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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

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A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘An Encounter’

A commentary on one of Joyce’s Dubliners stories

‘An Encounter’ is one of the early stories in James Joyce’s Dubliners, the 1914 collection of short stories which is now regarded as one of the landmark texts of modernist literature. At the time, sales were poor, with just 379 copies being sold in the first year (famously, 120 of these were bought by Joyce himself). ‘An Encounter’ is not one of the best-known stories in the collection, but like many of the short stories that make up Dubliners the story shows Joyce addressing taboo issues, as well as the boredom and disappointment of everyday life, with consummate stylistic skill and attention to detail. You can read ‘An Encounter’ here.

‘An Encounter’, in summary, is narrated by a man who is recalling an episode from his childhood, and specifically his schooldays in Dublin. The boy recounts how one of his schoolfriends, Leo Dillon, introduced him and a number of other boys to the adventure and excitement of the Wild West, and how they would play cowboys and Indians together. Read the rest of this entry

A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘Araby’

A commentary on one of Joyce’s shortest Dubliners stories

‘Araby’ is one of the early stories in James Joyce’s Dubliners, the 1914 collection of short stories which is now regarded as one of the landmark texts of modernist literature. At the time, sales were poor, with just 379 copies being sold in the first year (famously, 120 of these were bought by Joyce himself). And yet ‘Araby’ shows just what might have initially baffled readers coming to James Joyce’s fiction for the first time, and what marked him out as a brilliant new writer. But before we get to an analysis of ‘Araby’ (which can be read here), a brief summary of the story’s plot – what little ‘plot’ there is.

In summary, then: ‘Araby’ is narrated by a young boy, who describes the Dublin street where he lives. As the story progresses, the narrator realises that he has feelings for his neighbour’s sister and watches her from his house, daydreaming about her, wondering if she will ever speak to him. When they eventually talk, she Read the rest of this entry