The Son of his Father

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in Today of 10 December 1893 and 6 January 1894, Harper’s Weekly of 30 December 1893, and the Civil and Military Gazette of 5, 6, 8, 15, 16 and 17, 1894.

Collected in the Sussex Edition, Volume 16, p 167, the Burwash Edition, Volume 14 and Scribners, Volume 35. Martindell, (p. 224) records this story as also collected in the Edition de Luxe, Volume XIII.

The story

This is a tale of Strickland, the Inspector of police, and his son Adam.
Betty Miller, in Rudyard Kipling, the man, his work and his world [Ed. John Gross, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972] page 3, sums up the issue of honour at the heart of the story::

‘a white boy – yet another of Kipling’s Terrible Toddlers – beaten by his father for some trivial offence, attempts to commit suicide, not because his father has beaten him, but because the chastisement took place in the presence of a woman, his native foster-mother. The child refuses, in consequence, to obey the woman’s orders, or to eat from her hand: and when (at his command) she is dismissed, greets his new ayah with the words ’If I do wrong, send me to my father. If you strike me, I will try to kill you’.’

In the second half of the story one of Strickland’s horses has apparently been stolen, and the groom beaten in an affray. Strickland is convinced that this is a deliberate insult by a gang of thieves, and pursues them with great vigour, detaining suspects, making enquiries in many towns where they might be lying up, and causing much disturbance..

Adam knows all along that the affray was a false story, invented by the drunken groom, but he does not reveal this until his father has made a fool of himself. Adam has his revenge, and his honour is made whole again.

Critical comments

Angus Wilson does not mention this story, but is not particularly impressed with Land and Sea Tales – (p. 243), and Harry Ricketts calls the collection a ‘rag-bag of previously uncollected items’. (p. 362). J M S Tompkins, who calls this story ‘incredible’ in her chapter on “Hatred and Revenge” (p.129, passim), says of Land and Sea Tales that: ‘the Daemon was absent from that collection.’ This Editor takes a more appreciative view.

Growing up in India

For other stories about children in India, and the inevitable separation when they returned to the U.K. for schooling and for their health, see the notes on “Tods’ Amendment” (Plain Tales from the Hills); for Strickland, see “The Mark of the Beast” (Life’s Handicap) and the notes on “A Deal in Cotton”, (Actions and Reactions), in which we meet Adam as a young administrator in Africa. For further information see ORG Volume 1, p. 16.

For Kipling’s idyllic early childhood, see Something of Myself, chapter 1, and the beginning of “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” (Wee Willie Winkie); for his dreadful temper, see Harry Ricketts p. 9. For household life at the time, see David Burton’s The Raj at Table, (Faber, 1994) Chapter 5, “Servants.” Also the notes to “At the End of the Passage” (Life’s Handicap). For a rather facetious but illuminating glimpse of domestic life in India at the time see Kipling’s The Smith Administration (From Sea to Sea, Volume 2.)

While it was normal for Anglo-Indian children to be sent ‘home’ to England at about the age of six to be educated, in this collection and elsewhere Kipling clearly takes the view that there were merits in ‘staying on’ in preparation for life and work. Young Ottley, the hero of “The Bold ‘Prentice”, was born in India, perhaps of an Indian mother, and remained there, as did Kim, the child of European parents. (Ottley’s father, an engine-driver himself, could obviously not afford to send him home, while Kim’s father was dead.) Jim Trevor, fourteen, in “An Unqualified Pilot”, spends most of his time on the river. Although his father threatens to send him to school, being able to afford it, the boy gets his own way in being apprenticed to a Hugli River Pilot.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2007 All rights reserved