Othering Ourselves: Re-reading Rudyard Kipling and ‘The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes’ (1885)

Simon Frost


The reader who turns to Rudyard Kipling with twenty-first political sensibilities finds a work replete with the orientalism and reductionist ‘othering’ that typifies colonial writing during the period of high Empire. Not least in its superficial treatment of the lives it claims to represent, such reductionism can be traced to the mind of the author and, deeper still, the political-economic culture that structured imperial thinking and informed its actions. Such a view is made possible by our twenty-first century advantage. Even so, clarity in one perspective typically entails indistinctness in another, and for this reason this essay proposes to start from a provocative hypothesis. If we temporarily deny ourselves this interpretative perspective, is it possible for us to learn more about the reading experience of Kipling’s contemporaries and their particular role in circulating his texts? What, in other words, do Kipling’s short tales reveal about those other readers, the readers who can be considered as actors engaged in creating publishing and reception history? Taking ‘The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes’ (1885) as its focus, this essay offers a close reading of Kipling’s short story within the context of the proliferation of magazine short stories in the late-Victorian period. Rather than seeking to produce a contemporary meaning from the text, it seeks to reveal the less obvious home-grown phantoms which Kipling’s story produced for its first audiences.

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