THE USES OF RITUAL IN KIPLING'S MASONIC STORIES
[John Coates (M.A. Cambridge, Ph.D Exeter), is a Lecturer Emeritus of the Department of English, Hull University. He has published books on G.K. Chesterton, Elizabeth Bowen, Romantic prose and a study of Kipling, The Day's Work: Kipling and the Idea of Sacrifice (1997). The numbers in parentheses which you will find in the text of this paper are page numbers in Debits and Credits (see note 6). — Ed.]
The stories Kipling set among the Freemasons have not, generally, appealed to critics. It is not difficult to see reasons for such relative lack of esteem. In the eyes of the public, Freemasonry, like any small secretive group, may look inward-turned and self-involved. It may be unfair, but it is not unthinkable, to see its satisfactions as those of a schoolboy gang's passwords and secret codes. However much fiction set within such a coterie may interest its members, most readers (it is suggested) will find it exclusive and irritating. For C.S. Lewis, the "hardly forgivable Janeites" in which "something so simple and ordinary as an enjoyment of Jane Austen's novels is turned into the pretext for one more secret society" offers an extreme example of Kipling's greatest weakness, a slavery to some Inner Ring and an "unwearied knowingness".  Philip Mason agrees. "The Janeites" "illustrates Kipling's passion for belonging to a group from which others have been excluded." The story moves from the secret society of a Masonic Lodge, through the exclusive fellowship of men who have lived through the war, to a third inner lodge "of which the passwords are taken from the works of Jane Austen"  For another critic, "'In the Interests of the Brethren'", the second of the two stories this paper will discuss, is "not really a story" but a description of a Masonic Lodge, preoccupied with the "beneficent and healing power of ritual". The effect is repetitive and tedious: "The words ritual and ritualist are repeated eleven times"  Even another commentator, who recognises that the Masonic stories are concerned with healing as much or more than with the appeal of the Inner Ring, feels that they "betray an uncertainty of tone". "Unaccustomed to the visitation of the sick"  (that is, out of his emotional depth) in his efforts to find remedies for suffering, Kipling fails to explore the subject thoroughly enough or to settle his own attitude towards it.
Perhaps Kipling has been the victim of his own stylistic virtuosity. Especially in his later stories, he conveys essential information in brief loaded phrases which leave readers to infer psychological subtleties other writers might have taken pages to extrapolate. Dropped in the course of the narrative, such hints and suggestions mean that our impressions are being continually modified. We are invited into a close, participatory relationship with the text and rewarded for the work of teasing out its meaning by a fuller understanding than would have been conveyed by simply being told what to think. However, such economy in the writing requires an alertness in the reader that it is not always possible to sustain. The nuances may be missed and the story lose some of its deserved effect. Were there world enough and time, many of Kipling's later fictions would repay an almost linear commentary.
As a preliminary to exploring "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" (published December, 1918) it is worth noting the poem "'Banquet Night'" with which Kipling prefaced the story when it appeared in Debits and Credits (1926). Kipling structures "'Banquet Night'" around a series of contrasts. During the building of the Temple in Jerusalem (the seminal event in the myth of Masonic origins and, therefore, lending authority to the poem's claims) King Solomon sends messages to two men, both called Hiram. The first is the wealthy and powerful King of Tyre who has sent Solomon the cedars of Lebanon for the Temple (I Kings 5). The second is Solomon's own architect who, in Masonic legend, was supposed to have been killed because he would not reveal Masonic mysteries: "His self-sacrifice in defence of the secret stood at the heart of Masonic morality".  There is an obvious contrast between the great ruler's ease and serenity (suggested by the soft consonants of "Felling and floating our beautiful trees"  and the busy, hot labours of the "Excellent Master of forge and mine"). King Hiram's benign diplomacy and mutually profitable commercial dealings with Solomon are equally remote from the heroic, sacrificial death of Hiram the architect. These are not the poem's only contrasts. Brethren who are invited to the Banquet wear "Garments from Bozrah or morning-dress". The Lord's red garments in Isaiah 63 are a promise of the day of vengeance and redemption. "Morning-dress", of course, is the tail-coat still worn on formal occasions in the 1920's. Those invited to the banquet, then, belong to differing social ranks, but (perhaps more importantly) embody emotional and moral states so remote from each other as to have, apparently, no common ground. "'Banquet Night'" specifies what can draw such disparate human temperaments and types of experience together. Central to Masonic myth, the wisdom of Solomon involves a knowledge of the hierarchy and qualities of things. Kipling's borrowed Biblical phrase "Hyssop and Cedar" recalls the Old Testament praise of Solomon for speaking learnedly of trees from the cedar to the hyssop (I Kings 4:33). However, this understanding of the rank things (and people) occupy and the distinctive uses to which they can be put needs to be supplemented by another kind of understanding. Kipling's mention of "the Bramble, the Fig and the Thorn" recalls Jotham's parable of the trees (Judges 9:7-20). This contrasts to the "olive" and the "vine", images of worthwhile human beings, content to be useful in themselves, with the "bramble", symbolising the base and creeping people who want power over others. "'Banquet Night'" refuses to make such judgements, even on what may seem useless and repellent. Things and people are not equal but that is no reason to "black a man's face" because "he is not what he hasn't been born" (55). Such an acceptance of the worth and qualities of individuals, even within a hierarchy of value, is based upon two facts of human experience, fellowship in work and fellowship in suffering. The brothers in "'Banquet Night'" are "fellow craftsmen no more no less". They do not commit themselves to sacrificing personal privacy and social position. Hence, "no more". "No less", because they recognise, and respect in each other, the standing particular skills and knowledge impart. More significantly, they are bound together by the suffering which work necessarily involves: "No one is safe from the dog-whip's reach" (56). In the quarries, the forge or the mountains of Lebanon, wherever there is human action or labour there is pain. This cannot be altered but "once in so often" it may be forgotten in a temporary equality of companionship and sympathy. "'Banquet Night'" points in the story which follows, to concerns beyond slavery to some Inner Ring or some notion of curing suffering merely by following a ritual.
