Episode 49 They by Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling was the great poet of British Imperialism. He was born in 1865 in Mumbai (then Bombay) British India. He died in London, England in 1936 aged 70.

He was named Rudyard because that was the place his parents had met and courted at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, England. Kipling was well-connected. HIs cousin was a conservative prime minister and two of his aunts were married to famous painters, one the great pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones

He was immensely successful and you will have heard of The Jungle Book via Disney if nowhere else, but also his books KimGunga Dinand his famous poems (at least to British schoolboys of my generation) Mandalay and I imagine the world-famous poem If is familiar to most peopl.e

He actually won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. Henry James thought he was a literary genius. 

Kipling has the ability to write wonderful prose that puts us right in the scene, whether that me the lush English countryside, dusty India or a grand old haunted house.

It is worth saying also that Kipling also evidenced great affection for India and the Indians. He had a nanny or ‘ayah’ when he was small, but went back to England for his education. Interestling, after he finished at his military school, which he found a little rough, at the age of 17, it was decided he wasn’t smart enough to go to Oxford University so he sailed back to India, where he became a journalist. To him, landing back in India was a home coming. 

He published a collection of short stories set in British India in 1886; Plain Tales from the Hills, these had previously been released over a period of two years in a Lahore magazine. 

He travelled back to England in 1889, via Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and San Francisco. He travelled around the USA and Canada before going back to London, spending time in the Pacific North West at Portland, Seattle, British Columbia then going east via Alberta to the Yellowstone National park, Omaha, Chicago, Washington DC, New York and Boston. He met Mark Twain and was very impressed with him. At that time, Twain had published Tom Sawyer and was writing Huckleberry Finn. He then took ship to Liverpool from whence he went to London to great literary acclaim

He went back to America for his honeymoon and it was in Vermont that he got the idea of The Jungle Book. He stayed in New England for a whle and was visited by Arthur Conan Doyle and met Theodore Roosevelt.

He visited South Africa each winter and then in 1897, settled in rural Sussex and he lived there until his death in 1897 in a great house called Batemans.


They was first published in Scribner’s Magazine for August 1904 and then collected in Traffics and Discoveries in the same year. The ‘house beautiful’ that it describes is thought to be modelled on his own house in Sussex. 

I hadn’t picked up on this, but some reviewers infer that the visitor’s own child has died, and this makes sense of the passage where he says he never sees the faces of his own dead in his dreams. The butler has also lost a child who is now walking in the wood. The butler won’t accept a tip for setting the visitor back on his way, which may indicate some commonality of feeling and loss. 

The girl’s kiss on his hand at the end which breaks the spell, is the special kiss of his own dead daughter, and it is only at this point he realises (though we had this figured much earlier) that the children are ghosts of the children who have died. 

The point is that Miss Florence has never borne a child so she can never see them. In this sense her blindness is symbolic. He can see them and ultimately feel them because he like, the peasant woman and the butler have lost their own children. 

This kiss brings up the taboo of the communication of the living and the dead, which is forbidden, and once he realises this, he can never go there again.

The servants and the tenant farmer Turpin realise the horror of what is going on throughout, it is only our rather slow motorist who doesn’t.

However, I included this story because I want to read a series of stories where the house is a major character, but also as we go into summer in the Northern Hemisphere at least, I wanted to bask in descriptions of the countryside in full bloom, full of flowers and birds, under golden sunlight.

Nature Poetry

One of the reasons I like this story, perhaps the main reason, is Kipling’s lush descriptions of the English countryside in summer. To me, his prose here is reminiscent of the nature poetry of Edward Thomas. His descriptions of the ancient house, with its honey coloured stone caught by the evening sun and its gardens of clipped topiary, are magical.

Social Commentary

Though Kipling was deeply conservative and a great Imperialist he does comment on the death of children born out of wedlock and how the poor love their children got this way as much as if they were ‘lawful born’ that is legitimate children. Otherwise, his portrayal of the country folk is as ignorant savages more or less. But there is some compassion. The butler gets an honourable mention. I’m not sure, but I guess, Kipling is writing tongue in cheek when he talks about the visitor being the butler’s divinely ordained superior. But of course, that’s how people genuinely sincerely viewed it. God placed the king at the top and everyone in their station below, so there was no point expecting to change your place in life, and those below gave due deference to their superiors, while, at its best, those above gave charity and support to those below, all within social bounds of course.

I think there is also a comparison between the beautiful, blind Miss Florence, the maiden chateleine of the house beautiful and the rough folk of the village who drop babies like wild animals in their rough way. Miss Florence’s soul deserves the children she never has. She can only hear them, our visitor of course sees them too and in the end one touches his hand and that is the sign that he can never return to the house. 

The crooked farmer Turpin recognises the supernatural horror of Miss Florence and he doesn’t want to be left alone with her.

Walking in the Wood

I think we’re somewhere in Suffolk. East Anglia is a favourite location for English ghost stories. Though relatively close to London, it has been for centuries quite remote and as we see in other Stories such as Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Frank Cowper (Episode 21), The Experiment by M R James (Episode 27), and Between Sunset & Moonrise by R H Malden (Episode 38), the folk there are considered queer, at least by ghost story writers. I suppose it is the UK’s equivalent of backwoods New England. 

This allows Kipling to make reference to the old folk ways. It turns out these Suffolk folk have a pagan belief that when their children die, they go ‘walking in the wood’. In fact, when our vistor wonders whether he will ever come back to the house, the blind lady Miss Florence says that she is sure he will come back walking in the woods. This seems very folk horror!

Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

I just narrated these as single files, put some sound effects and music in and they are on sale for 30p (about 50 cents) each from Music Glue, if you fancy them.

Alice in Wonderland

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

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Beginning music ‘Some Come Back’ is by the marvellous  Heartwood Institute

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