Introduction

In the autumn of 1889, Rudyard Kipling, aged twenty-four, returned to England after working seven years in India as a journalist and editor. He rented for almost three years two small rooms in Embankment Chambers, now named Kipling House, at 19 Villiers Street in Strand. Kipling, who was a rising author and had already gained a reputation as a born storyteller, soon joined the literary group of Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse, W. E. Henley, George Meredith, Henry James and Walter Besant. Besant recommended him for the Savile Club, which was then a fashionable place to meet for writers, artists and intellectuals. In 1892, the Society of Authors, which Besant had founded in order to protect writers against exploitation, admitted Kipling as a fellow. Kipling had a great esteem for Besant’s work. In his memoirs, Something of Myself, he writes about him with gratitude and concedes that Besant’s book All in the Garden Fair (1883) prompted him to become a full-time writer.

In 1890, Kipling published his only slum story, “The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot”, which, although now it is rarely mentioned in histories of British literature, became a significant inspiration for later slum novelists. The story is based on the author’s observation of London’s lower classes. Set in the East End, it recounts the story of a young, honest woman who has become a relief worker in the slums after she has been deserted by her abusive husband. She voluntarily administers a little charity fund donated by the Church and keeps a detailed record of the money spent for the poor. When her husband, Tom Herodsfoot, returns to her and wants to appropriate the charity money, she refuses to hand it over, and in revenge he beats her to death. The story effectively renders the life of the Victorian underclass, including its specific dialect. Badalia, can be seen as a vulnerable and passive victim of masculine brutality in the degrading slum environment.

Female victimisation in slum culture

Badalia, a slum woman residing in Gunnison Street, used to be very outgoing, social and vivacious, but soon she was trapped in a brutally oppressive marriage.

In the beginning of things she had been unregenerate; had worn the heavy fluffy fringe which is the ornament of the costermonger’s girl, and there is a legend in Gunnison Street that on her wedding-day she, a flare-lamp in either hand, danced dances on a discarded lover’s winkle-barrow, till a policeman interfered, and then Badalia danced with the Law amid shoutings. Those were her days of fatness, and they did not last long, for her husband after two years took to himself another woman, and passed out of Badalia’s life, over Badalia’s senseless body; for he stifled protest with blows. While she was enjoying her widowhood the baby that the husband had not taken away died of croup, and Badalia was altogether alone. [326-327]

Kipling, who had seen shocking poverty and squalor in India, found it probably hard to believe that similarly deploring living conditions were allowed to persist in the rich capital of the Empire. Unlike Besant in his slum novel, All Sorts and Conditions of Men, Kipling is rather critical of middle-class “do-gooders”, who do not know well enough about the needs of the slum inhabitants, and often their efforts are futile. Badalia, as an East End insider, knows better what kind of relief can be offered to her miserable and impoverished neighbours in overcrowded, brutal and unhealthy slums.

Although Badalia, as a typical resident of the slums, is quite rough and even arrogant, she has a lot of inborn altruism, justice, compassion and resilience in her relief work. She has courage to tell the Reverend Eustace Hanna that “he was a fool without discernment in the dispensation of his district charities.” (328) Surprisingly, the curate, does not feel offended, but recognises that Badalia might be more effective in helping him with charity work than his middle-class assistants, Sister Eva and Brother Victor. Soon Badalia proves that modest charitable funds reach the right destinations. She keeps a detailed record of her charity work.

She bought a large copy-book — her unschooled handwriting demanded room — and in it she wrote the story of her war; boldly, as befits a general, and for no other eyes than her own and those of the Reverend Eustace Hanna. Long ere the pages were full the mottled cover had been soaked in kerosene — Lascar Loo’s mother, defrauded of her percentage on her daughter’s custards, invaded Badalia’s room in 17 Gunnison Street, and fought with her to the damage of the lamp and her own hair. It was hard, too, to carry the precious ’pork-wine’ in one hand and the book in the other through an eternally thirsty land; so red stains were added to those of the oil. But the Reverend Eustace Hanna, looking at the matter of the book, never objected. [332-33]

Badalia tries to help a dying prostitute, Lascar Loo, whose mother, a compulsive drinker, does not care about her daughter’s health and spends all the money she receives from charity on alcohol. However, all efforts are in vain. Badalia cannot overcome squalor and want alone. When her abusive husband returns to her room, she has no recourse against marital violence. The story ends badly and makes the reader feel uncomfortable because, as Kipling suggests, charity and altruism do not work that way in slums.

It should also be added that Kipling’s female protagonist, Badalia Herodsfoot, is an epitome of enforced marital faithfulness. She turns away all suitors although she despises her husband.