The opening of "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" describes the first stages of the narrator's acquaintance with Burges of the Faith and Works Lodge. The initial encounter amounts to no more than a few words about the right kind of canary to buy in a pet shop. Their next brief contact is a chance meeting ("months later" (57)) on a railway platform. Burges is going off on a fishing trip with his Angling Club. Such moments offer a glimpse of Burges' and the narrator's earlier lives and of the relatively carefree pre-war world. There is a suggestion that the first "Freemasonry" to which Burges and the narrator belong is that of parenthood. The narrator is (it seems) buying a canary for a child who is more likely than most adults to be disappointed if its colour fades. Burges is warning him as one father to another. Human sympathy precedes the Masonic handshake the men exchange (57) at their third meeting and clearly takes precedence over membership of the Inner Ring.
This third meeting underlines the effect the war has had on both men. The shopkeeper Burges' hair was "whiter than it had been, and the eyes were sunk a little" (58). It is the understatement here which is moving. Burges, we are to feel, is not naturally a tragic figure, yet tragic suffering has come upon him. More than openly expressed emotion, Burges' mild little exclamations ("Well! Well!") at one man (the narrator) "in all these millions" turning up "when there's so many who don't turn up at all" (58) conveys his desolation. He remarks that since losing his son in the war, he has given up the interest he shared with the narrator ("I've sold all my birds") and his comment that "there's not much left for middle-aged people just at present" includes himself and the man he is addressing in a common situation. Both, we may infer, have lost children.
What strikes us here is how gentle and unobtrusive are Burges' approaches to a possible fellow sufferer. Critics' complaint that "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" is not really a story can only be sustained by ignoring subtle changes in the narrator's consciousness as he reacts to Burges. The narrator is not an impersonal or anonymous figure giving a purely factual account. He is part of the action of the story and is being affected by what he records. While we should not, of course, assume a straightforward identification of the narrator with Kipling, he does possess some of Kipling's characteristics, such as an interest in Masonry and an insensitivity to music  (72). Perhaps it would not be going too far, then, to assume that Burges would be aware of the narrator's (possible) bereavement as a matter of public knowledge.
In characteristically pregnant phrases, Kipling hints at the relationship that is to develop between the narrator and Burges. The latter's "Well! Well! And now we must locate your trouble" (58) implies something more than an "erring" pipe. Burges deals with the pipe as "skilfully as a surgeon", at the same time replying to a soldier who enters and speaks in an undertone. An emotional undercurrent here connects a caring for broken objects and people (including, perhaps, the narrator) with a peculiar kind of reticent sensitivity and "a procedure, a ritual in all things". The sensitivity which precedes and sustains the concern with ritual from the start of "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" gives ritual in the story connotations it need not, and often does not, possess.
After Burges invites him to call again, the narrator's reaction is interesting. He leaves the shop "with the rarest of all feelings on me—the sensation which is only youth's right—that I might have made a friend" (58-59). Such a remark locates the speaker in something more than a generalised sadness of later life. His condition seems to be one of numbness, of losing touch with others, consistent with the bereavement hinted at. As he leaves the shop, he is "accosted by a wounded man" (59) and we are tempted to associate one kind of wound with another.
