Some years ago I wrote an article about Kipling for the Reputations section of the Salisbury Review but, at the moment, I cannot find it either on the internet or in hard copy, which I do have. As soon as I do so, I shall either link to it or quote from it. I do recall that I referred both to Orwell's and T. S. Eliot's essay on the man and his work. They are both interesting in that they were written at a time when Kipling was seen as something of an embarrassment to the literary establishment and the two critics, approaching the subject from different political perspectives, came to similar conclusions: a very good poet, often a good prose writer, difficult to accept politically but not quite as bad as people make him out.
Times have changed and our attitude to Kipling (give or take idiot students in Oxford, I imagine) has also changed. We still think of hims as a good and accessible poet. If was voted as the nation's favourite poem and I am not surprised. Recessional is not seen as a glorification of imperialism and racism, as it was for many years, by anyone who has actually read it but as a warning against hubris and arrogance. His later poems about the First World War are full of woe, not least because he lost his only son in it and felt guilty about pushing him towards enlistment, despite him being too young.
His children's books are a delight and his Indian stories continue to be popular. He was one of the few authors who understood children and could write about them as well as for them without making one cringe with embarrassment. He also understood and could write about people usually dismissed by the literary establishment, such as ordinary soldiers, the people of India who are between castes and races as well as the lower ranks of the Indian Service.
There are so many things to say about this man who is still underestimated by many but let me just add one highly admirable characteristic: he consistently refused state honours even when George V personally offered him a knighthood. He even declined the Poet Laureateship. A writer and a poet, he thought, should not be accepting such honours. He did accept honorary degrees and, eventually, the Nobel Prize for Literature. How many literary personalities who pretend to be far more radical jump at the chance of a gong, a handle or the ermine?
Meanwhile, here are some links to discussions about Kipling: an OUP blog about what he really wrote about the First World War, an interesting piece about Kipling's birthday being celebrated in India and an excellent piece by Christopher Howse in the Telegraph about Kipling "the misfit poet".
Having not managed to wish readers of this blog a merry Christmas and not put up any illustrations from Dickens, who, to my knowledge, describes festivities only in A Christmas Carol and in Pickwick Papers (by far preferable), I feel I must express a hope that everyone had a merry or jolly or peaceful Christmas according to their preferences. On to the last week of the year and then the new one.
What with one thing and another this blog has been languishing, which shameful. There have been other projects but that is not a real excuse. Anyway, one of the projects concerns Josephine Tey, who is sometimes described as the fifth Queen of Crime, after Christie, Sayers, Marsh and Allingham. I like Tey's novels but am not altogether sure she is up there with the leaders. My own preference for that fifth queen would Edith Caroline Rivett who wrote as E. C. R. Lorac and Carol Carnac. As they say, discuss.
However, reading about Tey I came across an interesting point. In her first detective novel, The Man in the Queue, published in 1929 under the name she used as a playwright and novelist, Gordon Daviot, part of the problem that faces Inspector Alan Grant is the lack of any identification on the victim. There are, for instance, no laundry marks on his clothes. Not a detail that could be used by detective writers these days: we no longer send our shirts, handkerchiefs or other parts of our apparel to the laundry, using washing machines at home or in the nearest launderette. There are, of course, dry cleaners and some clothes do have to go to them but that is a much less reliable form of identification.
That set me thinking about other details of evidence that can no longer be used by detective story writers but were so very popular in the thirties and even the forties. Monograms, for instance. Who on earth has his or her luggage, handkerchiefs, underwear and, in the case of certain very unreliable characters, both male and female, their specially made cigarettes monogrammed?
Then there are bigger issues: train timetables. Inspector French solved many a case in Freeman Wills Crofts's novels by co-ordinating trains whose arrivals and departures could be predicted with the use of the published time table. Imagine trying to do that nowadays. Imagine being the criminal planning an elaborate heist or murder, using that timetable, only to find that the original train has been cancelled and the one that was running later was so delayed that the connection was missed.
Mind you, there were problems even in those halcyon days. In Murder at the Vicarage (1930) Griselda Clements, the vicar's young and irresponsible wife, tells everyone that she came home from London, it being a day when you could get a cheap daily excursion ticket, with a certain train. Miss Marple, on the other hand, knows that the train was late so if Griselda was seen in the village at the "right" time she must have returned with an earlier trains. Sure enough she had done just that in order to carry out a somewhat dubious though not criminal plan with the vicar's nephew.
Then there is a question of postal delivery. I vividly recall a short story by Margery Allingham where the solution depends entirely on when the evening post is delivered in a certain street. First of all, what is this concept, the evening postal delivery? Is there anyone still alive who remembers it? Secondly, the notion that anyone, let alone the man who runs, as I recall the chemist's on the corner, should be able to tell you for certain, what time the post is delivered on any day, is so weird and wonderful as to belong to another genre, fantasy.
Delivery boys play a big part in various detective stories right up to the fifties. Messages are carried by the boy from the butcher, the fishmonger, the grocer to various houses and behaviour in those houses is noted by those self-same boys. We have delivery vans but I somehow do not think the driver from Waitrose or Tesco's is going to be much use to the detective, whether police or private. Then again, with the absence of those boys how would Miss Marple or even Miss Silver find out all that detailed information the police always misses?