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Kipling: Spiritualism, Bereavement, Self-Revelation, and "They" William B. Dillingham Emory University WHEN BLUE-EYED, six-year-old Josephine Kipling died of pneumonia in 1899 during the family's visit to New York, prolonged grief seized her father and violently tore from him a certain zest for living. Those who knew him best claimed that he was never the same afterward , that in some basic way he appeared altered. "There is no doubt," wrote his other daughter, Elsie, as she reminisced about her father in later life, "that little Josephine had been his greatest joy during her short life__His life was never the same after her death; a light had gone out that could never be rekindled."1 At the very moment that his precious Josephine was dying, Kipling stared into the face of death, desperately ill with pneumonia himself and out of his head with fever. His physical recovery was painful and slow, but from his agonizing bereavement he never recovered. For years he suffered on in silence, that dreadful , dark silence, his private hell with its prominent sign "Do Not Enter" posted to all, even to those who with good intentions would bring light to relieve the blackness and a draught to slake the inexplicable thirst.2 To be sure, he did speak of Josephine and hint at the depth of his grief but only rarely. After his death, Elsie claimed that occasionally he had mentioned Josephine to her, and Lockwood Kipling, his father, wrote to a friend that Rudyard had spoken about how difficult it was to go back without Josephine to their home, "The Elms," in Rottingdean: "Rud told his mother how he saw her [Josephine] when a door opened, when a space was vacant at table, coming out of every green dark corner of the garden, radiant—and heart breaking."3 What is so striking about Kipling's vision of the dead Josephine is the degree to which she seemed lifelike to him. He did not merely sense the presence of his departed daughter—certainly not an uncommon experience among the bereaved—nor did he simply glimpse a vague and fuzzy ghostly image of the sort that might be created by an imagination 402 DILLINGHAM: KIPLING attempting to compensate for a traumatic loss. The Josephine that he saw repeatedly was clearly defined and bright, "radiant," and yet what he witnessed was not uplifting but "heart breaking" since he realized all the more poignantly for the vividness of her appearance that she was transient and unattainable. Had she not been so radiant, he would not have found the experience so heart breaking. Lockwood Kipling's account of what Rudyard told his mother is frequently cited as evidence of the depth of his grief, but it suggests as well that he may have possessed certain psychic senses that he was hesitant to acknowledge. Charles Carrington has written that "the desire to penetrate the occult exercised a strong fascination over Rudyard throughout his life, an attraction which he resisted, not altogether successfully . In this respect Rudyard was a man of his day, interested in what interested his contemporaries, a reader of the numerous novels and poems that touched on these themes."4 Carrington seems to be describing a person who, like many others of his time, was drawn to the widespread accounts of psychic phenomena as represented in fiction and the press but who tried (albeit imperfectly) to stifle his attraction for these matters. It is perhaps more accurate, however, to say that what he resisted was not a desire to penetrate the occult—he probably never truly wished to do that—but a certain power within himself that might have enabled him to do so. He did not want to see a spiritual manifestation , a vision of his dead child, because he knew that the experience would hurt him deeply since she could not return to him. Nevertheless, he did see her, and that experience broke his heart and left him reticent of any further communication with the dead. In his autobiography, Something of Myself, he made a point of denying that he possessed any extraordinary psychic abilities. Bonamy Dobrée has shrewdly suggested that there is...


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pp. 402-425
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Will Be Archived 2021
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