The process of the narrator's induction into the Lodge is slow and cautious. "lt was not until my third visit" (59), he says, that he discovers how wealthy Burges is. Only when, later, he views the "amazing collection of pipes" in the parlour does he have the "privilege" of making Mrs Burges' acquaintance (60). The narrator has to ask the name of the Lodge which Burges does not volunteer (61). One has the sense of a situation in which the pace cannot be forced and of someone being handled in a gentle circumspect manner. It is in such a context that we are best to understand the curious, antiquated "fittings and appointments" (59) of the tobacconist's trade which Burges takes time to show his visitor. The snuff-jars with their "names of forgotten mixtures in gold leaf' (59), the "German-silver-mounted scales", "reeded cigar-cabinets" and other curios in the shop connect one who sees them to past customs and pleasures. Interesting in themselves, the objects recall vanished worlds, remote from the wartime suffering and horror of the present and from the narrator's condition which, we suspect, is bleak and wounded. Given this surmise, it is easier to understand why Burges shows his acquaintance what are, in effect, rare art objects such as the "large Bristol jar" which "hasn't any duplicate to my knowledge" (59) or the "absolutely unique" (60) Dollin's ware. These offer an image of what human life has been and might be again. Indirect and unobtrusive, these little visits to Burges' curio collection might be one way (and not the least effective) of soothing a ravaged mind. Burges has judged his new friend accurately. For the narrator, the antiquated rarities he sees are "things to covet" (59). They excite his interest and, perhaps, for a while, coax him out of his numbness.
At this point in the story, Kipling juxtaposes the narrator's view of interesting relics of the tobacco trade, which he would like to describe in greater detail ("I would this were a tale for virtuosi" (60)) with interruptions by inarticulate soldiers who "disturb our happy little committee" with their requests for admission to the Lodge. At first sight, there may not seem much connection between Burges showing the narrator the quaint "fittings and appointments" of his shop and the almost desperate men who call there. What links the two is Burges' determination to help the unhappy: "Well! Well! We must do what we can these days" (61). His wife supplies a brief but reliable testimony to his motives. As he punctiliously changes his silver spectacles for "gold pince-nez" (61) before presiding at the Masonic ceremony, she says "You dear thing!" as she hands him his "locked and initialled apron-case" (62).
Readers of "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" are bound to be struck by apparent contradictions in Burges' attitude to ritual. He repeatedly declares that exact performance of ritual is essential ("I abhor slovenly Ritual anywhere" (61)). Ritual is a "natural necessity" to which mankind fly "the more things are upset". At the same time, he accepts that many of the soldiers from the trenches who call on him will be "very rusty" (61) in their knowledge of Masonic procedures and points out to the narrator, whom he asks to examine them, that "it's the Spirit, not the Letter, that giveth life" (61-62).
Why is the narrator chosen for this role, and what has fitted him for it? Burges' sense of his new friend's suffering offers a probable answer to this question. We are reminded of the narrator's vulnerability as he makes his way to the Lodge through a "humiliating" (62) darkness in which Burges "piloted" him. The murmured apologies ("You mustn't expect" (62)), which precede his entry into a richly furnished room, have more to do with Burges' solicitude for him than with what he is to discover there. What the narrator is to find when "assisting at the examinations" (61) is one reason for asking him to undertake this duty. Burges has chosen to bring him into contact with these suffering men since one way of opening the well-springs of a heart numbed by grief is to perceive the depth of pain in other lives. Before the narrator encounters the soldier-applicants, Burges cautions him: "Don't be surprised. They come in all shapes" (64). The warning is apt. A Scot with "only six teeth and half a lower lip" is followed by a New Zealander "one-armed and that in a sling" (64). Finally, the narrator encounters deprivation so extreme that erases the victim's memory and almost mind itself: "My last man nearly broke me down altogether. Everything seemed to have gone from him" (64). What is broken down here may be the barrier his own grief has interposed between the narrator and life. He is forced, in engaging with suffering perhaps worse than his own, to realise the universality of grief in war and to draw upon emotional resources which had almost atrophied. Possibly something like this was what Burges had intended.
The contrast between Burges' "ritualism" and the sensitivity which prompts him to set aside regulations may be resolved by seeing his religious attitude as a whole. The satisfactions of ritual are not, in themselves, hard to understand. One may agree with an earlier commentator on religion that "ritual tends by means of appropriate sounds and gestures to provoke the repetition of a given religious attitude"  or with a more recent writer that "many of the people who attend religious services in our own society are not interested in theology, want nothing too exotic and dislike the idea of change"  . Instead, they love the rituals which give them a sense of identity and an assurance that things will continue as they have done. Liturgies handed down through the generations are comforting in their impersonality. Instead of impromptu or muddled expressions of private emotion, elevated language and time-honoured gestures gather up and express all one feels. It is soothing to repeat what has been said by so many in such varied situations.
The crucial point is that such a natural, plausible and expected view of ritual is not the one taken in Kipling's story. "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" offers a picture of the Lodge and its ceremonies of which the keynote is improvisation rather than tradition. The Lodge furnishings have been chosen and paid for by individual members. The "senior partner of Lemming and Orton" (62) has provided the Masonic prints. Brother Anstruther ("our contractor" (63)) supplied the Carrara marble, cut-price, for the Lodge Room and Burges himself "picked up" a pair of Wardens' Chairs in Stepney. The gavel of "ancient yellow ivory" which "belonged to a Military Lodge" existing in the Gold Coast, and dating from 1794, is another of his finds. The booths for the examination of Brothers prior to admission are redundant confessional boxes "picked up for a song near Oswestry" (64). The former garage has been turned into a Lodge where "every detail was perfect in particular kind and general design" (63) not by careful adherence to a particular pattern but by individual choices based on initiative and knowledge.
