and the verse “La Nuit Blanche” for other work in the same vein, perhaps reflecting some of Kipling’s own experiences: ‘…As I entered my empty house in the dusk there was no more in me except the horror of a great darkness, that I must have been fighting for some days.’ Something of Myself (p. 65).

Some critical comments

Professor J I M Stewart writes (p. 211) that:

certain of the stories seem to touch on Freudian psychotherapy as it came to be popularly conceived: some traumatic experience which has been “repressed” is successfully restored to consciousness and confronted in a fashion from which a cure results. Kipling’s tentative explorations here are likely to suffer from our associating them with mediocre novels and films which make facile play with this kind of thing. Some of them are remarkable, nevertheless … “In the Same Boat” … is an example.

Dr Tompkins, in her Chapter 6 – ‘Healing’ – devotes several pages (162-167) to this story and “The Dog Hervey” (later in the same collection):

These tales are about the burdens that are laid on men, without any fault of theirs and sometimes because they have been doing their best. The hauntings in themselves constitute an upper layer of meaning; below that there is the ultimate mystery of the general condition of man, of which they are examples or symbols. Kipling had a profound sense of this strange and, to human judgment, unjust dispensation as he had of the capacity of the human being for suffering and his loneliness in it. (p.165)

She (page 205) also draws our attention to Brazilian Sketches where Kipling tells us that once in a child’s dream he wandered into a Fifth Quarter of the world, and:

‘found everything different from all previous knowledge’

Dr Tompkins goes on to suggest that that the memory of that dream must have provided the groundwork for George Cottar’s wanderings into ‘a sixth quarter of the globe’ in “The Brushwood Boy” (The Day’s Work).

See also Dr. Gillian Sheehan’s observations at the end of the Notes on the text and ‘Themes in Kipling’s Works’ on this website.
Martin Seymour-Smith (page 341) regards this as:

…a highly professional, but more artificial story which is associated by Tompkins with both “The House Surgeon” (Actions and Reactions) and “The Dog Hervey” (later in this volume) for its dwelling upon horrific experiences. But the horrors are not at all as well done here as in “The House Surgeon,” in the course of which is a truly profound account of a feeling of oppression; the interest lies in the dwelling at all upon them, and in the fact that they are found to originate in women.

Edmund Wilson (page 164) comments:

In the stories of the early Kipling, the intervention of the supernatural has, as a rule, within the frame of the story itself, very little psychological interest; but already in “They”
(Traffics and Discoveries) and “The Brushwood Boy” (The Day’s Work) the dream and the hallucination are taking on a more emphatic significance. With “The House Surgeon” and “In the Same Boat” they are in process of emerging from the fairy-tale: they become recognisable as psychiatric symptoms.

Angus Wilson (p. 268) looks at this story and “The Dog Hervey” which he calls:

two very interesting stories of psychological healing … But in both cases the psychic element is so irrelevant or so metamorphosed into an appearance of medical psychiatry that its use as a solution or a means of identification of the source of the ill obscures and weakens otherwise interesting situations. Both stories have the excellent late Kipling quality of introducing unexpected characters, little known in most serious fiction … I know of no other English fiction of value where I could find such people so well understood.

Alan Sandison (p. 98) comments:

the strength of the non-actual is to be found acknowledged in one way or another throughout Kipling’s work. In the later as well as the earlier stories we find him repeatedly coming back to supernatural themes or to dealing with men in some way obsessed – men who are literally taken possession of by something larger and more powerful than themselves … Kipling’s ‘Ghost’ stories are always symptomatic of something deeper than a mere momentary fancy for the trivial fashionable ideas of the nineties which people express by saying “Wouldn’t it be fun if…”
What we have presented to us is self-possession versus possession – or the threat of possession – by the non-self … an ever-present menace for Kipling:
A stone’s throw out on either hand
From that well-ordered road we tread
And all the world is wide and strange.

[Lines over “In the House of Suddhoo” in Plain Tales from the Hills.]

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

Kipling and Science Fiction

In the view of many modern writers of Science Fiction, Kipling was a pioneer of the genre. Seed Fred :Lerner’s essay A Master of Our Art.

See also:

The Finest Story in the World
A Matter of Fact
The Ship that Found Herself
the Army of a Dream
With the  Night Mail
Cold Iron
A Doctor of Medicine
The Knife and the Naked Chalk
As Easy as ABC
The Eye of Allah


[J H McG/J.R.]

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2008 All rights reserved