Kipling's portrayal of women in Plain Tales from the Hills - literary analysis
School of Communication Foundation in Communication – Semester Two Subject: English 2 Aditi Verma – 0302985 Andrew Goh – 0304490Victorian Era Women: The Picture Kipling Paints Literary Research
Introduction: The portrayal of women in various literary works has been a matter of much discourseover the centuries. Many scholars have been inspired to study the contradicting roles that womenplay in the expanse of literature. Some are painted as subdued and meek while some as confidentand self-assured. Some are depicted as ‘damsels in distress’, while some as independent andstrong-willed. Some follow society’s rules and regulations without any objection, while others goagainst the societal norms and stand up for themselves. Thus, given the broad and exploratory nature of this subject, we have attempted to studyone such author’s illustration of women. The main aim of our dissertation was to analyse therepresentation of women by Rudyard Kipling in his collection “Plain Tales from the Hills.” Plain Tales from the Hills is the first collection of short stories by Rudyard Kipling,published in 1888. Many of the stories are set in a small Hill Station of India, ‘Simla’. We havestudied six short stories from this collection in which women play prominent roles. They are: 1. Lispeth 2. Cupid’s arrows 3. Three—and an extra 4. Miss Youghal’s Sais 5. The Other Man 6. The Rescue of Pluffles
Literature Review: Quite a few of Kiplings works were set in British India. This comes as no surprise, asKipling was born in what is now Mumbai in India. Based on Kiplings biography by Merriman(2006), it seems logical to assume that Kiplings view on women was shaped by several womenin his own life; firstly, Captain Holloways wife in the boarding house he attended from 1871 to1877, where he was often beaten, to the point that he referred to it as the House of Desolation,his own mother and her sister, Aunt Georgie and lastly Caroline Carrie Balestier, his Americanpublishers sister. Miroslava Kovářová (from Masaryk University in Brno) has examined the portrayal ofBritish women in India by Rudyard Kipling, E.M. Forster, and P. Scott in his thesis published in2007. He describes Kipling’s women as multi-dimensional and multi-faceted. They prove thateven though they live in a male dominated society they often dominate the man; even thoughmany of them struggle in their daily lives, they are not victims of particular men but of aparticular political and ideological system both men and women are subjected to. (Kovářová,2007) On the other hand, he has also stated that Kipling’s portrayal of female characters is“restricted and limited”, and has described women like Mrs. Hauksbee and Mrs. Reiver as“shallow and promiscuous.”(Kovářová, 2007) So, on the whole he considers Kipling’s portrayalof British women in India as wicked, mischievous, prejudiced and sometimes unfaithful to theirhusbands, and his younger female protagonists as possessing genuine non-calculating attitudesthat are rewarded with the highest possible award, love. Somewhat in contrast to Kipling’s representation of women, a Victorian author, MaryAnn (Marian) Evans, more popular by her pen name George Eliot has addressed women in her
essay, Silly Novels by Lady Novelists, as wealthy, beautiful, pious, stylish, and somewhatshallow. In her books, she showed the deficiency of a womans place in society by restricting hercharacters to their boundaries, unlike Kipling. Another one of the prominent Victorian era authors was Thomas Hardy. He has usuallyportrayed his female characters as helpless, and has depicted an overall lesser value of women,as can be examined in two of his most renowned works, Return of the Native and Tess of thed’Urbervilles. However, his female characters have been repeatedly illustrated as the centre oftheir novel’s fictional world, though generally viewed as tragic characters, that is, as victims. Then, the concept of ‘pater familias’, where the husband was head and moral leader ofhis family, had been firmly ingrained in Victorian culture. A wifes proper role was to love andobey her husband; her place in the family hierarchy was second to her husband – although notwithout significance or importance, since the tasks of the Victorian wife was to tend to herhusband and properly raise her children, and these were widely considered the keystones ofsocial stability by the Victorians then. Such can be proved by the Victorian ideal of the tirelesslypatient, sacrificing wife being depicted in literature like Coventry Patmore’s 1854 poem, TheAngel in the House. Nevertheless, Victorian-era wives were also expected to play a role not unlike thecommander of an army, which was coined as ‘Household Commander’ in 1861 by IsabellaBeeton in her manual, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. The manual states that inorder to run a respectable household and secure her family’s happiness and well-being, a wifewould have to perform her duties intelligently and thoroughly – she would have to organize andinstruct her servants, which was not an easy task as most of them were not reliable.
