“Mrs. Bathurst” is set in an isolated railway car on a beach in Glengariff Bay, South Africa, where the narrator has gone after missing his ship. It is somewhat surprising, then, that Mr. Pyecroft and Sergeant Pritchard stumble onto the brake-car by accident and proceed to tell the story of Mrs. Bathurst and Mr. Vickery to the narrator and Mr. Hooper. It is relevant that the story takes place near the ocean, since it revolves around sailing and sailors. Moreover, the story takes place immediately after the Boer War (1899-1902) and the circumstances of this war provide a constant subtext to the story (such as when Vickery goes to collect ammunition for the Navy). The Boer War was a conflict between the Dutch colonists in South Africa and the countries of the British Commonwealth, including England and Australia.
The story of “Mrs. Bathurst” is told by a firstperson narrator, but mostly contains dialogue between the four principal characters. For this reason, there is little narrative description in the story that is not part of a conversation. Moreover, the conversation that the narrator (and, in turn, the reader) overhears is sometimes in dialect, particularly those portions spoken by Mr. Pyecroft and Sergeant Pritchard. The effect of this is to make their phrases more realistic when read aloud, and also more difficult to understand.
The central structure of the narrative involves a story within the story, since the tale of Mrs. Bathurst and Mr. Vickery is told by two characters other than the narrator. There are two time frames in the story as well—that of the present tense in which the narrator meets up with three other characters in Glengariff Bay, South Africa, and that of the past tense, in which the love affair between Mrs. Bathurst and Mr. Vickery takes place.
Point of View
The reader is told the story via the unnamed narrator. Yet, the central or core story of the relationship between Mr. Vickery and Mrs. Bathurst is revealed through the narration of Mr. Pyecroft and Sergeant Pritchard. Therefore, the reader’s point of view about the central narrative is filtered through two other narratives—that of Mr. Pyecroft and that of the narrator himself, who speaks in the first person. The various layers of narration in the story account for its complexity and the story’s indeterminate, or fragmentary, style.
There are few traditional symbols in the story, since most of ”Mrs. Bathurst” consists of dialogue. Moreover, the symbols that might be interpreted in the story seem to be not fully formed. The object in Mr. Hooper’s pocket, for instance, which might be the set of false teeth that he has taken from the burnt corpse of Mr. Vickery, never appear. The image of Mrs. Bathurst on the movie screen is another image that is not fully materialized, since a movie image stands in for the real person, and because Mrs. Bathurst is possibly already dead at the time Mr. Vickery and Mr. Pyecroft observe her image at the cinema in Cape Town.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Rudyard Kipling, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.