The Woman in his Life

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe, drawing on the work of Roger Lancelyn Green for the ORG. We have been grateful for critical comments and suggestions from Peter Havholm)


First published in McCall’s Magazine for September 1928, and the London Magazine Christmas Number the same year. Collected in Limits and Renewals (1932), it is preceded by “Dinah in Heaven” and followed by “Four Feet”. See David Alan Richards p. 308 passim.

There are three black-and-while illustrations in the London Magazine by Norah Scheyit, an artist we have not traced, and others by Paul Bransom (1885-1979) in McCall’s.

The story

John Marden, who has served on the Western Front in the Great War as a Royal Engineer, starts an engineering business with some comrades when they are demobilised. It is a great success, but through overwork Marden has a breakdown in which he is haunted by the war-time terrors of mining under the Messines Ridge in constant peril of his life. (His experience of buried fears is similar to those of Miss Henschil and Conroy in “In the Same Boat” in A Diversity of Creatures). He is obliged to rest, but turns to drink to ward off ‘the horror, the blackness, the loss of the meaning of things’. Trying to rest in his flat he has frightening visions, including ‘a small dog, pressed against the skirting-board of his room … an inky black horror , with a pink tongue…’

Shingle, his wartime batman (servant), now his valet, sees the problem and gets John a real dog, an adorable Aberdeen Terrier puppy named Dinah (the name of a dog Kipling owned in India), which so diverts him that he begins to recover. Dinah catches distemper and has to be nursed round the clock. John returns to work but has a relapse; Shingle suggests a holiday in the country. This is a success until one night Dinah is reported missing.

John searches for her in the dark with the aid of Jock, the farm dog, and a torch. He hears her whining, deep in a disused badger hole. To find her he has to crawl along a narrow tunnel, in constant fear of being buried alive, which takes him back to his worst experiences on the Western Front. He overcomes his fears, gets her out, and brings her home. After twelve hours sleep he wakes to find himself fully recovered and ready for work again.

See Dr. Gillian Sheehan’s “Kipling’s Medicine”. A similar phantom dog figures in “The Dog Hervey” in A Diversity of Creatures, where Shend, an alcoholic, also has the ‘horrors’.


When his surviving daughter Elsie married and left home, Kipling acquired a succession of Aberdeen terriers. ‘Wop’, acquired in 1926, was called after the character in the novel A Daughter of Heth by William Black, who had provided the nicknames ‘Wop of Asia’ and ‘Wop of Europe,’ which Kipling had used of himself and his cousin Margaret (Burne-Jones) in early Indian letters. (See Harry Ricketts, page 369) See also Thy Servant a Dog and other Dog Stories.

See also Kipling’s speech “Values in Life” (A Book of Words, p. 20):

There is a certain darkness into which the soul of the young man sometimes descends – a horror of desolation, abandonment, and realised worthlessness … I know of what I speak.
[McGill College, October 17 1907]

Some critical comments
T S Eliot does not include the verses associated with this story in his A Choice of Kipling’s Verse, but in the introductory essay (page 20) writes:

There are deeper and darker caverns which he penetrated, whether through experience or through imagination does not matter: there are hints in “The End of the Passage” and later in “The Woman in His Life” and “In the Same Boat”: oddly enough, these stories are foreshadowed by an early poem which I have not included, “La Nuit Blanche”, which reappears in “At the End of the Passage”. Kipling knew something of the things which are underneath, and of the things which are beyond the frontier.

Dr Tompkins considers this story in her Chapter 6, ‘Healing’, calling it ‘a happy tale’, and commenting (page 177):

The narrative here is forthright and in the third person, and we need no more comment than we get from his knowledgeable ex-batman who steers him back to sanity by means of the jet-black dwarf Aberdeen bitch Dinah …This, too, is a healing through love.

Angus Wilson (p.313) writes:

Of the many tales of the healing of war’s mental wounds, most of them diffuse and over-elaborate, the most simply satisfactory is probably “The Woman in His Life”. In this story, a typical Kipling hero, a young veteran of the battle of Messines who, through engineering, builds up a thriving post-war industry, collapses from overwork and singleness of satisfaction. The wily Cockney valet … saves his master from complete breakdown by persuading him to keep an Aberdeen terrier bitch. At this point all who are allergic to dog worship will leave. I like dogs well enough, but I am not a devotee: however I love cats enough to understand what Kipling is saying.

Wilson (p. 314) goes on to deplore the sentimentality with which Kipling covers his conviction that the magnificence of dogs lies in their complete subservience to their masters:

It is hard to take as a whole; but it is an interesting example of how Kipling’s skill can reconcile an open-minded reader to the most unpromising themes.

Andrew Lycett
(p. 534) remarks of this and later stories about dogs:

Rudyard was making at least some comment on his marriage in his willingness, however jokingly, to compare a dog’s love with that of a woman.

See also John Coates (p. 90) where he discusses the themes of redemption, comradeship, and mental collapse averted, in three stories in this collection: “The Woman in his Life”, “The Miracle of St. Jubanus” and “The Tender Achilles”.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2012 All rights reserved