The Masonic ceremonies of the Lodge involve a similar degree of enterprise from those who participate in them. The Brothers create afresh, or find for themselves, the rituals they practise. Where there is "some diversity of Ritual" (68), Burges asks for information about the disputed detail, prompting contributions until "another and another joined in from different quarters of the Lodge (and the world)" (68). Although a Lodge of Instruction is "mainly a parade-ground for ritual" (66) Burges' approach is the reverse of authoritarian. Instead of visitors being obliged to conform to some set order of rites, he "asked them to vote what ceremony should be rendered for their instruction" (66). Although the usual organist is playing "first-class Bach" (65) he is replaced, at the prompting of one of the "regular Brethren" (66) by one of the visitors, a Captain of Territorials who "had 'had a brawl' with a bomb, which had bent him in two directions" (65) but who was an enthusiastic "piano thumper of sorts" (66). Burges asks the Visiting Brothers if they will undertake the duties of Lodge Officers. They protest "bashfully that they were too rusty" (66) but he replies this is all the more reason that they should perform. When the ceremony is rehearsed the visitors "had to work entirely by themselves" (67) before, at their own demand, being shown a correct version.
One might argue that Kipling's treatment of ritual in "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" has its roots in Masonic perceptions. It seems cognate with the view that "the Masonic secret has no independent existence; it is reconstituted anew in each Masonic meeting", that the "temple is rebuilt each time by those taking part" and that "brotherhood is spirituality".  Yet, the story presents attitudes which are shown as being against the grain of current Masonic practice. Something, it is suggested, is wrong not merely with Freemasonry but with current religious attitudes and behaviour in general. The Doctor, one of the Regular Brethren, mutters "Can't we give Religion a rest for a bit? . . . It hasn't done so—" (77). He is about to add "so well lately" or something of the kind, when he breaks off and apologises. Burges is franker, remarking that "Grand Lodge may have thrown away its chance in the war almost as much as the Church has" (79).
The disputes within Masonry about its nature and purposes, upon which "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" touches are not about esoteric matters devoid of interest to those outside an exclusive group. Rather, Kipling's story raises questions akin to those which have troubled most religions at most times but which appeared in an acute form in the Churches' response to the First World War.
There has been a constantly recurring dispute, in most religious contexts, between those who emphasise ritual, mythic enactments, legends and the aesthetic appeal of art and groups who wish to restore what they see as the spiritual or intellectual core of a faith. What, for one party, awakens imagination, comforts and consoles believers or confirms their faith, in the eyes of its opponents is a distracting accretion, damaging the integrity of the creed. In Kipling's story, the "big-boned Clergyman" (73) voices the latter view, condemning a Masonic process in the phrase sixteenth century Protestants used to describe the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, "a fond thing vainly invented" (73). Instead, the Clergyman "laid down that Masonry should be regarded as an 'intellectual abstraction'" (73).
Disputes like this one, about the nature of religious faith and practice, are naturally more acute during or after events like those of 1914-1918. (The religious effects of the First World War such as the steep decline in Church attendance, or the vogue for Spiritualism, which Kipling condemned in "En-Dor", are matters of common knowledge). In such a climate, it is natural to ask how religion may best function and reach out to those in states of acute suffering. One answer might be to restate doctrine in a clear dogmatic and intellectually rigorous manner. Alternatively religion might try to bring its moral teachings up to date, renovating them after shattering events and remoulding its doctrines in response to the needs of a changed society. "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" rejects both possibilities in favour of a third, the remaking of ritual and brotherhood. The "big-boned Clergyman's" view that "the idea should be enough without the trappings" (74) is repudiated by an "Officer of Engineers" who tells him how he and his fellows, in the hideous conditions of a dug-out, "took a
lot of trouble to make our regalia out of camouflage stuff" (74). They found consolation in that, rather than in abstract ideas. More significantly, the Clergyman's belief that Masonry is an intellectual abstraction runs counter to his own instinctive solicitude and care for an exhausted soldier "fresh from the leave-train" (75). His kindness to this man releases qualities in his own nature which contradict (or perhaps underlie) traits we see elsewhere, as when he is "bristling" (77) or "down your throat" (79) at fancied slights to the Church. The brotherhood of the Lodge provides the Clergyman with a source of meaning his intellectual and doctrinal schemes do not offer.
At the same time, "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" denies the view that the war has produced the need for new moral teachings. Old, simple and generally accepted ethical values are all that are needed. They certainly have not been rendered irrelevant in a changed climate. "What more in Hell do you want", (67) one Brother asks, than the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man? The "old copybook-headings", the generally accepted rules of ethical life "persist". Masonry's moral approach is not original but it does not need to be: "Platitudes or no platitudes, it squares with what everybody knows ought to be done" (69).
"'In the Interests of the Brethren'" offers a distinctive and defensible view of religious experience. It may be set in a Masonic Lodge but the story's perceptions are meant to apply to religion and society as a whole. This is the clear meaning of Burges' exhortation to "think what could have been done by Masonry through Masonry for all the world" (79). An interpretation of religion as something bound up with and developing from help, healing and mutual support rather than from abstract doctrines and new moral explorations is plausible enough in itself. Kipling's presentation of it lends it added conviction. From different backgrounds, and in some cases (such as the "big-boned Clergyman" and the "dark, sour-looking Yeoman" "laying down the law" (69)) not at first sight particularly likeable, the soldiers of "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" are drawn into a Brotherhood cemented by rituals they themselves create, or, at least, rediscover. Through this relationship, they are able to find help, comfort and religious meaning after unprecedented horror. In the cases on which the story touches, including probably that of the narrator, the sensitivity this help involves is on a very different level from the exclusiveness and self-congratulation of some Inner Ring.
(Interestingly at one point in the story, Kipling suggests a view of Masonry radically different from the cabal some have perceived. The "carefully decorated ante-room hung round with Masonic prints" (62) which the narrator sees before the Lodge Meeting offers some suggestive evidence. The "big Desaguliers there that nearly went to Iowa" (63) is a picture of John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683—1744), the "driving force behind the editing and publishing of the Constitutions"  of 1723. These moved English Freemasonry from a sectarian Jacobite allegiance to a role as an instrument of social union and "the means of conciliating true friendships among Persons that must have remained at perpetual Distance"  . Another of the pictures in the ante-room, Hogarth's "disreputable 'Night'" (62) recalls the painter's own role  in the struggles which brought about this change of ideology. "Night" shows a Jacobite Mason, making his way home, drunk and noisy, from a party to celebrate Charles II's restoration and having the contents of a chamber-pot emptied on his head.
"The Janeites", which appeared in the Story-Teller Magazine and Hearst's International Magazine (May, 1924) before being republished in Debits and Credits explores further the theme of the creation of ritual as the vehicle of life-changing interaction and mutual support, which "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" had initiated. Understanding of the stories is enhanced by reading them together. Critics have misunderstood "The Janeites" because they have emphasised the notion of a secret society of First World War Soldiers who admire Jane Austen at the expense of what Kipling tells us, in delicate and unobtrusive detail, about the individual characters of these soldiers and the effect they have on each other. When Humberstall, the only surviving Janeite, recalls his dead comrades it is not as an exclusive society with its secret codes, but as a " 'appy little Group" he "wouldn't 'a changed with any other" (165), people with whom he was happier "than ever before or since" (166). Rather than the excitements of the Inner Ring, "The Janeites" explores the nature, cementing and effect of these bonds. It examines, too, the relation of literature to living, of fiction to daily experience.
The poem prefixed to the story in Debits and Credits, "The Survival" raises questions about this latter subject which "The Janeites" attempts to answer. What is it about art, even when it concerns itself with the seemingly mundane or trivial, which has the power to outlast great events on the stage of history, surviving in later memory when victories and defeats, the fall of dynasties and the world-wide calamities of war fade into obscurity? Kipling puts the question into the mouth of the Roman poet Horace, in a pastiche of the non-existent "Ode 22, BK.V". This instance of the Horace persona, which Kipling uses elsewhere is an interesting one. Here, the Horatian imitation (or evocation) proposes an analogy between Horace's attitude at the end of the Roman civil wars and Kipling's after 1918. (It is, of course, an analogy which claims a serenity which the tragic Kipling of the 1920's did not possess). "Securely, after days unnumbered" (145) implies certainty gained by contemplating a great range of history but also the knowledge arrived at after sufferings so severe they seem like eternity. The wars that have ended have been "earth-constricting" in the sense of making the world smaller but also in almost choking away its life. Experience like this produces a new view of art. What was written to endorse great rulers and ambitious ideologies has perished along with those it flattered:
Kings mourn that promised praise
Their cheating bards foretold. (145)
History has reversed the order of priorities. World-shaking events, even "deeds out-shining stars", acts of heroism and nobility, yield place in our thoughts and memories to what may seem marginal. The musicality and soft consonants of the verse beginning "yet furthest times receive" suggests the refreshing beauty of what touches us with a pleasure renewed from age to age, though its subjects seem only the debris of life. Examples from Horace's own verse such as "a chosen myrtle-wreath" (Odes, I, 38), a "harlot's altered eyes" (Odes, I, 25?) or "the surge of storm-bound trees" (Odes, I, 9) sustain the claim that, out of such tries Horace has created what would outlast bronze (Odes, III, 30). Kipling's poem ends by asking by what strange divine law an art like Horace's, and perhaps Jane Austen's, should outlast empires and gods. To this question "The Janeites" offers at least a partial answer.
The story is set in the "autumn of '20" (147), about two years later than "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" and there are signals from the outset, of a connection between the two fictions. Knowledge and reader expectation can (and should) be transferred from the earlier to the later story. The Lodge of Instruction has "already been described" (147) so that we know that its "weekly clean-up", together with "light refreshment" and the meeting of companions, is therapeutic, a mending of spirits broken by wartime experience. We learn from "The Janeites", too, how the projects launched in the earlier story worked out.
The narrator of"'In the Interests of the Brethren'" has been placed in the network of solicitude Burges set up. The "beautiful bits of old Georgian silver-work" the narrator is given to clean have been "humanised by generations of elbow-grease" (147). The word "humanised", oddly chosen if what is meant is merely "shiny" or "polished", is apt here since it suggests a relation between the task and the humane care and love aroused in performing it. To tend a loved object creates, or at least enhances, a capacity for love.
It is significant that the reader first encounters Humberstall, survivor and chronicler of the Janeites, in a context of care and support. He is being looked after, following his breakdown, by Anthony who, we learn at the end of the story (174) is to marry his sister. It is Anthony who draws the story of the Janeites from Humberstall ("Take it easy, an' go on with what you was tellin' me" (149)) as part of an attempt to encourage his withdrawn friend back into contact with others. When Humberstall later loses the thread of his story, Anthony covers his confusion by launching into a "sprightly tale" (150) of a skid and collision he had in his taxi. This narrative frame offers a clue to the emotional context of "The Janeites" which the story itself confirms. Care, solicitude and mutual help are essential to its meaning.
The portrait of Humberstall is one of Kip1ing's masterpieces of economy and suggestion, leaving the reader to assemble a whole psychological and social profile from a few brief, but significant, pieces of information. The "enormous, flat-faced man" (148) whose great, muscular body shows him as one of the "old Mark '14 Royal Garrison Artillery" (149) has the "eyes of a bewildered retriever". Exceptional physical strength has not protected him from perplexity and mental pain. Indeed, he seems more embarrassed by than proud of his strength. He carefully avoids any physical response to the sarcasms of Macklin, his tutor in the Janeite secrets, because he might kill the man, without meaning to ("lf I'd pushed 'im, I'd ha' slew 'im" (157)). Humberstall's comment that "mother's often told me I didn't know my strength" (151) suggests (what other information confirms) the way in which this giant has been emotionally impaired.
Invalided out of the army, after being caught in an explosion, he rejoins, in spite of being discharged by "the Board" (149). The reason is significant: "I 'adn't the nerve to stay at 'ome—not with mother chuckin' 'erself round all three rooms like a rabbit every time the Gothas tried to get Victoria; an' sister writin' me aunts four pages about it next day" (149). With a mother and sister who would do anything to please him (174), Humberstall is in a situation he finds emotionally claustrophobic. The fact that he has, in Anthony's words, "no more touched liquor than 'e 'as women since 'e was born" (173) might, in another context, merely represent Humberstall's individual choice. Here, it confirms the picture of a man who has been denied personal space, the opportunity to follow the path of his own experience or to make his own mistakes. Humberstall cannot even stay for tea with his Lodge Brothers "because he had promised his mother to come home for it and she would most probably be waiting for him now at the Lodge door" (173). While this might reflect her anxiety over the "quiet fits" (173) to which her son is prone, we have not been shown a man so incapacitated that he cannot make his own way home. In any case, why cannot she come for him after the Lodge tea? Taken together, these various hints suggest a "good boy" whose over-loving mother and sister have stifled his personality.
Although it is natural to emphasise that the Janeites are formed as a response to a particular and hideous wartime situation, it is worth noting that each of those involved brings his own psychological past to the ritual they make together. It is made by the interaction of their different needs. Macklin, who teaches Humberstall the Janeite rituals, is as damaged as his student. In a society more aware of social distinctions than our own, he has lost caste and the accent he tries (not always successfully) to conceal irritates his fellow private soldiers. At that time, Macklin would, of course, have been natural "officer material". Humberstall remarks that initially that he hadn't anything against Macklin "excep' he'd been a toff by birth" (149). The Battery Sergeant Major who tries to get Macklin and Humberstall into trouble "couldn't ever stand Macklin's toff's way o' puttin' things" (161). We are not told whether Macklin's drinking is the cause or the consequence of his loss of social position. Instead, the story offers information about the effects on him of different stages of alcohol consumption and the lengths to which he will go to sustain his habit. Early on, he is simply unpleasant ("Mere bein' drunk on'y made a common 'ound of 'im" (149)) but when hopelessly intoxicated ("bosko absoluto") he is no longer able to camouage his social origins and "it all came out" (149). His first relation to Humberstall is that of a sponger, seeing an opportunity, in the latter's wish to learn the secret of Jane Austen, to get money for drink. The lessons cost Humberstall a pound ("one Bradbury" (155)) in instalments of five shillings for the lower and a further pound, as a lump sum, for the higher Janeite Degrees. Given the value of money at the time, Macklin's fees are not particularly cheap.
