Rudyard kipling

From Mrs Dalloway’s West End to Tolkien’s Middle-earth

Professor David Damrosch, the director of Harvard’s Institute for World Literature, fell in love with ‘a fictional realm that I’d never imagined’ in 1968. His English teacher, Miss Staats, gave him Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. This horizon-stretching Manhattan educator turns up again in another light towards the end of this book. A long-term girlfriend of Saul Bellow, Maggie Staats prudently said no when the novelist proposed to her. At this point, Damrosch has just told us that the hero of Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King remembers having ‘dreamed at the clouds from both sides’, so planting an idea in the young Joni Mitchell’s mind. You get the drift. Despite its

My clairvoyant GP

‘Willie or bum?’ I said to Catriona on the motorway. Everything in my recent medical career has been introduced via the former: cameras, cutters, stents. I naturally assumed it would be the same choice of pathways for exploring and snipping off three pieces of my liver. At the wheel, Catriona laughed at my idiocy and explained where my liver was and that there was not a pathway from it to either of those entrances. ‘They’ll go straight in through the side with a needle,’ she said. ‘Ow,’ I said. While I undressed in front of her, the admissions nurse scanned my written forms. ‘Anglais? I only take cash,’ she said,

Tortured youths: how childhood misery often makes for genius

Greatness. Genius. Can you bottle it? Is there a formula? Inspired by his Radio 4 series Great Lives, Matthew Parris delves into the childhood background of some big names to see whether there are common denominators, and rather gives the game away in the title, Fracture: Stories of How Great Lives Take Root in Trauma. He zig-zags between the territories of greatness and genius in his choice of mini-biographies, and slightly blurs the two concepts. Of course there’s a bit of difference between greatness and genius. I wouldn’t dispute that Edith Piaf was a great performer or that Coco Chanel was a great designer — but genius? That can only

Letters: The sorry state of BBC sport

Misplaced Trust Sir: Charles Moore is as ever bang on target (The Spectator’s Notes, 26 September). National Trust members have had a raw deal this year, but so have many loyal staff and volunteers. It should not surprise any visitor to a National Trust property that a very rich person built it and lived there. No doubt they achieved great financial wealth by being quick-witted, entrepreneurial and above all ruthless in their dealing. They likely exploited everyone irrespective of race or creed. How many mill owners sent ‘boys’ up chimneys, down mines and into the machinery to clear blockages? The National Trust is a curator of buildings, artefacts and estates.

My Aunt Beryl’s zinc-lined trunk revealed extraordinary family secrets

Bexhill-on-Sea My Aunt Beryl taught me to love books and paintings. When I’m at a loose end in London, lonely, or even rather boozed up, I still nip into one of the galleries she raised me on to say hello to pictures that have been my lifelong friends. Out of an envelope fell an original poem scribbled and signed by Rudyard Kipling Beryl never missed birthdays and Christmas, she wrote postcards and adored her nephews and nieces. She never married, but globe-trotted with easel and pencils, lived in a cave in Petra, went skydiving and skating, made a living from portraits and illustrated 52 children’s books — many of which

The Dragon school’s bizarre decision to ban Gunga Din

Why should radical leftists bother destroying institutions when the establishment will do the work for them? The governors of the Dragon, the prep school in north Oxford, have decreed that one of its boarding houses, Gunga Din, shall now be known as Dragon House. Presumably no consultancy fees were incurred for that name. In a letter to Old Dragons, which as an alumnus I received, the chair of governors, Andrew Webb, sets out the wonderful contortions that led the board to the decision. The name was originally chosen by ‘Hum’ Lynam, headmaster from 1920 to 1942, from Rudyard Kipling’s 1890 poem. The poem’s hero is a regimental bhisti (a water-carrier)

Demystifying freemasonry

The history of rubbish can be scholarship, but the history of scholarship is often rubbish. Hindsight diminishes earlier habits of thought and behaviour, especially when, as with freemasonry, they involve rolled-up trouser legs, coded handshakes and a curious blend of mysticism and matiness. Yet freemasonry was once a radical, even revolutionary, rite — to its adherents a harbinger of egalitarian, middle-class democracy, to its detractors a conspiracy of Jews, satanists and sex addicts. The Craft is a shadow history of modernity. Though more sober than most lodge meetings, it is, like its subject, ingenious and frequently bizarre. Freemasonry, John Dickie argues, is one of Britain’s ‘most successful exports’, along with