The Art of Rudyard Kipling

By J. M. S. Tompkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Laughter

In Something of Myself Kipling, praising the English gift for talking 'real, rich, allusive, cut-in-and-out skittles', and characterizing American conversation as too anecdotal and French as too oratorical, concludes by observing: 'And neither race delivers itself so unreservedly to mirth as we do.' This remark, which implies a conviction of the value of such self- delivery but does not define it, was made near the end of his life and it may serve as an introduction to his farces. Complex, deliberately wrought, visually rich and ringing with various voices, these astonishing structures stand along the road of his art from 'The Rout of the White Hussars' in Plain Tales from the Hills to 'Aunt Ellen' in Limits and Renewals. They are houses of boisterous and primitive mirth, 'mere farce', as the School Certificate Class, labouring towards a comprehension of critical categories, write depreciatingly, and often without any consciousness of their own natural pleasures. Sooner or later, in these tales, we reach the moment of physical disorder, the inversion of human and official dignity, surely the oldest and most proved of the sources of laughter. On the country platform below us the gigantic navvy, heaving with the operation of the unwanted emetic, clutches the philanthropic doctor in an ineluctable grip; in the village pond the pompous administrator struggles furiously with the assault of four swarms of bees; on the arterial by-pass in the dawn stands the policeman, speechless and plastered with the contents of in eiderdown quilt. Nothing has been spared in the approach to these rites. They take place against the sumptuous beauty of early summer in Wessex or after a panorama of the Sussex roads. There is nothing inartificial in the arrangement of the preliminary circumstances, where logic and chance meet in the moves of a dance to usher in the climax; and all round the arena stand recognizable English types, railwaymen, under-

-33-

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The Art of Rudyard Kipling
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter One - Kipling and the Novel 1
  • Chapter Two - Laughter 33
  • Chapter Three - Tales for Children 55
  • Chapter Four - Simplicity and Complexity 85
  • Chapter Five - Hatred and Revenge 119
  • Chapter Six - Healing 158
  • Chapter Seven - Man and the Abyss 185
  • Chapter Eight - Change and Persistence 222
  • List 260
  • Index 270
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