‘The Gardener’ in The Strand

Yesterday I went fishing in the bound volumes of the Strand Magazine of 1926. I didn’t find exactly what I was hoping for, but I did come across the first British publication of Kipling’s story The Gardener, in the May issue.

A quick check of the text revealed only a couple of differences from the Debits and Credits publication of the same year, and these were small grammatical clarifications (It seems a rule with Kipling’s stories that the smaller the gap between magazine and book publication, the fewer changes there will be. In the Interests of the Brethren, for example, first published several years before being collected, has several quite significant changes.)

The main interest of the magazine publication is in the illustrations, this time by J.Dewar Mills. I wonder if any research has been done on these, and the degree of control that Kipling had over which episode of the story would be shown, and how it would be represented. The picture above is from the end of the story, Helen seeing “a merciless sea of black crosses” at the Hagenzeele Third cemetery. Tactfully, the artist has made no attempt to represent the gardener, leaving him to the reader’s imagination.

Helen is pictured, I think, as looking defensive. The hat and fur stole look almost like a suit of armour, and her hands are clasped as though she wants to make a barricade between herself and experience. Her weight is on her back foot, as though she is slightly recoiling from the sight of the cemetery. By this point in the story, the reader thinks he knows Helen well, and sympathises with her; this is a reminder of why Mrs Scarsworth found her formidable, and why she was not able to find the response she wanted when she made her confession.

Earlier in the story there is a picture of Helen and Michael. It is rather cleverly split over the gutter of the pages, using the technology of publishing to make a point about the separation of the characters (once again, Helen’s body language tells us of her closed, defensive character, despite the text’s ironic claim that she was “open as the day”.

The picture shows the monemt when Michael says, “I’d have got into the show earlier if I’d enlisted.” and is maybe relevant to the controversy about Kipling’s arrangement of a commission for his son, John.

In August 1914, Michael “was on the edge of joining the first holocaust of public school boys who threw themselves into the Line” but is dissuaded. Helen “had been shocked at the idea of direct enlistment.” Officer training is arranged for him, with the result that this and other delays mean that Michael is not part of “the wastage of Loos” (where John Kipling had been killed), and he is employed usefully in quiet sectors until one day he is hit by a random “shell splinter dropping out of a wet dawn.”

I’m speculating that Kipling is writing into his story a private message for himself (and Carrie?): “We did our best by stopping him from enlisting as a private; he missed the first holocaust at least. He was killed at Loos, and that is terrible, but of course, even had he not been in that terrible mismanaged battle, death could have come to him at any time.”

I think it would be significant if  it was Kipling, rather than the artist, who chose “I’d have got into the show earlier if I’d enlisted.” as the subject of the illustration. It’s not, after all, an obviously significant line in the story.

The story is set within a couple of years of the end of the war, I suppose. By 1926 the  “merciless sea of black crosses” would probably have  been replaced by one of the beautiful and dignified garden cemeteries that were the work of Kipling and his associates on the War Graves Commission. If the gardener of the story is indeed a Christ figure, then it’s notable that making gardens was essentially what Kipling, Lutyens and company were doing after the war – and it’s what poor crazy shell-shocked Wollin did too, in the story Fairy-Kist. Planting gardens was the one activity that would take his mind off darker matters.


  1. Roger Hardwick
    Posted March 18, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I am interested in the artist John Dewar Mills as he lived in the house I now occupy in Blackheath, London SE3, from 1924 to 1933.The top floor is a studio with North facing roof lights.
    Thank you for this article, so far the only reference I have found about JD Mills

  2. Roger
    Posted March 21, 2015 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Off topic, as a matter of curiosity – it might be worth a post if you know more about the subject – one of the characters in The Gardener says of her dead son that “coming of respectable folk, he had of course enlisted under the name of Smith”. If I remember rightly, soldiers are described as doing the same thing in Kipling’s India stories.
    How common was this, both in the nineteenth century and in WWI? A.E. Housman’s brother enlisted under his own name which suggests attitudes varied from family to family or was it a class matter? It’s implied the woman in The Gardener is working-class, where Housman’s family were collapsing from the middle-class.

    • Posted March 21, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      I think it was not uncommon for men to join the army in Victorian times to get away from difficulties at home – arrest, or debts, or a woman demanding marriage or child support. ‘Going for a soldier’ was often seen as a disgrace, so anonymity might have been used for the sake of the family.
      I’m sure that some WW1 soldiers enlisted under a pseudonym for similar reasons, but the passgae makes more sense if the Lancashire woman’s had been a pre-war regular.
      A note on the Kipling Society website says:

      Roger Ayers, in “‘The Gardener’” [Kipling Journal 308, Dec. 2003, page 17] suggested that the Lancashire woman could have been “a Magdalen”:
      “for not knowing where a child was or what it had come to be called was the lot of many Magdalens who had given up, or had had taken from them, their illegitimate babies.”

      This seems to me an unlikely complication, since the woman seems to know quite a lot about her son – just not the name he chose as a soldier.

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