Thus, from the above selected examples, we have seen some of the ways in which otherscholars viewed Kipling, and also how other authors have showcased their women during theVictorian-era. Kipling. However, the aforementioned contrast with how Kipling painted most ofhis women, particularly in Plain Tales from the Hills. His female characters are quite differentfrom their contemporaries in the literature of the same period. For instance, his femaleprotagonists are portrayed in a stronger light unlike Hardy’s or Patmore’s. They are intelligentand somewhat rebellious against societal norms unlike Eliot’s – and definitely not at all like the‘Household Commander’ Isabella Beeton espouses. For example, in one of his short stories titledCupid’s Arrows, the main character competes in an archery contest, where the winner willreceive a diamond bracelet – and if she wins it, by taking the bracelet she signifies heracceptance to marry the organizer of the contest, who is a high-ranking officer. However, shechooses to do things her own way and deliberately loses the contest, although in a manner thatshows she did so purposefully. Such an act has signified Kipling’s preference for strong-willedwomen in his work, and this is precisely what we have attempted to highlight in our research.
Literary Analysis: Rudyard Kipling portrayed his various female characters in different ways. Not only that,each character of his seems to have more than one side, never failing to surprise the readers.From submissive to defiant, he never portrayed them in a uniform manner, but strove to makethem as varied and as complex as possible. Thus, in the following pages, we study some of thesecharacters, belonging to the short story collection Plain Tales from the Hills. I. Miss Gaurey In this section, we examine the character of Miss Gaurey, the female protagonist of theshort story “The Other Man” from Kipling’s short story collection. In the story, Miss Gaurey is a woman who is forcibly married to a man named ColonelScheriederling implied to be many years her senior, despite the fact that she is in love withanother man at the time. After falling ill, Miss Gaurey — who was considered ordinary from thestart — becomes ‘ugly’, and her husband ignores her from then on, choosing to go back to the‘lairs of his bachelorhood’ instead. Miss Gaurey is a standard example of women during those times; more often than not,they were forced into marriages for the family’s sake. Besides that, Scheriederling’s treatment ofher is somewhat abusive, reflecting on how men thought of their wives back then – subservient,mindless and expected to tolerate all form of abuse, mental or physical. However, unlike how women were expected to behave, that is highly emotional andprone to tears; Miss Gaurey does not shed a single tear during the entire story. In example, she
does not weep during her forced marriage to Scheriederling, unlike her mother who uses it togain sympathy. Another example would be when despite her obvious surprise at meeting her oldflame, who is referenced to as The Other Man in the story, she does not weep after the initialshock of seeing him. This implies that Miss Gaurey is rather an strong emotionally for a womanof her time. Besides that, Rudyard Kipling has written of her as being ugly, but also a survivor –he has stated that men like Scheriederling did not marry women who died easily, lendingcredence to her trait as a survivor. Therefore, we can conclude that Miss Gaurey is a character that smashes society’sexpectations at the time, despite her husband and mother’s treatment of her. It is also probablethat Kipling wishes to deliver the message of ‘staying strong and keeping it together’ to thewomen of that period through her strong portrayal.
