The Story of Paul Vaugel


notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


There are incomplete holograph [handwritten by Kipling] versions in Notebooks 1 & 3, and a transcribed version in Notebook 2, dated “Christmas holidays 1881-82”, with the title “Paul Vaugel”. There is a full holograph version with the subtitle. in Sundry Phansies, the handwritten notebook presented by Kipling to ‘Flo’ Garrard, the beautiful art student with whom he had fallen in love after meeting her in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen. She does not seem to have returned his affection, but this did not deter him from sending her many poems.

See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 101), and Pinney p. 1601.


In these school years he was reading widely among earlier poets, experimenting with themes and forms, seeking to find his own voice, and sending many of his poems to friends and relations for comment.

Notebook 1 has a later note by Kipling, dating from 1883 or 1884:

There are seventy “ands” in this thing but it made Miss Maggie Hooper ….”weep”. Perhaps by reason of its length.

Miss Maggie Hooper was probably the daughter of Mrs George Hooper, a sister of Miss Winnard who was one of ‘the Ladies of Warwick Gardens’ with whom Kipling spent holidays from boarding school at Westward Ho! (Rutherford)

The poem

An extended account of the tragic death of a woman, and her burial in sand-dunes by the sea by her anguished and inconsolable lover.

Kipling’s biographers have not paid very much attention to his uncollected schoolboy poems, though Charles Allen notes how he was inspired to write love poetry by the elusive Flo Garrard.
He writes:

Many were deeply lugubrious, involving broken-hearted lovers torn apart by death or fate. The best of the lot, and the most ambitious yet attempted, was “The Story of Paul Vaugel”, a tale of a Norman peasant, and how he ‘took himself an unfortunate [a prostitute], and maintained her, and how she died, and how he buried her in the Pol-Lourdesse [the sea-coast] and of the evil that came on him.’ It was a dark tale of forbidden love, retribution, and guilt, set out in sonorous, four-beat iambics that take on an extraordinary dream-like force akin to Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” as the narrator carries his dead lover down to the strand and buries her in the dunes.

As we have noted of several poems and tales in this Guide, the seashore was often a place of sadness, loneliness, and apprehension for Kipling.

As Barbara Arnett Melchiori has pointed out, the young Kipling was echoing a well established Victorian theme. Writing about 19th century illustrations of Shakepeare in Images of Shakespeare (University of Delaware Press, 1988) she makes particular reference to the painting by Millais of the drowned Ophelia, from Hamlet, and to the interest of Victorian poets in the tragic deaths of beautiful young women. She goes on to mention two poems which were probably known to the young Kipling, “The Lady of Shalott” by Tennyson, and “Evelyn Hope” by Browning, whose lover:

… monologises for an hour beside Evelyn’s corpse, meditating on “the red young mouth and the hair’s young gold”, closing with the words:

So, hush—I will give you this leaf to keep:
See I shut it inside the sweet cold hand!
There, that is our secret.

“Evelyn Hope” is the third poem in Browning’s Men and Women, a collection much treasured by Kipling after the book was thrown at his head by his literature teacher.

Melchiori goes on to quote from an early poem by William Morris, in similar vein:

Dead is she then – behold I pass my lips
Over her cold face, moaning like a bee …
kissed her oe’r and oe’r right to the bodddice hem
Up to the golden locks yea sunk my lips in them
I never knew till now how sweet a kiss could be.

Whether or not the poem was known to the young Kipling, Melchiori goes on to note of his poem:

Even the young Kipling published a dramatic monologue in the Morris style in his early collection “Sundry Phansies” (1882) the poem is called Paul Vaughel … The description of the youth burying his dead love on the seashore with his own hands and then mourning over her has a decadent ring that is not easy to associate with the Kipling we know.

Notes on the Text


Pol-Lourdesse An unidentified river. Towards the end of the poem St. Lo is mentioned; there is a town of this name in Normandy, but it is inland. Rutherford (p.105) suggests the Commune of St. Lo west of Coutances, also in Normandy. That faces the sunset (verse 22) but the river there is the Sienne.

[Verse 1] This describes the theme of the poem. The rest of the verses are spoken by Paul Vaugel himself.

[Verse 7] He has rescued a woman and laboured for her, hoping that she will come to love him.

[Verse 10] like to die When he took her in, she was nearly dead.

[Verse 14] the woe of the streets and all their sin he had rescued her from prostitution. “Woman of the streets” is a common phrase for a prostitute.

[Verses 15 & 16] As he had hoped, she returns his love.

[Verse 24]

the Dune St. Lo Rutherford notes that the word ‘Dune’ could be ‘Dim’.

[The last couplet] Though he lived on for years, Paul Vaugel had never recovered from her loss.


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved