Monday, May 22, 2017

Two school stories: Defence Against the Dark Arts Part VIII

My investigation of Rudyard Kipling's early life has stirred up memories of two good books about life in boys' schools, one of them written by Kipling himself:

Stalky & Co. by Rudyard Kipling

The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.

They are both very funny; they have brought great enjoyment to large numbers of people. I am very glad that I read them when I was young enough for them to make an indelible impression.

Reading in childhood
Children may read to escape, to fill gaps in their lives, to exercise their imaginations, to learn directly and indirectly and for enjoyment; whatever the cause, they may remember what they read for the rest of their lives.

For example, Ayn Rand read a story in a magazine in 1914, when she was nine years old. Barbara Brandon, her biographer, managed to locate a copy of the magazine in 1982, and discovered that Ayn, who had recounted the story at considerable length, had remembered almost every detail, both major and minor, of this work that she had not read since the age of nine.

As a small boy in Southsea, Rudyard Kipling escaped from his unbearable life by reading. He never forgot some of the stories and poems that he read in books and magazines during this time. He wrote about them and his efforts to identify some of them in Something of Myself.

I can remember most of what I read as a child very vividly. Some of it was buried for many years but it was still all there, including the two books about school life.

The Molesworth books are much lighter than the Stalky stories; they are greatly enhanced by Ronald Searle's cartoons.

Rudyard Kipling is a great writer; Ronald Searle is a great illustrator.

These books have their critics. They may seem dated, irrelevant and politically very incorrect, but they are part of my life and I feel privileged to have read them.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Rudyard Kipling and the House of Desolation: Part III

Part I described the abandonment of Rudyard Kipling and his younger sister by their parents. Part II continued the story and ended with his release from what seemed to him like a prison sentence with torture thrown in.

There are still a few questions outstanding and points to be made.

Did Kipling lie about or exaggerate his suffering?
remember reading somewhere that when Kipling's parents first read the account of his time in Southsea, they tried to get his sister Trix to say that it hadn't been so bad as he said it was. This is what happens in many such cases; people said the same thing to Charlotte Brontë, when actually she had toned down her account of life at the dreadful school.

There is a lot that could be and has been said on this subject. Writers certainly use their imagination to create good stories. For many, what happens in their imagination seems real to them, more real even than what really happened. Some use what happened in real life as just the starting point for building a whole edifice of fiction. Some present occasional incidents as happening frequently and such things as minor criticisms as vicious attacks. This may seem like lying and exaggeration to some people.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The childhood of Marie Corelli

I described some painful events in the life of the Queen of Victorian Best-sellers Marie Corelli recently. Writing about an episode in Rudyard Kipling's childhood gave me the idea of investigating Marie Corelli's childhood.

There is little information available and much confusion about her parentage. She deliberately muddied the water herself; she obscured her past with a fog of lies and deceit. We will never know for sure whether the Scottish poet, scholar and journalist Charles Mackay was her real father or, as she insisted, her adopted father. It is likely that her mother was a servant and Marie was born illegitimate. She would have seen this as a terrible disgrace, something to be ashamed of and kept hidden; she claimed Venetian blood and gave herself an Italian name in compensation and to hide her real parentage.

What we do know is that, despite having a kind man as her official father, she was very unhappy as a child.