II. Lispeth In this section, we attempt to analyze the character and character evolution of Lispeth –one of the most famous of Kipling’s heroines. In his short story titled “Lispeth” – a part of the collection Plain Tales from the Hills –Rudyard Kipling depicts the shallowness of Englishmen and brings to the forefront thediscrimination between the ‘superior’ and the ‘inferior’ present in the society during that time,while still revolving the theme around his heroine. Kipling introduces Lispeth as the daughter of a hill-man and his wife who is baptized at avery young age by the Mission. Her pitiable representation begins to shape from this point of thestory itself, as her parents pass away in a bout of cholera, and she is reduced to become a half-servant and half-companion to the Chaplain’s wife, foregoing her previous title of the ‘Mistressof the Northern Hills’. However, she is still painted as growing up into someone “very lovely” and “for her race,extremely tall”, with her Greek face, and pale and ivory color. Kipling also mentions theexquisiteness of her eyes, and compares her to the “original Diana of the Romans going out toslay”. (Kipling 1888, p.7) It is quite evident that Lispeth does not see herself as a native, butalmost as a white woman, as she takes to Christianity readily and does not abandon it uponreaching womanhood as most hill-girls do. In fact, she washes herself daily, takes classes in theSunday school, and reads all the books in the house, making her “own people” hate her. Here,the intricacy of her character shines through, and it is apparent that Kipling wishes to throw lightupon her indifference towards the natives, and demonstrate her easy compliance to the Englishstyle of living. On the other hand, she is also shown as someone who is not ignorant of her true
identity, as she somehow feels that she does not truly belong with the Chaplains. This is justifiedby her fear of being taken away to Simla or “somewhere out into the unknown world.” It isapparent that she dreads being carried back to the world that forms her roots. Furthermore, the gullibility and naivetés of her character is revealed eventually in thestory, as the Englishman she falls in love with at first sight leads her on and makes her believethat he will return to marry her when in truth he has no intentions of doing so. Moreover, theChaplain’s wife, who is held in high regards by Lispeth, supports his lies and confirms hispromise to her despite knowing that he is of “superior clay”. Lispeth, blinded by her love for theEnglishman, does not see through their façade and believes them foolishly only to later realizethat she had been lied to all along. This is when her transformation from an ingenuous and prettygirl who waits for her love, to a strong and somewhat savage hill-woman, takes place as shetakes a stand for herself and leaves the English, feeling betrayed. Kipling emphasizes this immense change in her character by her dramatic announcementof the English having “killed Lispeth”, and her return to her own land, later marrying awoodcutter who beats her. Here, we think that the aim is perhaps to accentuate the thought thatno matter the upbringing, a person’s actions are ultimately consistent with their true bloodlines. In conclusion, we find Lispeth to be a complex character, painted as both strong andweak, who gains both admiration and sympathy from the readers, as certainly intended byKipling. This is evident by the concluding lines of the story – “It was hard then to realize thatthe bleared, wrinkled creature, so like a wisp of charred rag, could ever have been "Lispeth ofthe Kotgarth Mission." (Kipling 1888, p.9)
III. Mrs. Bremmil In this section, we attempt to analyze the character of Mrs. Bremmil, a woman with anintricate personality, and one not very different, yet not entirely similar, from the character weexamined in the previous section. In the short story entitled Three and – An Extra, Kipling portrays Mrs. Bremmil as amarried woman who finds her marriage in jeopardy after the death of her newborn child, as awoman named Mrs. Hauksbee attempts to ‘steal’ her husband away. At first, it seems that Mrs.Bremmil is too meek to do anything about it, as her husband and Mrs. Hauksbee are often seentogether, while she contents herself by grieving over her dead child – not even eight of herfriends talking to her seem to do anything about it, even when Mr. Bremmil decides to attend aball with Mrs. Hauksbee. However, Kipling surprises his readers by giving a certain ‘twist’ to her character,revealing that it had all been a feint – having told her husband that she would be having dinnerwith the Longmores, Mrs. Bremmil proceeds to show up at the ball after her dinner, dressed in a“gorgeous dress”, turning the heads of all the men present. Eventually her husband decides to askher for a dance, which she teasingly rejects, but in the end accepts. She is shown as a womanwho knows her husband’s weakness and uses it to her advantage, as by the end of the Ball, Mrs.Bremmil manages to wrest her husband back from Mrs. Hauksbee; and with style as well. In this short story, Kipling portrays Mrs. Bremmil in an entirely different manner fromcharacters like Miss Gaurey; where the latter is more a character that endures suffering withoutcomplaint, Mrs. Bremmil is more proactive – she saw a rival trying to snatch her husband awayand fought back. She is also an emotionally strong woman, as evidenced by her ability to getover her child’s death and focus on her husband.
Another example would be during the time her husband was dallying with Mrs.Hauksbee; she was not panicked or enraged; rather, she remained calm and reassured. Mrs. Bremmil is also rather witty and intelligent, as can be seen with the methods sheused in getting her husband back, as well as Mrs. Hauksbee’s words on her: “The silliest womancan manage a clever man; but it needs a very clever woman to manage a fool.” (Kipling 1888,p.12) Based on this, we can conclude that Mrs. Bremmil is in no way like the women of hertime – she is in many ways, a complete opposite, in that she is willing to stand up for her rights,emotionally unwavering and capable of intelligent thought, where most women at that time wereportrayed as dull, unintelligent people. This, once again, shows Kipling’s preference for paintinghis women in a strong light.
