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  • Rudyard Kipling, The Vampire, and the Actress
  • J. Lawrence Mitchell

Seek not to question other than / The books I leave behind.1

The substantial Rudyard Kipling Collection in Cushing Memorial Library and Archives2 includes three early editions of Kipling's poem "The Vampire"—none of them authorized by Kipling. One was privately printed in Boston in 1898 (Richards E1-23), one in Washington at the Press of W. F. Roberts (Richards E1-25), and one was issued in New York by M[ilburg] F[rancisco] Mansfield (Richards E1-22) (Fig. 1). This last edition first appeared in March 1898 in two variants3 and a second printing of 500 was required by June of that year. Of the three editions, the Cushing Library copy of the New York (Mansfield) version is of particular interest: it is flamboyantly presented in red cloth, lettered in gold, and embellished with bat illustrations by Blanche McManus—Mansfield's wife. The poem was originally intended to stir up some modest publicity for a painting by Kipling's cousin, Philip Burne-Jones (1861-1926), entitled The Vampire, scheduled to go on display at the New Gallery's annual summer exhibition in London's Regent Street in April 1897.4 Neither of the cousins could have predicted the impact of


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Fig. 1.

Front Cover The Vampire
New York: M. F. Mansfield, 1898

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their joint venture upon the public. The first stanza suffices to capture the flavor of Kipling's sardonic composition:

    A fool there was and he made his prayer        (Even as you and I!)  To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair(We called her the woman who did not care),  But the fool he called her his lady fair        (Even as you and I)

Writing in 1915, R. Thurston Hopkins recalled that the poem "provoked a great deal of adverse criticism" and inspired a number of parodies—" clever retaliations ... by the fair sex."5 One of them that got wide circulation, by Felicia Blake, begins:

        A fool there was and she lowered her pride                (Even as you and I)    To a bunch of conceit in a masculine hideWe saw the faults that could not be denied;    But the Fool saw only his manly side—                (Even as you and I).6

By contemporary standards, the painting itself was no doubt mildly erotic; it showed a predatory female, with teeth bared, suggestively bestriding the prostrate body of her despairing and—perhaps unconscious—lover (See Mansfield's redrawing of Burne-Jones's painting, Fig. 2). It was also, by all accounts, transparently autobiographical: the infatuated painter's amorous advances towards actress Beatrice Tanner (better known as Mrs. Patrick Campbell) had been firmly and publicly rejected.7 The Vampire was his painterly revenge and would prove to be his most memorable work, although one modern critic has dismissed it as "a piece of vulgar late-Victorian pseudo-profound sexiness" into which "all manner of sado-masochistic fantasies might be read."8 This is somewhat unfair because Burne-Jones's work had antecedents in the eighteenth century, primarily Henry Fuseli's painting The Nightmare (sometimes titled The Incubus) which received wide distribution as an engraving. In any case, the combination of Burne-Jones's provocative painting as frontispiece and Kipling's similarly provocative stanzas precipitated a flurry of unauthorized reproductions of the book in England and the United States.9 In 1902, Burne-Jones took the painting with him for exhibition in New York, only to find his work dismissed by the anonymous New York Times critic: "It is unfortunate that so much pother has been raised in the papers about [End Page 304] Sir Philip and his 'Vampire,' for expectation naturally rose mountains high, and all that appears is a little mouse of a talent, which seems to have lost its way."10 Kipling's "newspaper verses" were given similarly harsh treatment by the same critic: "hack work in verse in the style of Bulwer Lytton, with a coarse touch to make them seem modern." Yet such was the enduring popularity of Kipling's poem that in 1909 it became the inspiration for a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 303-314
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-30
Open Access
No
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