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The First Modern Ghost Story: Kipling’s ‘Mrs Bathurst’

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle analyses one of Rudyard Kipling’s most baffling stories

I agree with Neil Gaiman: Rudyard Kipling was at his best in the short story form. The generous 800-page Fantasy Masterworks volume of Kipling’s ‘fantastical tales’ which I own (The Mark of the Beast And Other Fantastical Tales (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)) showcases the work of a writer who possessed not only a staggering imagination but narrative ingenuity which we rarely see in writers of short stories. Of all Kipling’s short stories, ‘Mrs Bathurst’ is one of the most ingenious. It is also one of the most genuinely chilling.

But ‘Mrs Bathurst’ is not among the more famous of Kipling’s stories, so it’s worth providing a brief summary here. I say ‘providing’ but ‘attempting’ may end up being a more accurate word, since this tale is difficult to summarise. A group of men who work for the railways in South Africa or in the marines sit about telling stories to each other. One of their number, Pyecroft, begins telling the others about a man, Vickery, a warrant officer who deserted the service in mysterious circumstances. Read the rest of this entry