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 desert his ship in pursuit of the object of his desire. The effect of Kipling’s story can be related to the movie itself, since both are primarily composed of dialogue and because the reader of Kipling, like a cinema viewer, is thrust into the midst of the scene, without abundant narrative background, and must make sense of the story largely by overhearing the dialogue of others. The story itself is constructed with the same unconnectedness, among its parts, as a newsreel.
Though you would be hard pressed to find concrete evidence of the colonization of South Africa in Kipling’s South Africa, it is nevertheless a constant subtext of the story. The Dutch first settled the land that later became known as South Africa, but their claims were challenged by (among others) the British Commonwealth, giving rise in part to the Boer War. The British Navy was the preeminent maritime power in the nineteenth century. The mass colonization of Africa and other colonies could not have been achieved without it. When Mr. Hooper suspects the Malay boys of making noise around the railway car, the reader gets a glimpse of the natives of the colony, but one of very few. In general, one might argue that Kipling has successfully suppressed the colonial context of his story. Widely regarded as a supporter of British imperialism, Kipling’s deliberate omission of colonial issues in “Mrs. Bathurst” must be balanced with such works as Kim, where these issues are brought more clearly into focus.
Rudyard Kipling’s fiction has been associated with the modernist movement in literature. Though there is no single modernist creed that unites all of the authors associated with the movement, many of the writers were reacting both to social and literary changes, in particular the urbanization and social decay of the time. Modernism was considered a radical break with the past, especially with what authors like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound saw as a late nineteenth-century poetic style that needed new blood.
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.