Wressley of the Foreign Office

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in the Civil and Military Gazette on May 20th 1887, and collected in Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in successive later editions of this collection.

The story

Wressley is a brilliant senior official in the Foreign Office, legendary for his knowledge and attention to detail. He has the misfortune to fall in love with Miss Venner, a “frivolous golden-haired girl”. As a gift to her he decides to create his life-work, a great book about “Native Rule in Central India”. He puts his heart and soul into it, completes it, and presents it to her, but – empty-headed and trivial-minded – she does not even read it. Wressley – shattered – abandons both her and the book, and sinks all the remaining copies in a mountain lake.

Some critical comments

Lycett (p, 144) notes that this story drew on attributes of Sir Lepel Griffin, the Agent to the Governor-General of Central India who had written on Punjab (as opposed to Rajput in the story) chiefs.

J.M.S. Tompkins (p. 233) comments that Wressley “….is made and unmade by an irrational passion for a silly little girl who cannot understand him, for whom he first writes and then destroys his brilliant work… She cites this as an example of Kipling’s view of ‘Love the Destroyer’. This story reminds Louis Cornell (p.132) of a younger Kipling “…painstakingly copying out verses and stories and laying them at the feet of the elusive Florence Garrard…”. (See “On the Strength of a Likeness”, and “In the Pride of his Youth”).