IV. Kitty Beighton In this section, we explore the character of Kitty Beighton who is yet another well-knownheroine of Kipling’s literature. She is an interesting protagonist as her portrayal in “Cupid’sArrows” – from the collection Plain Tales from the Hills – is one that is also quite different fromthe way women were usually depicted during the literature in Kipling’s era. Miss Beighton is the young, pretty, tough, and mischievous heroine whose father is a “poorbut honest District and Sessions Judge”, and mother is an anxious woman who wishes herdaughter to get married to a good and wealthy man. Her character comes off as clever and strongfrom the very beginning of the story, unlike Lispeth, as Kipling informs the readers that Kitty isaware of the power of her beauty and uses it to her advantage. In an era when female protagonists were usually painted as vulnerable and weak, MissBeighton is presented as one who is proud – as is quite apparent by the way she finds beingsingled out by a wealthy Commissioner “with letters after his name” fairly pleasing, and takespleasure “to fill the hearts of other girls with bad feelings” – and has an opinionated attitudewhich is evident in the way she whines at her mother "Mr. Saggot is such--such a-- is soFEARFULLY ugly, you know!" (Kipling 1888, p.33) However, despite this, it wouldn’t be wrong of us to say that Kipling doesn’t want hisreaders to forget that Kitty is still a young girl possessing a heart, and thus she is presented inlove with Cubbon – a boy with a handsome face, no prospects, and head over heels in love withthe young lady. Moreover, we find that their love is also used by Kipling as a means to throwlight upon Kitty’s bold, strong, and clever disposition.
The young lady is described as radical in her ways as she rebels against the Victorianvalues practiced on a large scale by her contemporaries by brazenly refusing to bow down tosociety and standing up for her love. She does this through a very sly yet deliberate methodduring the archery tournament for ladies arranged by the Commissioner. The terms are setskillfully by Mr. Saggot who sets a diamond-studded bracelet as the prize, obviously intendedfor Kitty as it is aforementioned that she is the best lady archer in Simla; the acceptancecarrying with it “the hand and the heart of the Commissioner.” However, Miss Beighton is nottrapped in the situation as she shocks the town by intentionally losing the competition in askillful and awe-inspiring way, indirectly flaunting her rejection of Mr. Saggot to the whole ofSimla, publicly disregarding her parents, and departing boldly with her love Cubbon. In ouropinion, this majorly reflects the extraordinariness with which Kipling has handled his centralfemale character. Therefore, we can conclude that in Cupid’s Arrows, Kipling strays away from the normand provides a rare perspective on literary women. He emphasizes the uniqueness of KittyBeighton’s character as opposed to how other authors portrayed their heroines in that period, byfocusing on her audacious and shrewd nature, which is very prominent throughout the story, andis the most perceptible towards the end.
V. Miss Youghal In this section, we explore the character of Miss Youghal, another female protagonist in ashort story written by Rudyard Kipling. In the story “Miss Youghal’s Sais” from the collection Plain Tales from the Hills, MissYoughal is the daughter of a presumably high-class family who falls in love with a Britishpoliceman named Strickland, who had in a sense, ‘gone native’ in order to blend in with thenatives in British India. Their love is not looked on favorably though. When Strickland tells MissYoughal’s parents, her mother claims that she will not throw her daughter into the “worst paidDepartment in the Empire”, while her father says that he distrusts Strickland’s ways and works,and wishes that Strickland would stop contacting his daughter. When her family goes off toSimla in April, Strickland follows after them three months later, disguising himself as a sais andendearing himself to Mrs. Youghal, all while continuing his love affair with the lady. Eventually though, the flirting of suitors gets to him, and when an old General does so, heloses his composure, and the lie breaks. With the old general’s help though, the two manage toget married, with the understanding that Strickland would stop ‘going native’. Unlike other characters, Miss Youghal is quite similar to the young women of hertime, and from what can be seen in Kipling’s story, acts like one. However, she does show astreak of rebelliousness in conducting her affair with Strickland through having him disguisehimself as a sais, and her similarity to girls of that age could represent an inability to break thesocial norms that were prevalent during those times; in other words, Miss Youghal reflects theinability of women to make their own choices back then. This could possibly imply that MissYoughal’s Sais is a story aimed at the upper class families – and one mocking their separation ofclass, as the ending of the story has Miss Youghal, a well-placed young lady marrying a