Humberstall's reason for paying to learn about Jane Austen goes to the heart of "The Janeites". Reading some critical accounts of Kipling's story, one has the feeling of the elephant in the drawing room, the fact that everyone can, surely, see but nobody wishes to acknowledge. Humberstall's interest in Jane Austen is aroused when he notices the changed attitude Major Hammick and Captain Mosse display to a Lieutenant who has joined the Battery. When they realise he is a fellow Austen enthusiast, they switch immediately from distant coldness ("Neither 'Ammick nor Mosse wasted words on 'im at Mess" (152)) to warm handshakes and passing the port. The impression this makes on Humberstall is confirmed by a second incident. When Macklin, hopelessly drunk, hears the ofcers disputing whether Jane Austen was "fruitful" (153), he interrupts with the claim that he is "moderately well-informed" on the matter and that her "lawful issue" was Henry James. Challenged on this, he proves his point in a brilliant quarter-of-an hour lecture, before passing out. The officers' only response to his behaviour is to order him to be put to bed, since he is clearly "sufferin' from shell-shock" (154).
Some readings of "The Janeites" concentrate on the figure of Jane Austen while ignoring the way in which cultural references generally operate in social exchange. Without denying the frequent possibility of a disinterested love for the arts, there is no doubt that culture does operate as a code, a system of shared allusions, aiding mutual recognition and conferring identity and status. While we may (if we choose) regret this it would be perverse to deny what everyone's experience must confirm. What Humberstall sees, with idiosyncratic features and in the extreme conditions of war, is only what anyone may detect, in a diluted form, throughout daily life. The ability to recognise references, cap quotations and understand jokes based upon shared reading experiences rescues individuals from anonymity and, however informally, makes them part of a community or "tribe".
From the two incidents mentioned, Humberstall recognises that to be a 'Janeite' is to acquire a "Password" (155) whose effect is enhanced status and better treatment. Even though he may shortly die in battle, these would be worth having. However, although his and Macklin's initial impulses, as student and teacher, may be self-interested, Kipling shows that the making of the ritual has its own dynamic and unexpected effect. The drunk and déclassé Macklin was, in his own words, "some sort 0' schoolmaster once" (161) and finds the challenge of giving one-to-one tuition in the works of Jane Austen to a completely unliterary and not very well educated fellow soldier a stimulating challenge: "He'd make my mind resume work or break 'imself' (161). His role as a teacher draws him back into relationships with others and away from his solitary, compulsive binges.
Like that of the Faith and Works Lodge, the bond, based on enthusiasm for Jane Austen, which links the men of the Battery is formed from the needs of different temperaments. For Hammick and Mosse, Jane Austen's novels, like the "high standard o' livin' in Mess" (155) and the port they drink is an affirmation of gentlemanly standards in the face of squalor and death. For "Gander", the new Lieutenant, liking Jane Austen marks him out as different from his previous fellow officers who talked of nothing but the latest musical comedy (153). Macklin's knowledge of Austen, which he can still deploy, is what remains of the life he lost or ruined. Jane Austen, in Humberstall's eyes, represents vague but potent impulses towards "belonging", being inside the world of the educated and better treated. Growing from these disparate materials, the ritual, briey, creates its own life.
The change in Humberstall's consciousness is one of the story's central themes. His "naïve" reading of Jane Austen's novels, under Macklin's direction, is strikingly and refreshingly different from that of academic literary critics writing around the time of "The Janeites". Critics contemporary with the story might well themselves have been called Janeites and would not have disowned the title. Claudia Johnson reminds us  of the extravagant language common in the "insiders' society of scholar gentlemen at play". Jane Austen was "dear", "divine" and "matchless" for her "little company (fit though few)" of admirers. Kipling's story stands at an odd angle to this cult. In civilian life, Hammick and Mosse were hard-bitten, professional men rather than sentimental litterateurs or gushing academics. Major Hammick has gained experience of the world as "a high-up divorce court lawyer" and Captain Mosse acquired his understanding of life as a leading investigator for Mosse's Private Detective Agency, specialising in gathering details of marital infidelity, ("the errin' parties—in hotels an' so on" (152)). They read Jane Austen with worldly, if not cynical eyes ("She was the only woman I ever 'eard 'em say a good word for" (152)) and as an adjunct to their conversations about seamier aspects of domestic life ("matrimonial relations" (152)).
