‘Kipling in the News’

I spent last Thursday and Friday at the Kipling in the News conference in London. It was rather a strange one, because it was what they call hybrid. Current restrictions and problems keep many from travelling, so only a few of us met at the City University near Islington. The rest joined in from afar – India, Italy, America, New Zealand…. It worked much better than I’d thought it would. (At least, it did for those of us in the room. It would be interesting to hear the experience of remote attendees.)

The general topic meant that several papers were on Kipling’s early journalism in India, a subject about which I knew little. But how well he could write, even as a teenager. And how well the journalistic discipline of clear factual writing helped him later when he tackled more ambitious tasks.

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Arnold Bennett’s Journal

My 1933 copy of Bennett’s journal is a book I often dip into. Full of forthright opinions and lively insights.

Now I’m wondering whether I’ve missed out on a fuller edition of some sort.

I’ve been reading Agate (1986) by James Harding, an enjoyable life of James Agate, the flamboyant drama critic.

James Agate

Harding quotes an early twenties entry from Bennett’s journal:

J.E. Agate came early for tea in order to get counsel. He is a man of forty or so, rather coarse-looking and therefore rather coarse in some things. Fattish. Has a reputation for sexual perversity… [and so on].

Now those sentences are definitely not in my edition of the Jornal. Unsurprisingly. In 1933 Agate was still alive. To accuse a man of ‘sexual perversity’ was to court a very serious libel action. And whether or not Agate had sued, he could well have found himself in the dock, and then in prison, like Oscar Wilde.

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Kipling again

I’m excited to be attending the Kipling in the News conference in London early in September. This was first announced ages ago, and originally set to happen in September 2020, and then postponed a year, because of the miserable circumstances in which we live. I shall be there at the City University in person, but scholars abroad will be contributing via a zoom link. So it will be a hybrid affair, and maybe a bit odd, but I’m sure it will be made to work.

My own paper (after two years with just a couple of measly Zoom outings) will be on ‘The Fun of Fake News: “The Village that voted the Earth was Flat” and “Dayspring Mishandled”’. I’ve been planning it for too long. These are two of my favourite stories. and I’ve too much to say. Getting it down to the right length is proving a problem…

Meanwhile, I’ve been looking at a Kipling paper I wrote for a conference a few years ago: the 2018 Bibliotherapy conference at the Senate House, which was a most enjoyable and illuminating affair. I’ve now added the text of that paper to the pieces of longer writing listed on this blog. I think a lot of the material has been covered elsewhere in the blog over the years, but I’m quite pleased with the reading of “Fairy-Kist”, and the link to Housman.

Anyway, you can read it here: Kipling’s ‘Fairy-Kist’ – Bibliotherapy Gone Mad.

End of a War

Wars in Afghanistan don’t usually end well.

This painting by Lady Butler is called Remnants of an Army. It shows William Brydon, assistant surgeon in the Bengal Army, arriving at the gates of Jalalabad in January 1842. He is bringing news of the sorry fate of 16,000 soldiers and camp followers from the 1842 retreat from Kabul in the First Anglo-Afghan War.

This is more or less what generally happens to foreign armies that mess with Afghanistan. Why on earth did Blair let us get involved there in the first place? As a rvenge for 9/11? Then why didn’t they try to deal with Saudi Arabia, where the terrorists actually came from?

This week has been a dismal end to an unfortunate and costly enterprise.

Objectors and Tribunals

I’ve been dipping into Philip Snowden’s Autobiography (found yesterday in a charity shop). Snowden was the M.P. most consistently arguing for the rights of conscientious objectors. He is very interesting on the tribunals, claiming that the Military Service Act was generous in intention, giving definite rights to those unwilling to fight.

I cannot speak too highly of the efforts that Mr Walter Long [President of the Local Government Board] made to secure a fair hearing and a just treatment by the tribunals set up for the purpose of hearing claims for exemption. Indeed, not only Mr Long […] but Mr Asquith and Sir Herbert Samuel all did their best to secure the rights conferred by the Conscription Act upon the genuine conscientious objector.

These liberal intentions were thwarted by those given the power to enforce the Act. Local tribunals were ‘partly chosen from lists sent up by the political associations in the constituency, and the members consisted to a large extent of aged men who had made themselves notorious in the recruiting campaign’. When a Stipendiary Magistrate or a County Court Judge was made chairman of the tribunal, ‘their judicial experience was a real check upon their prejudiced colleagues’ – but many tribunals remained unchecked, and prejudice had free rein.

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Their Country’s Honour

York is not a city I know well, and I had never noticed before, just by the Minster, this handsome monument to those who died in the Boer War.


I was struck by the Gothic styling of the top half, whch contrasts rather with the plainness of the slabs of names at eye level. It is as though the eyes are led from the plain facts of death, up through some heroic figures of stalwart sevecemen, and up further to realms of the ideal.

