From the opening paragraph of the story it is clear that one of the key themes is the tenuous connection between appearance and reality. Also, it is clear that the narrator's tone is ironic ("Miss Fowler engaged her on this recommendation, and to her surprise, for she had had experience of companions, found that it was true"). This sort of thing is pervasive - the "unlovely" orphan Wynn becoming, consciously or unconsciously, the object of adoration: "A little blur passed overhead. She lifted her lean arms towards it," etc.
And the whole action of the story, especially in the accident that befalls Edna Gerritt, appears to be governed by arbitrary fate, and the possibility of error and confusion.
My problem is that previously in reading the story — and not being aware of the virulently anti-German remarks recorded by the author (when and where did he set these down by the way?) I had thought that Mary's refusal to summon help for the injured airman and her determination to wait out until his death was the main irony - since he doesn't appear to be German at all! "There was no doubt as to his nationality" the narrator says: but never pronounces flatly what it was. And after the first "Laty, laty, laty," the airman speaks fractured French in all the exchanges -- Mary's the only one who uses German.
Wynn's phrase "Bloody pagans" - which he applies to the Germans, and which Mary repeats - is not presented in the story as something which we can accept without irony. And Mary's "politely" held, tacit disbelief in what Dr Hennis has to say, and her condemnation of him as untrustworthy ( a "sportsman" -- here somebody capable of pity and tender-heartedness), is surely not a judgement we are meant to accept without question.
The transformation of Mary Postgate is astonishing and horrifying, and the story has exceptional power — but its impact depends on the dramatic ironies that operate at every level in the themes and narrative. And I simply can't accept — if we take the line that Kipling was writing the story as anti-German propaganda - that when Mary Postgate comes down the stair looking "quite handsome" after her scandal-rousing bath, we are supposed to admire her, or support what she has done. THAT would be grotesque.
Last modified 2000