The Subaltern as Hero: Kipling and Frontier War

  • Andrew Rutherford


Henry James confessed in print in 1891 to having ‘wept profusely’ over ‘The Drums of the Fore and Aft’—

the history of the ‘Dutch courage’ of two dreadful dirty little boys, who, in the face of Afghans scarcely more dreadful, saved the reputation of their regiment and perished, the least mawkishly in the world, in a squalor of battle incomparably expressed. People who know how peaceful they are themselves [he went on] and have no bloodshed to reproach themselves with needn’t scruple to mention the glamour that Mr Kipling’s intense militarism has for them and how astonishingly contagious they find it, in spite of the unromantic complexion of it—the way it bristles with all sorts of uglinesses and technicalities.1

The very novelty of Kipling’s subject-matter in such stories was a source of fascination for contemporary readers. Correlli Barnett has shown how strikingly detached the Army was, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, from the mainstream of national life. 2 In Victorian England ‘Tommy Atkins’, and to a lesser extent his officers, were sociologically unfamiliar breeds; and literature had done little to illuminate their ways of life.


Fictional Narrator Narrative Technique Great Novelist Civil Officer Early Story 
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  1. 1.
    Introduction to Mine Own People (New York, 1891). Quoted here from Kipling: The Critical Heritage, ed. Roger Lancelyn Green (London, 1971), p. 166.Google Scholar
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    Correlli Barnett, Britain and Her Army 1509–1970. A Military, Political and Social Survey (London, 1970).Google Scholar
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    Kipling, Works, vol. xxvii (The Irish Guards in the Great War), p. x.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. xiii.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Andrew Rutherford 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Rutherford
    • 1
  1. 1.Goldsmiths’ CollegeUniversity of LondonUK

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