The Tie

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in the United Kingdom and the United States in Limits and Renewals (1932), and subsequently collected in the Sussex Edition and Burwash Edition. It had evidently been written a good deal earlier, since ORG records Mrs. Kipling’s diary entry for 22 April 1915: ‘…starts a story about Army food’. In Limits and Renewals it is preceded by “The Totem”.

The story

The tale is told by a schoolmaster ‘anciently a schoolmaster of an ancient foundation’, now a second Lieutenant in wartime, who finds his juniors in age are his seniors in rank. He has had difficulty in converting to military life. The food provided by a civilian contractor (they are quartered in a prison in England) is expensive and dreadful. By chance the contractor (who is not quite a gentleman) is stopped at a road-block – he makes an attempt to escape and is taken into custody. He is wearing an ‘Old E.H.W.’ school tie, which reminds the young officers of their schooldays. One was at the same school. They bully him just as if they were all in the Third Form again, knocking him about, interrogating him brutally, and compelling him to eat some of his own dreadful food. He is released, not seriously the worse, and their diet improves the very next day.

Critical responses

Charles Carrington (page 475) does not like the story:

an ill-natured anecdote, “The Tie,” written long since and dredged up from the bottom of his notebooks where it might better have been allowed to stay.

Martin Seymour-Smith (pp. 326 and 353) does not like it either, seeing the roots of Kipling’s ‘revenge’ stories going back to his treatment by Mrs Holloway in “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” (Wee Willie Winkie):

This event had established the habit of angry and revengeful thinking in him. He never lost it, as the late and lamentable “The Tie” demonstrates … Some of these stories such as “Beauty Spots” (except for its revealing epigraph) or, worse, “The Tie”, are bad, cruel, unfunny or all three.

Dr Tompkins (page 34) , taking her usual balanced view, calls this:

… one of the punitive farces, in which killing ridicule, sometimes physical, is aimed by angry men at an offender. These are not — and were not I think, intended to be — wholly hilarious.

Dr Tompkins cites “A Friend’s Friend” in Plain Tales from the Hills as the earliest and simplest of these ‘punitive farces’, observing later (page 122):

“The Tie” has been called a silly and incredible tale. It would be unlike Kipling not to have had some nucleus of reality to build round, though we need not suppose that what we are offered are literal;ly ‘the undraped facts’.

Without expressing any opinion on the merits of the story, C A Bodelsen observes in a footnote on page 118:

“One View of the Question” (Many Inventions) (which is not really a story, but a political tract) is in the form of a letter, and so is “The Tie”.

J I M Stewart (p. 168) looks at “The Honours of War” (A Diversity of Creatures) but finds “The Tie” ‘slighter…It is not easy to find merit in this story.

Hilton Brown is rather in two minds – he likes the verse “The Totem”: ‘ (yoked to a rather second-rate “The Tie”) which states the case for the Old School Tie as well as is necessary’, and comments that:

…it is the merit of the Old School Tie – even that of the United Services College – to be
Ancient and unbribeable
By the virtue of its Name
Which, however oft I fell,
Lashed me back into The Game.

[“The Totem”]

‘Eton and Harrow’, says Hilton Brown (page 31) ‘could not have put it better.’
[It should perhaps be added that Kipling’s own school, United Services College, was far from being ‘ancient’, having been founded in 1874, just four years before his arrival; Ed.]

See KJ 075/08 for ‘Kipling and the Old School Tie’ by Sir Christopher Robinson:

…And those, too, were the days when the Public School tradition—the tradition of a good regiment—was strong in the land. It was, in fact, the day of the Old School Tie. That tradition may not be the most perfect which the mind of man could devise, but I have yet to meet any rule of conduct to equal it. …….

This Editor sees some wry humour in the story, and a certain horrible fascination, reminiscent, as it is, of “The Moral Reformers” (Stalky & Co.), brought up to date – as Norman Page (page 129) also remarks – with a more-or-less happy ending, as the food improves and so, probably, does the dreadful Haylock.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2008 All rights reserved