If you have come away from “Mrs. Bathurst” more than a little confused and frustrated by its complexity, then rest assured that you are neither the first nor the last to do so. Since its growing popularity as one of Kipling’s most complex stories, “Mrs. Bathurst” has received a barrage of critical response, most of which takes for granted that the story is at once “obscure and puzzling,” filled with “misinformation,” “uncrackable,” and, as though Kipling were pleased by his audience’s frustrations, “teasingly ambiguous.”
In fact, even those most familiar with Kipling’s art have chosen to summarize “Mrs. Bathurst” before venturing to interpret its meaning, as though describing “what happens” is, in itself, an interpretive feat. Those who have refused to search out some meaning in the story have done so on the grounds that it is cryptic to the point of . . . Read More
Science and Technology
The end of the nineteenth century brought many developments in science and technology that had a direct impact on the everyday lives of millions of people in Europe and America. The telegraph, photograph, and cinema were all products of the time. These inventions and others changed in fundamental ways how people communicated with each another, especially in urban centers. The rise of photography and cinema, in particular, produced new art forms that were capable of communicating the themes usually addressed by literature in less time and to a wider audience than ever before.
Novelists and painters reacted in varying ways to the development of these new media. Kipling’s “Mrs. Bathurst” includes a scene in which the image of Mrs. Bathurst is projected onto a movie screen in Cape Town. The effect of this image on Mr. Vickery is one of the central episodes of the story, since it leads him to . . . Read More
“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 . . . Read More
Art and Experience
“Mrs. Bathurst” explores, among other things, the relationship between experience and its artistic representation through language. The central story of the tale is told second-hand, by Mr. Pyecroft, with help from Sergeant Pritchard. Readers must evaluate the relative positions of all of the narrators in the story in order to understand that each of their perspectives on the story is only one of many. Mr. Pyecroft addresses this issue when he says, ”I used to think seein’ and hearin’ was the only regulation aids to ascertainin’ facts, but as we get older, we get more accomodatin.'” In other words, he realizes that his narrative, like many, relies on lived experience reconstructed through language, and that there is always room for discrepancy between what actually happened and how events are later remembered.
Moreover, since details of the central plot in “Mrs. . . . Read More
Mrs. Bathurst is one of the central characters in the story. She is the subject of a story told by Mr. Pyecroft and Sergeant Pritchard to Mr. Hooper and the narrator. Her name does not appear until almost midway through the story. She is the manager of a hotel and restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand, where she earned a reputation for beneficence toward sailors like Pritchard and Pyecroft. She is the main subject of fascination, however, for Mr. Vickery (“Click”), who (again, as told through the story of Pritchard and Pyecroft) has an affair with her and deserts his ship when he sees her a fleeting image of her in a movie.
See Mr. Vickery
Mr. Hooper is an inspector for the South African railway who meets the narrator in Simon’s. Mr. Hooper fingers an unknown object in his pocket throughout the story; some readers have . . . Read More
“Mrs. Bathurst” takes place in Glengariff, South Africa, in the years following the Boer War (1899- 1902). The main story is told through a conversation between three men and the narrator; the four men discuss the tragic tale of Mrs. Bathurst, a hotel owner in New Zealand, and her lover, Mr. Vickery (also known as “Click”). The preface to the story is an excerpt from a mock-Jacobean tragedy written by Kipling entitled Lyden ‘s ”Irenius” that narrates a dialogue between a prince and one of his subjects. The themes of the epigraph—disinterested fate and accidental providence—carry over into the story.
The story begins with the narrator running into his friend Mr. Hooper, who is an inspector for the Cape Government Railways. The two men hitch a ride down the tracks on a chalk-car that is being repaired. Mr. Hooper starts to take something out of his pocket to show the narrator, but is interrupted by the shouts of Mr. Pyecroft, . . . Read More
Prosper Merimee’s short story “Mateo Falcone” (1829) culminates in the killing of a ten-year-old boy by his father; the killing—the question needs to be posed whether it is a murder—takes place in a ravine in the rugged hills of Corsica, and its victim bears the ironic name of Fortunato. The father and killer, Mateo Falcone, bears a surname which, in the Italiote dialect of Corsica, means “falcon,” a bird of prey; in addition, just before the climax, Merimee endows Falcone with “lynx eyes,” yet another indication of his predatory nature. Mateo believes himself justified in the terrible act of killing his own son and does not even glance backward as he turns from the bloody scene to fetch a spade for the burial.
Fortunato’s crime, in the eyes of his father, is that he has betrayed Gianetto Sanpiero, a thief and outlaw who has ties to Mateo and the right to seek asylum with him if pursued; he had come to Mateo’s . . . Read More
By the time of Merimee’s birth in 1803, Napoleon, a Corsican who had made himself Emperor of France, was at the height of his power. By 1814, when Merimee was eleven years old, Napoleon’s wars had devastated Europe. Napoleon finally was beaten at the hands of an allied force led by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in Belgium. The island of Corsica became part of France in the eighteenth century and was retained by the French nation even after Napoleon’s defeat.
France after Napoleon
After Napoleon, Louis XVIII became king. His supporters began to persecute anyone that had been associated with the Napoleonic regime. Louis attempted to assuage the extremists, but he was unable to control his supporters. In 1830, the year of “Mateo Falcone,” political discontent among the increasingly powerful middle classes (the bourgeoisie) erupted in . . . Read More
Romanticism and Realism
“Mateo Falcone” (1829) illustrates the cruel toll exacted on a Corsican family by the code of vendetta, or feud. Falcone kills his own son, Fortunato, because the son has betrayed a man to the authorities. Two concerns govern Merimee’s style in “Mateo Falcone.” The first is geographical and ethnological verisimilitude; the second is narrative minimalism, so that, for most of the story, Merimee’s style can be described as spare and laconic.
It is useful to know that before he wrote the sequence of short stories that make up the collection Mosaic, in which “Mateo Falcone” appears, Merimee had written two literary hoaxes, the second of which, La Guzla (1827), exploits stylistic conventions associated with romanticism. Briefly, La Guzla (the word refers to the national instrument of the Albanian “bards,” or poets) pretends to be a translation of native . . . Read More
“Mateo Falcone” concerns the cultural clash between savagery and civilization. The French, in particular, developed these themes, beginning with the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose Essay on the Origin of Inequality Among Men (1854) presented the notion that primitive people were uniquely free and true to themselves in their existence, while civilized people, on the contrary, led corrupt, hypocritical lives. Health and simplicity were associated with the savage, according to Rousseau, and neurosis and complexity to the “civilized” human being.
Merimee was not a follower of Rousseau, however, even though he was interested in Rousseau’s philosophy. Merimee’s idea of savagery was actually grounded in classical literature. Thus the Corsican ways described in the tale resemble those of the Cyclopes in Homer’s Odyssey. The Cyclopes, like Merimee’s Corsicans, are . . . Read More