In London yesterday, I went to the Imperial War Museum, to see their two current exhibitions, the one based on My Boy Jack and the collection of war posters rather archly called Weapons of Mass Communication.
The posters were terrific, and I bought the book. When I’ve analysed it properly, I’ll write more about it. My current hypotheses about WW1 posters are:
- The English ones are less arty than the French and German, but better aimed at their audience.
- The Canadian ones are the most nagging.
- The American ones are the most kitsch.
- Very few of these posters would have persuaded the unconvinced, but many would have been effective in reinforcing the beliefs of the already converted.
The Kipling exhibition was small but charming. I liked the little books and artefacts hand-made for the kids, and I was especially struck by the fake-archaic document giving the children the freedom of the river; you can see how producing this would have given pleasure to the author of Dayspring Mishandled.
I went with some questions in my mind about Mary Postgate. In the Nash’s Magazine version (Sep 1915), the only relics of Wynn that the ladies keep are his sword and cap. In the A Diversity of Creatures version (1917) this is changed to cap and belt. I wondered if this was because John Kipling, as a wartime recruit, did not have a sword. There was a sword in the exhibition, but it was a decorative one presented to Rudyard Kipling, inscribed with details of the battles fought by the Irish Guards. The exhibition had no sign of any soldierly relics of John Kipling, apart from his letters. His effects were sent back from France, but it wasn’t clear what these were. Maybe one of the biographies will give a clue.
The exhibition included some extracts from Mary Postgate, on the grounds that Kipling sent some magazines out to Jack a few weeks before he died, including the September Nash’s, with the story in it. The exhibition caption talks about:
“This short story, which expresses Rudyard Kipling’s strong hatred of the Germans…”
Does it? I thought it described Mary Postgate’s strong hatred of the Germans, and hinted that this was in excess of the facts. Edna Gerritt was not killed by a German bomb, but the crumbling of a dry-rotted English building. Wynn was not a casualty of the fighting, but of training. The aviator is not definitely German – he speaks French.
A possible interpretation of the story is that in it Kipling shows an awareness that atrocity stories were producing emotions that were out of control, and that Mary’s murderous act gives her great satisfaction, but does nothing to help the war effort.
It is possible that after Jack’s death the story’s meaning changed for Kipling, and he added the poem The Beginnings, which endorses anti-German feeling:
Their voices were even and low,
Their eyes were level and straight
There was neither sign nor show,
When the English began to hate.
He also, as I said the other day, took away the epigraph “How does your garden grow?” which hints that he thought Mary rather a contrary lady.
I was pleased to see that the exhibition included reproductions of the Matania illustrations that I included here the other day. Here’s one of them again: