Thursday, September 14, 2017

Rudyard Kipling: "Dayspring Mishandled"

Manallace and Lady Castorley (Costerley)

[All images are taken from ,  George Simmers' very interesting blog. These are C.E. Brock's illustrations for the original publication of "Dayspring Mishandled" in the Strand magazine (July 1928), when the story appeared alongside P.G. Wodehouse's Mulliner story "The Passing of Ambrose" and the latest chapter of Sapper's The Female of the Species. In this version the name is Costerley. It was changed to Castorley when the story appeared in Limits and Renewals in 1932.]

Kipling leaves the account of Castorley’s original sin very shadowy, but throws plenty of clues around. I think Craig Raine (in A Choice of Kipling's Prose, 1986) is obviously right to point out that the words

and, it was said, proposed to ‘Dal Benzaguen’s mother, who refused him

describe a cover-up story intended to save face for all parties. The truth is that Castorley refused her, having just become a man of independent means, and presumably having formerly seduced her with promises that he now reneges on. This, Raine argues convincingly, is the only interpretation that makes sense of the dying Castorley’s statement that “There was an urgent matter to be set right, and now that he had The Title and knew his own mind it would all end happily and he would be well again.”

Besides, the theme of public deception is a dear one to Kipling (e.g. in “The Gardener”); unlike the Zola that he so admired he was able to view these genteel hypocrisies sympathetically, and many of his best stories are structured around the tactful uncovering of long-nurtured secrets.  So Raine’s insight is compellingly Kiplingesque, but it is far from clearing up all the murk, and in fact Kipling did not intend it to be fully cleared up.


[Kipling directs us to his story of 1913, “The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat” . This is in several respects a companion-piece to “Dayspring Mishandled”; it shares some of the settings, e.g. hack journalism and the music hall, and has some seeds of  the distinctively witty style. It is also a story of revenge, but unlike “DM” exemplifies the all-too-common type of Kipling revenge story in which everything goes to plan and, in the words of Edmund Wilson, “The Wrong is made a guy from the beginning, and the high point of the story comes when the Right gives it a kick in the pants”. One character in it, Vidal Benzaguen, is a young music-hall star, adored by the young men of her time and on the threshold of international fame. Her fame is one reason why, in the later story, her mother can be naturally referred to by no other name than “’Dal’s mother”. At the same time the withholding of a name implies reticence about delicate matters.


‘Dal can be envisaged as about seventeen years old, which means that, though we are told she was born after the events in the opening pages of “Dayspring Mishandled” , it cannot have been very long after. In strict fact, this is impossible. The Graydon/Neminaka era is clearly the early to mid-1890s – and in fact the Dowson poem quoted by Manallace is of 1896. But the fictional date of “TVTVTEWF”, though basically contemporary (i.e. with 1913, the date of publication) is bound to be imagined as having taken place a few years earlier, as stories that describe fictional events of national scope always are. In fact, it must be 1904 or not very long after, since the death of Nellie Farren (a real music-hall performer) is referred to by one of the characters as if it’s fresh news. So there isn’t actually enough  time for Vidal Benzaguen to grow up. But this is to ignore the magical illusions of the music-hall, and of course the starry fantasy in which both stories are dipped, especially this earlier one. ‘Dal’s name is very possibly only a stage name. “Benzaguen” (more commonly “Benzaquen”) is Jewish, most frequent in Spain and France. “Vidal” is Spanish, French or (especially) Catalan – again frequently in a Jewish context. The two names fit like hand and glove. And she’s dark-haired; but her speech is pure London, with perhaps a touch of Irish (“Ah! Tell a fellow now...”). So one can speculate that Vidal’s mother was (possibly) Irish and (almost certainly) musical-theatrical herself. This gives point to two references in “DM”. The first is to Gilbert and Sullivan. Manallace’s first plan was to turn his story-idea into a comic opera; no doubt he envisaged ‘Dal’s mother taking the role of Gertrude. The second is the episode, briefly referred to in two widely separated sentences, in which a drunk Manallace has words with a negress in yellow satin, later named as Kentucky Kate, outside the old Empire. The Empire, in Leicester Square, was then a music hall. In 1894, a national sensation was caused by a moral crusade to prevent it being re-licensed. This was on the basis of indecency both off and on stage. The former charge referred to its promenade, in which beautifully dressed prostitutes touted for custom. Was “Kentucky Kate” a performer or a prostitute? Probably the former, but Manallace’s quote from Dowson’s poem (in which a man lying in a prostitute’s arms is haunted by memories of the true love to whom he claims to have been “faithful, in his fashion”) might suggest the latter. Was Manallace rejecting a proposition from Kentucky Kate, or was he making a passionate avowal about a mutual acquaintance?


The historical figure of Nellie Farren hangs over all this. She was a singing, dancing, comedy actress of the 1880s and early 1890s, especially associated with the Gaiety Theatre. Among other things she was a well-known performer in Gilbert and Sullivan operas such as Trial by Jury. Her popularity was unrivalled, but her career was cut short in 1892 by a spinal disorder that crippled her. She died in 1904. In “TVTVTEWF” the narrator, making avuncular conversation to the young Vidal (to whose sexiness he, like the young Olyett, is highly responsive – she “stood behind us all alive and panting”), has talked about Nellie as her famous predecessor in his own heyday. The details of this conversation aren’t reported; perhaps he said “You remind me of her”. Anyway, she captures Vidal’s imagination. Later she interrogates him: “Did you love Nellie Farren when you were young?” and he answers: “Did we love her? ... “If the earth and sky and the sea” – There were three million of us, ‘Dal, and we worshipped her.” The narrator, of course, is deflecting the personal nature of the question. On the other hand Nellie’s somewhat otiose presence in the story is surely meant to be seen as a touching personal tribute. But fan-worship grades quickly into passionate love when there is opportunity. In the same story Olyett, who “in common with the youth of that year... worshipped Miss Vidal Benzaguen of the Trefoil immensely and unreservedly”, later gets engaged to her. So I imagine that when, near the start of “DM”, we are told that Manallace “adored”  Vidal’s mother...” this subtly chosen word implies that his love began, though it did not end, as a member of the theatre audience.


None of this aside is definite enough to be turned into a piece of detective-work along the lines of John Sutherland’s books.  What it does do is illuminate some of the subtler shades of meaning in “DM” . For example it explains why ‘Dal’s mother would attract multiple admirers and why everyone who was part of the Neminaka scene would know who she was; as a popular entertainer, she was a kind of public property. And it explains why the Castorley who writes about “Bohemia” but lives in fear of being compromised would want to distance himself from her. One can construct a fairly melodramatic tale in which Castorley deserts Vidal’s mother when she is already pregnant with his child, in which the later “husband” was merely an arrangement to explain that child, and in which Castorley’s behaviour is in some way the cause of her paralysis and death – but the details of all this are meant to be unclear, and of course are all the more effective because they are, we gather, too frightful to be spelt out.]      


Raine’s insight does re-orient the story, putting a little flesh on the bones of Castorley’s undoubted beastliness. But while the story presents Manallace’s revenge as fully justified, it does progressively call into question whether anyone, even Castorley, can be finally condemned. A dying, duped and cuckolded man is always an object of pity. However awful his behaviour, how much of it was down to mere common immaturity, lack of self-knowledge, and characteristic self-centredness? A great crime does not imply a great criminal.


The moderation of this conclusion, refreshing as it is to a reader of Kipling’s work in bulk, wouldn’t be noteworthy in anyone else’s. Comparisons with Chekhov don’t exactly spring to mind.


Like all Kipling’s best stories, “Dayspring Mishandled” creates its own fictional world; style, content, setting and image. For example, it’s just about the only Kipling story that is genuinely funny (compare “Aunt Ellen”, above).


His private diversions were experiments of uncertain outcome, which, he said, rested him after a day’s gadzooking and vitalstapping.


... for ‘our Dan’, as one earnest Sunday editor observed, ‘lies closer to the national heart than we wot of’.


We were rewarded by the sight of a man relaxed and ungirt – not to say wallowing naked – on the crest of success.


‘and, after all,’ he pointed out, with a glance at the mirror over the mantelpiece, ‘Chaucer was the prototype of the “verray parfit gentil Knight” of the British Empire so far as that then existed.’


‘If I pull the string of the shower-bath in the papers,’ he said, ‘Castorley might go off his verray parfit gentil nut....’


The first and last of these quotations represent Manallace’s sense of humour, characteristically boyish and modest. The narrator’s tone is more sardonic, his humour grading into comments like “in which calling he loyally scalped all his old associates as they came up” and “an unappetizing, ash-coloured woman”. He is brisk, conversational, and effortless. Both humorists (like everything else in the story) merit our attention.

The narrator visits Manallace in his lab

The narrator doesn’t appear openly and in the first person until a few pages and a fair few years have passed; but covertly, he has already appeared twice, first as “a man” who guided Manallace home from Neminaka’s, later as “Some member of the extinct Syndicate” who wrote to Castorley asking for help towards a new treatment for Vidal’s mother. This somewhat furtive arrival in his own story is a hint that the narrator is meant to be identified as Rudyard Kipling himself (“‘Tell me what the tale was about, though. That’s more in my line.’”) Since he is effectively abetting Manallace in a kind of murder, there’s an element of confession about the story. Like Manallace’s disastrous ink recipe, later developments “entangled us both”.