When Humberstall is introduced to the Austen novels, he cannot place them in any category of the little reading he has done. They are not "adventurous, nor smutty, nor what you'd call even interestin'" (157). Their close observation of social life puzzles him: " 'er characters was no use. They was only just like people you run across any day" (159). Reading, if one undertook it at all, was for him something whose purpose was to escape from, rather than investigate human behaviour. Humberstall finds his way into the novels by noticing resemblances between people he has encountered and Jane Austen's more repellent characters, such as Mr Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and General Tilney. For him, the novels do not offer gentle comedy or period charm but a recognisable world of folly, snobbery and cruelty. Austen's inexorable gaze disturbs Humberstall, touching a dormant nerve of moral awareness. As a man, he finds the presentation of General Tilney's male egotism and self-delusion unsettling: "Some'ow Jane put it down all so naked it made you ashamed" (160). He soon gathers what a later generation of Austen commentators perceived, and made much of, the role of money in the novels and their hard economic realism: "They're all on the make, in a quiet way, in Jane" (159). Unlike the sentimentality of contemporary critics, the Austen of Kipling's Janeites is tough and keen-eyed. The answer the story proposes to the problem raised in the preliminary poem, "The Survival" is found here. Jane Austen's art survives the record of "great" events because of a rare truthfulness which can engage the most unlikely reader.
"The Janeites" offers an interesting further development of the subject "'In the Interests of the Brethren'" had broached; the effect of a ritual made together and the personal interactions such a creation produces. Most obviously, the Janeites forge a comradely bond which helps them to bear hardship and suffering even unto death. (One of the story's most vivid passages describes the nightmare that ends the Janeites in the overwhelming of the Battery during the German advance of March, 1918). The sharing of this enthusiasm for her novels is one answer to the question of Jane Austen's "fruitfulness". Leaving Henry James aside, she clearly did not "die barren" if her work could help men bear a situation of terminal tragedy.
However, it is the change in Humberstall's consciousness which forms the main thread of Kipling's story and the chief evidence of Jane Austen's "progeny". He, himself, is aware of the effect of becoming a Janeite. His tuition by that "pore little Macklin man" (172) brought him into a fellowship of the best and closest kind ("There never was a 'appier push" (172)). At the same time, he gains the advantage (which for Kipling, if not for some critics, it would be humbug to deny) of entry into the club of the cultivated, the freemasonry of those who can enjoy literary jokes. His escape from a charge of writing an obscene word on the gear-casings by the (truthful) plea that it was the misspelled name of Lady Catherine de Bourgh (162-163) represents a move up the social scale, from foul-mouthed soldier to amused, educated man. More significantly, it was his likening of a fussy nurse to Miss Bates that drew the Matron's attention to him, during the chaotic evacuation of wounded from the front. His knowledge of Jane Austen, as he knows, was responsible for "gettin' [him] on to the 'ospital train" (172) and, probably, saving his life.
The last glimpse of Jane Austen's "fruitfulness" is more subtle, but equally real. We are shown a final picture of Humberstall enjoying the novels for their own sake, during intervals in his work: "I read all her six books now for pleasure 'tween times in the shop" (173). They recall his close bond with the comrades he has lost ("It brings it all back— down to the smell of the glue-paint on the screens" (173)) but the books also provide personal space for him, in a home his mother dominates, and an (at least temporary) escape from the hair-dressing shop behind Ebury Street (148) in which her money has set him up (159). His final comment refers both to his past perils and his current constricted life: "You take it from me, Brethren, there's no one to touch Jane when you're in a tight place" (173).
- C. S. Lewis, "Kipling's World" (1958 repr. Kipling and the Critics, ed. Elliot L. Gilbert, London: Peter Owen, 1965), pp. 116-117.↩
- Philip Mason, Kipling: The Glass, the Shadow and the Fire, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1975), p. 280.↩
- C. A. Bodelsen, Aspects of Kipling's Art, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1964), p. 110.↩
- J. I. M. Stewart, Rudyard Kipling, (London: Victor Gollancz, 1966), p. 170. ↩
- J. M. Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret Societies, (1972 repr. St Albans: Paladin, 1974), p. 113. ↩
- Rudyard Kipling, Debits and Credits, (London: Macmillan, 1926), p. 55. Subsequent references to Debits and Credits in parenthesis are to this edition. ↩
- Andrew Lycett, Rudyard Kipling, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999), p. 330 and David Gilmour, The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling, (London: John Murray, 2002), pp. 5-6. ↩
- Evelyn Underhill, Worship (1936 repr. New York: Harper, 1957), pp. 32-33. ↩
- Karen Armstrong, A History of God (1993 repr. London: Vintage, 1999), p. 109.↩
- Andre Nataf, Les maîtres de l'Occultism, (1988 trans. John Davidson, The Wordsworth Dictionary of the Occult, Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1996), pp. 33-34. ↩
- Roberts, p. 40. ↩
- Roberts, p. 38.↩
- Jenny Uglow, Hogarth, (London: Faber and Faber, 1997), pp. 108-111. ↩
- Claudia L. Johnson, 'Austen Cults and Cultures', The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, (ed Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 214. ↩