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Science, Magic and Fraud in the Short Stories of Rudyard Kipling Sylvia Pamboukian Indiana University SINCE THE BEGINNING of his career, Rudyard Kipling has been associated with exotic romance, what Andrew Lang called Kipling's "enchanted land, full of marvels and magic which are real."1 At the same time, Kipling was also associated with the machinery of gritty industry: Henry James asserted that Kipling's work degenerated "steadily from the simple in subject to the more simple—from the Anglo-Indians to the natives, from the natives to the Tommies, from the Tommies to the quadrupeds , from the quadrupeds to the fish, and from the fish to the engines and screws."2 Indeed, Kipling's short stories and novels exhibit a paradoxical mixture of magic and reality, which may be due, in part, to Kipling's own ambivalence about the supernatural and enthusiasm for new gadgetry.3 Paradox dominates his canon and his biography. Despite suffering a lonely and abusive childhood after leaving his parents in India to board with strangers in England, Kipling authored many imaginative works that have become standards of children's literature, including The Jungle Books, Captains Courageous, and Kim. Throughout his life, Kipling was generally unsympathetic, if not downright hostile , to psychical research, possibly due to his unstable sister, Trix's, enthusiasm for it.4 Yet, after his son died in World War I, Kipling produced several short stories about sympathetic visions and ghostly healings , including "A Madonna of the Trenches," "The Wish House," and "The Gardner." Despite their apparent opposition, these two themes, the supernatural and technology, span Kipling's long career and appear in some of his most popular works. Recent Kipling criticism has explored his representation of science and technology, as with many late-Victorian authors including H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. Rider Haggard and Bram Stoker.5 However, just as James and Lang divided science 429 ELT 47 : 4 2004 from magic, critics tend to focus on either technology or magic.6 In fact, technology often appears in romance fiction in order to establish a gadget -cluttered reality that must be escaped or to provide the weaponry with which to decimate savages and vampires, such as in Stoker's Dracula and Haggard's She. However, Kipling's stories cannot be reduced to this paradigm. While technology offers Kipling new material and even new language with which to address the concerns of modernity, his linking of technology and the supernatural creates a richer, more complex representation of modernity's contradictions and absurdities. In Kipling's stories, modern technologies, such as the automobile and the telegraph, both act as conduits for supernatural phenomena and participate in frauds which fool gullible bystanders into believing in the supernatural. For example, in "The Dreitarbund" (1887) and "In the House of Suddhoo" (1886), women and Indians are conned by the skillful use of the telegraph into believing that another person has magical abilities . Conversely, in "By Word of Mouth" (1887), a telegraph may have been used to carry a message from beyond the grave. In "Wireless" (1902) an experimental radio may have been magically co-opted by poetic spirits trying to communicate with a like-minded scientist. While in the former two stories women and Indians are gullible figures, easily manipulated by charlatans who exploit the telegraph's potential, the white men in the latter two stories are equally confused by the telegraph and the radio, as are we as readers. We are unable to distinguish between deception, coincidence and legitimate supernatural phenomena. Taken together, these stories probe the nature of gullibility in the modern world: they ask whether gullibility is inherently a part of the modern condition since technology diminishes our ability to distinguish confidently between the legitimate and the fraudulent. Significantly, Kipling does not limit this doubt to new technologies such as the motor car and radio but asserts that even the most mundane gadget is inherently complex.7 In linking science, magic, and fraud, these stories offer insights into the very nature of post-enlightenment knowledge. Although technology is the embodiment of scientific principles that enable us to gather knowledge about nature and to subdue it, Kipling implies...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 429-445
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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