’My man,’ she explained to her suitors, ’e’ll come back one o’ these days, an’ then, like as not, ’e’ll take an’ kill me if I was livin’ ’long o’ you.’ [327]

Badalia displays moral superiority to her husband, but she is unable to defend herself against his aggression and eventually falls victim of his fatal violence. When Tom beats her to death, she does not reveal the identity of her attacker. She says it was a stranger. In his slum story, Kipling drew attention of the reading public to the fact that violence against women in slum culture often goes undetected and unpunished because the victims are reluctant to report abuse.

Kipling’s use of Cockney speech

Kipling was always interested in nonstandard forms of the English language and mastered the use of dialect and slang in his prose and poetry. When he was only sixteen, he published his translation of Horace’s Odes 3.9 into the Devonshire dialect. He was probably the first British author to use the Cockney dialect in fiction and poetry without irony. P. J. Keating wrote about Kipling’s use of Cockney that “it is not treated as corrupt Standard English, but as a dialect in its own right.” (261)

Kipling was first acquainted with Cockney speakers in India. His early use of Cockney slang can be found in The Barrack Room Ballads, whose first part was published in 1892. He represented Cockney speech in “The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot” in order to make the protagonist real and convincing. Badalia drops the initial “h” and final “g”, uses double negatives, slang expressions and even utters a taboo swear word “bleeding”: “Tom, you’re bleedin’ drunk.” (349). The following passage, Badalia’s emphatic monologue from her deathbed, illustrates Kipling’s rendering of the Cockney speech pattern.

’Man from outside. Never seed ’im no more’n Adam. Drunk, I s’pose. S’elp me Gawd that’s truth! Is Miss Eva ’ere? I can’t see under the towel. I’ve got it good, Miss Eva. Excuse my not shakin’ ’ands with you, but I’m not strong, an’ it’s fourpence for Mrs. Imeny’s beef-tea, an’ wot you can give ’er for baby-linning. Allus ’avin’ kids, these people. I ’adn’t oughter talk, for my ’usband ’e never come a-nigh me these two years, or I’d a-bin as bad as the rest; but ’e never come a-nigh me .... A man come and ’it me over the ’ead, an’ ’e kicked me, Miss Eva; so it was just the same’s if I had ha’ had a ’usband, ain’t it? The book’s in the drawer, Mister ’Anna, an’ it’s all right, an’ I never guv up a copper o’ the trust money — not a copper. You look under the chist o’ drawers — all wot isn’t spent this week is there .... An’, Miss Eva, don’t you wear that gray bonnick no more. I kep’ you from the diptheery, an’ — an’ I didn’t want to keep you so, but the curick said it ’ad to be done. I’d a sooner ha’ took up, with ’im than any one, only Tom ’e come, an’ then — you see, Miss Eva, Tom ’e never come a – nigh me for two years, nor I ’aven’t seen ’im yet. S’elp me —, I ’aven’t. Do you ’ear? But you two go along, and make a match of it. I’ve wished otherways often, but o’ course it was not for the likes o’ me. If Tom ’ad come back, which ’e never did, I’d ha’ been like the rest — sixpence for beef-tea for the baby, an’ a shilling for layin’ out the baby. You’ve seen it in the books, Mister ’Anna. That’s what it is; an’ o’ course, you couldn’t never ’ave nothing to do with me. But a woman she wishes as she looks, an’ never you ’ave no doubt about ’im, Miss Eva. I’ve seen it in ’is face time an’ agin — time an’ agin .... Make it a four pound ten funeral — with a pall.’ [359-360]

The elliptical narrative technique of Kipling’s only slum story, “The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot”, reveals his later literary preoccupations with social Darwinism, marginalised and submerged population groups, as well as crossing social boundaries.

Conclusion

Unlike earlier slum writers, Walter Besant and George Gissing, Rudyard Kipling presented female victimhood and male brutality in the East End slums in an unbiased way. Although “The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot” is rather marginal in Kipling’s output, and he never continued this genre, the story showed other writers how to create realistic female slum characters. Badalia’s subsequent emulations can be seen in the Cockney young women, such as Arthur Morrison’s Lizerunt (Tales of Mean Streets, 1894), Somerset Maugham’s Liza (Liza of Lambeth/h3, 1897), G. T. Kimmins’ Polly (Polly of Parker’s Rents, 1899), William Pett Ridge’s Mord Emily (Mord Em’ly, 1901), and George Bernard Shaw’s Eliza (Pygmalion, 1912).

References

Harrison, S. J. The Cambridge Companion to Horace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Keating, P. J. The Working Classes in Victorian Fiction. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971.

Kipling, Rudyard. “The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot”, in Many Inventions. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1914.

_____. Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown. Rockville, MD: Wildside Press LLC, 2008.


Victorian England Rudyard Kipling Biography/

Last modified 18 September 2011