Manallace’s interests, after April 1914 when ‘Dal’s mother died, and the night of the air-raid in which he learns the truth about how Castorley behaved towards ‘Dal’s mother, are murderous. “She seemed to have emptied out his life, and left him only interests in trifles.” But that was only “seemed”. When the narrator rumbles Manallace’s forgery, Manallace admits that “I owe my interests to Castorley”. It’s odd to express murderous hatred in terms of indebtedness. But in fact Manallace’s lethal intentions have required him, from the start, to get very close to Castorley, and to adopt a habit of sticking up for him (“The changes sickened me, but Manallace defended him, as a master in his own line who had revealed Chaucer to at least one grateful soul”). That’s before the narrator is in on the plot, but even afterwards Manallace continues to speak of Castorley with positively maternal affection: “I’m going to help him. It will be a new interest.... His book’s taking more out of him than I like, though...” And when he adds “And he’s just the sort of flatulent beast who may go down with appendicitis”, this hardly sounds like hatred in the first degree. His whole program, of conveying “our pleasure and satisfaction to them both”, of wrapping himself “lovingly and leisurely round his new task”, of creating “obligations” on Castorley’s part, begins to take possession of him. Manallace, who when we first meet him can produce an astonishing tale around a few random pictures, does not need anything much from his love-objects. He cared for Vidal’s mother (whose eyes betrayed her love for someone else) through years of total paralysis; and he is quite capable of caring for Castorley, a despicable egotist whom he has every reason to hate. When he comes to understand that Castorley is terminally ill, unloved and cuckolded, he throws the brakes on at once; but it didn’t need Lady Castorley to make him re-consider. Once confronted with the reality of Castorley’s suffering, he would have tried to back off anyway. Not possible, however; Manallace’s dilatoriness in fact accelerates Castorley’s decline.



            ‘Ah Jesu-Moder, pitie my oe peyne.

            Daiespringe mishandeelt cometh nat agayne.’


Gertrude’s lament to some extent applies to Manallace, whose life has become curiously distorted. But it applies with much greater force to Castorley, as he dimly perceives (“’Plangent as doom, my dear boy – plangent as doom!’”). Castorley is from the start preoccupied with a fear of being “compromised”. No doubt his severing of connection with Vidal’s mother arises from a panic about entanglement. His later refusal to assist in her treatment (“he had ‘known the lady very slightly...’”), though it repulses us with its cold-heartedness, is actually down to fear – of being compromised. He has set out to manipulate his way to a successful career, coldly choosing “a speciality”, flattering, fawning, and so on. But Kipling, both as narrator and author, is honest enough to admire the sheer hard work that Castorley puts himself to. He identifies with it of course. Castorley’s failure is inevitable, however, because he is not as conscienceless as he needs to be. His last speech is a poignant fantasy of setting things right again, but “Dayspring mishandled cometh not againe”.


Castorley’s blatant desire for official recognition, though always covered with a saving phrase about Chaucer, is for himself and his insecurities. He wants the knighthood because he wants to prove to himself that his careerism, though founded on a conscious betrayal of love (his own, as well as Vidal’s mother’s), was somehow justifiable. When Castorley’s anguished conscience finally does break through it remains intermingled with this stupidity: “There was an urgent matter to be set right, and now that he had The Title and knew his own mind...” 


“Dayspring Mishandled”, a story by an old, ill, distinguished writer about an old, ill, distinguished writer, is obviously unusually personal; or rather, it’s unusual for Kipling to focus on this particular element in his personal existence. But despite personal aspects of the content, the greatness lies rather in the very impersonal nature of the story that is produced; it is a great performance.  


Kipling, as Edmund Wilson and many others have pointed out, is an overt admirer of “doers”, but in the context of letters, his own profession, he can for once liberate himself (that is to say, from an over-insistent reverence for people who can do what he can’t) to write a perfect demolition of “doers”.  I mustn’t be vague about such precise art: it is a context of popular letters, and is alive from the first with sparkling awareness of the tawdriness, fakery, fun and optimism of that context. Clearly what is at issue here is not austere artistic vocations of the Jamesian sort; Castorley’s Chaucerian gambollings, though he obviously regards them as having a higher status (“‘Literature’”) than, say, Manallace’s historical tearjerkers, reflect the amateur and popular nature of literary studies, Middle English in particular, in that pre-Leavis era.      


This setting is marvellously suited to a tale in which the achievements of “doing” are understood to be irrelevant frippery compared to the real life-choices that a human being makes. Kipling has not really changed his spots. He still values “doing”, except when it is literary. (“Manallace made a reputation, and, more important, money for Vidal’s mother...”). Even a story such as this is based on the morality of Stalky & Co. But of Kipling as of everyone else, one may come to see that his weaknesses are also his strengths.


The context is in fact the centre of what makes the story great; the events seem to emerge naturally from it. That’s why Phillip V. Mallett, for example, could be so appreciative even though he didn’t know as much as we now do (thanks to Craig Raine) of Castorley’s wickedness. It’s also why a page or a paragraph of Kipling can be read on its own and is still great – I mean Kipling at his best - which you wouldn’t say of Chekhov. A great Kipling story is like a poem in this respect. It differs from most poems, I think, in that the author’s painstaking research and intricate craftsmanship are not something to be distinguished from the “lasting worth” of the work. In Kipling’s case, the research and the craftsmanship are precisely the things that matter, and it’s in their terms, vulgar and unsuggestive as they may seem, that we ought to discuss him.     


Manallace laying his trail



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