policeman who has, to her parents’ point of view, adopted the mannerism and culture ofuneducated savages. VI. Mrs. Hauksbee In this final section, we examine the character of Mrs. Hauksbee who is quite a prominentcharacter in Kipling’s works, as she appears in many of his stories. Here, we will be focusing onher role in “The Rescue of Pluffles” – another short story from the collection Plain Tales fromthe Hills. Mrs. Hauksbee, being one of the recurring characters in Kipling’s stories, exemplifiesmany of the characteristic features of his idiosyncratic writing. We find her to be partly astereotype – a clever woman of the ruling classes i.e. the British in India; and the administrativeclass of them – and yet a clearly delineated individual member of this stereotypical group. Her character is first introduced as one whose involvement in a situation causes a “fairchance of trouble” with her bye-name being “Stormy Petrel.” This is delivered to the readers byKipling in another one of his short stories called Three and an Extra. Yet, in the same story, sheis also described as clever, witty, brilliant, and “sparkling beyond most of her kind”, thoughpossessing many “devils of malice and mischievousness.” Apparently, she is disliked by mostwomen, as they rise up and call her “not blessed” whenever her name is mentioned duringafternoon teas. (Kipling 1888, p.10) However, four stories later in the same volume, another shade of Mrs. Hauksbee’scharacter is brought to the forefront. Here, in The Rescue of Pluffles, she is painted in a positivelight, shown as one who uses her cleverness in what can be considered a ‘good’ way.
At the beginning of the story, Kipling states that Mrs. Hauksbee is sometimes nice to herown sex, which seems like a conflicting statement, emphasizing both on the negativity andpositivity of her character. This seems like another one of Kipling’s unique ways to represent hiswomen. Mrs. Hauksbee is described as one who is “honest as her own front teeth” yet has a lovefor mischief. She hates Mrs. Reiver with a passion, and decides to ‘rescue’ Pluffles – a callowsubaltern who “always trusted his own judgment” – from her rival who treated him like a slaveand also charged money for it. Apparently, Kipling wants his readers to realize his protagonist’s caring andcompassionate side along with her manipulative and cunning persona as well, as is evident bythis statement: “She played her game alone, knowing what people would say of her; and sheplayed it for the sake of a girl she had never seen.” (Kipling 1888, p.30) Mrs. Hauksbee is shown as an experienced and quick-witted woman who has “three andtwenty sides” to her character, perhaps even more. She takes on the role of a mother to Pluffles,manipulates his thoughts in a very gentle yet effective way, and gets him to agree to marry hisfiancé whom he had previously considered a “folly.” We can thus derive that Kipling aims tohighlight the “power of a woman” through this ordeal, painting his female protagonist yet againin a way that was rarely observed during that era. Therefore, we conclude Mrs. Hauksbee to be a multifaceted character, managing toexhibit goodwill along with some hostility. Kipling has carved her character as one whosemotivations are neither simple nor clear cut. She is thus yet another character whose personalityis quite different from that of other women characters written during the same period.
Conclusion After our analysis of the six varied female characters, taken from six different storiesfrom Kipling’s collection Plain Tales from the Hills, we can conclude that Kipling preferred toportray his women in ways that were usually not found in the literature of the late nineteenth andearly twentieth centuries. The picture he paints of his female characters is unique, diverse, andentertaining, with a touch of reality – reality of the women in that era.List of Works Cited 1. Beeton, I., 1861. The Book of Household Management [e-book], USA: David Price. Available through: Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation website <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10136/10136-8.txt> [Accessed 1 May, 2012] 2. Boumelha, P., 1982. Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form. Sussex: John Spiers. 3. Eliot, G., 1856. ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists’, Westminster Review, Vol 10: 442-61. 4. Kipling, R., 1999. Plain Tales from the Hills [e-book], USA: David Price. Available through: Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation website <http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1858> [Accessed 12 March 2012] 5. Kovářová, M., 2007. British women in India as Portrayed by R. Kipling, E.M. Forster and P. Scott [thesis online], Czech Republic: Masaryk University. Available through: Masaryk University Information System website < http://is.muni.cz/?lang=en> [Accessed 29 April 2012]
6. Merriman, C.D., 2006. Rudyard Kipling [e-journal], USA: Jalic Inc. Available through: The Literature Network website <http://www.online-literature.com/kipling/> [Accessed 4 May 2012]7. Patmore, C.K.D., 1854. The Angel in the House [e-book], USA: David Price. Available through: Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation website <http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4099> [Accessed 1 May 2012]