I was even more struck by the wording on the tablet in front.

My photograph may not make this easily legible, so here is the inscription:

Remember those loyal and gallant soldiers and sailors of this county of York who fell fighting for their country’s honour in South Africa 1899 to 1902 and whose names are inscribed on this Cross erected by their fellow Yorkshiremen A.D. 1905.

Does any Great War memorial use the formulation that that the men had died ‘for their country’s honour’? None that I can think of. Isn’t the common form that they died for their country, simply? Or sometimes for Civilisation. For something more crucial even than honour?

I was in York to go to the theatre, to see Ralph Feinnes remarkable performance of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. I have writen about it elsewhere.

If Summer Don’t (1921)by Barry Pain

Title page of the first edition.

Here’s an odd one, It’s a parody, by the humorist Barry Pain of that mighty best-seller of 1921, If Winter Comes by A.S.M. Hutchinson. My copy of Hutchinson’s novel was printed in March 1922, six months after the first publication in August 1921. It is the twentieth edition (which maybe means impression, but it’s still pretty impressive.)

Hutchinson’s book was not only huge best-seller, but was also taken seriously as a modern novel that said important things about England and the war. It hit the mood of the time precisely.

Pain’s introduction skewers the book on two grounds:

Firstly, though Nona is a real creation, Effie is an incredible piece of novelist’s machinery. Secondly, I detest the utilization of the Great War at the present day for the purposes of fiction. It is altogether too easy. It buys the emotional situation ready-made. It asks the reader’s memory to supplement the writer’s imagination. And this is not my sole objection to its use.

I think those are good objections. Hutchinson’s Effie, the poor persecuted mother of a war baby, is a creature from melodrama, not from observed life; and the war is definitely used (as, to be fair, in many other novles of the twenties) to hammer home the writer’s prejudices and to prove his point for him.

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Hemingway

I am an admirer of Ken Burns’s documentaries, from his revelatory series on the American Civil War to his recent very enjoyable take on Country Music.

His Hemingway (now showing on BBC4) is well up to standard in most respects, clearly explaining the life and work of this remarkable writer.

One thing jarred. During the First World War, Hemingway served as an ambulance driver on the Italian front. Why does Ken Burns illustrate this with clips and images from the Somme and Passchendaele? Hemingway never went near those battlefields. The fighing on the Italian front was very different. Usually he’s much more careful than this.

Horatio Bottomley and the TLS

A couple of weeks ago, the TLS published a long article by Neil Berry about that awful old rogue, Horatio Bottomley. Mr Berry took the standard line on him, deploring his dishonesty, vulgarity and jingoism, which is fair enough up to a point – but actually Bottomley’s magazine, John Bull, is much more interesting than that.

I wrote a letter which has been published in this week’s TLS. Here it is:


Neil Berry’s article about Horatio Bottomley (April 9) properly deplores his chicanery and hypocrisy, and the rabid populism of his war writings. There is, however, a case to be made in Bottomley’s defence.

John Bull was more than a purveyor of fake news. It lingered over standard tabloid fodder, such as sexual misconduct by the clergy, but it also frequently exposed scandals and very properly embarrassed government departments. In 1910, for example, it reported on cruelty and abuse at the Akbar training ship (a reformatory institution for boys). When C. F. G. Masterman, an Establishment figure, produced an official report on the affair that whitewashed those responsible, Bottomley attacked him relentlessly. During the Great War, Bottomley was certainly distasteful in his rhetoric against the “Germhuns” – but an examination of the magazine shows a more complex record. (The examples I shall give here are all taken from the issue of November 18, 1916.)

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There’s No Story Here (1944) by Inez Holden

Those of us interested in life in Britain during the First World War have often had cause to envy those researching the Second, who have the records of Mass Observation to supply them with a plenitude of everyday detail, mostly about the dullish routine of everyday life – the sort of stuff that only incidentally gets recorded in fiction.

Handheld Press has just reissued an interesting oddity – a novel imbued with the spirit of Mass Observation, set in a munitions factory, There’s No Story Here, by Inez Holden, first published in 1944.

The novel is set in a huge munitions factory, seven miles in circumference, employing 30,000 workers, and in the spirit of Mass Observation, we are told all about it. Do you want to know what was in the parcels that people at home sent munitions workers? Here they are:


tomatoes, onions, chocolates, knitting wool, family photographs, a game or a puzzle, a postal order or some stamps, a book or some magazines, a piece of heather or shamrock, a locket, a bracelet or ring, some biscuits, shortbread, a flower in a pot, or packets of seeds to be planted in the hostel allotment, some underwear, hair slides, or a comb.

Inez Holden is very good at lists.

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