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The Transformative Power of the Arts in Victorian and Edwardian Culture and Society
1. The Interactions Between Science, Technology and the Arts

Technology and the Cinematographic Writing of Trauma in Kipling’s Motoring Short Stories

Technologie et écriture cinématographique du traumatisme dans les nouvelles automobiles de Kipling
Élodie Raimbault


Dans de nombreuses nouvelles, Kipling célèbre la technologie en mettant au premier plan la passion suscitée par sa dimension aventureuse et romanesque, mais l’hommage qu’il fait spécifiquement à l’automobile va au-delà de sa fascination pour la technique. Il parvient à exploiter le potentiel narratif de l’automobile comme moteur de l’histoire : elle met l’intrigue en mouvement dans un cadre réaliste mais elle l’ouvre aussi à l’aventure et au fantastique. Mettant en scène des personnages marqués par des traumatismes physiques et psychologiques, ces récits présentent une vision ambigüe de ce nouveau moyen de transport. Les histoires les plus intéressantes retravaillent les stéréotypes édouardiens liés à l’automobile (la voiture futuriste, l’accident de voiture mortel, l’intrusion industrielle dans un environnement pastoral) et offrent une analyse métanarrative de la structure du texte comme mécanisme. Un rapprochement thématique, stylistique et structurel entre l’automobile et le cinématographe conduit Kipling à combiner deux technologies qui offrent un fascinant spectacle mobile. À travers cette association, il délimite une nouvelle sorte de spatialité.

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1New modes of transport have an impact on how their passengers and their drivers perceive distances, landscapes and, more generally, how they place themselves in their environment. The railway changed not only the Victorians’ relation to space and transport, but also their physical and psychological state, as they became more sensitive to shock. In his study Literature, Technology, and Modernity, Nicholas Daly remarks that ‘in the 1860s [the response to the railway] was framed in the psycho-physiological language of nerves, anxiety, and suspense’ (Daly 72), with a lot of attention paid to the speed, the jolts and the general impression of danger felt by the passengers in the great machine. Daly explains the railway not only transported its passengers, but also steered them into modernity. This transition is perceived physically, through the train’s vibration and acceleration, a motif that was particularly exploited in sensation literature.

2If the railway experience has been largely documented, the motorcar experience remains less extensively explored. It is however an important concern in the Edwardian and modernist artistic productions. The insertion of the motorcar in art and literature has generally been read as a figuration of modernity, prompting various responses. It is a thrilling embodiment of progress and modernity in futurist productions. In his manifesto of Futurism written in 1909, Marinetti wrote: ‘We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed . . . We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit’ (Marinetti 21). He also included a poem in praise of a racing car in the city, hyperbolically presenting the car’s power through a succession of divine, monstrous, and animalistic metaphors. In Marinetti’s text, the global perception of the planet and the avowed ambition of covering the longest distances at the highest speed both suggest an imperialist take, as if the car were the means of finally covering the ground between the railway tracks and achieving a truly complete mastery of the blank spaces that remained on the map. At the level of the individual motorist, motorcars were indeed associated with notions of freedom and touristic discovery, unrestricted by the timetables and the geographical confines of the railway.

3However, the motorcar is represented in many other texts as a disruptive element, an intruder in the English landscape, a technological agent destroying the traditional pastoral. This is visible in works like Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 The Wind in the Willows, in which Mr Toad, an impulsive, comically self-centred and obsessive character, features as a disastrous motorist. The motorcar appears also, most famously, in Howards End (1910), as a symbolic bone of contention between two Englands, that of Margaret Schlegel, who jumps out of the moving car and prefers walking, and that of Henry and Charles Wilcox who have a materialist approach to modes of transport. The novel also presents a modernist exploration of how the experience of the motorist changes his/her sense of place in the English landscape, with, for instance, Margaret’s frustration at motoring because its speed prevents her from perceiving and enjoying the scenery from a lateral, remote and safe point of view, as she is able to do from a train window:

The chauffeur could not travel as quickly as he had hoped, for the Great North Road was full of Easter traffic. But he went quite quick enough for Margaret, a poor-spirited creature, who had chickens and children on the brain. . . . 
‘One must get about. There’s a pretty church—oh, you aren’t sharp enough. Well, look out, if the road worries you—right outward at the scenery.’
She looked at the scenery. It heaved and merged like porridge. Presently it congealed. They had arrived. (Forster 169)

  • 1 The first set contained fourteen poems, in 1904, a second set of six poems was published in 1919, a (...)

4Kipling’s motoring stories take a more ambiguous stance regarding the values attached to this new technology. At the end of the century, after leaving India and travelling around the world by boat and train, Rudyard Kipling and his family decided to settle in Sussex and he bought a motorcar to go house-hunting. He discovered simultaneously the English countryside and the pleasures of motoring, he both grounded himself in the land, in a Jacobean house more precisely, and found the means of travelling freely and rapidly. He discovered a specific and paradoxical type of spatiality among the hills of Sussex. In poems, short stories and his memoir, this new technology is explored in a multiplicity of lights. His poems gathered in the collection A Muse among the Motors were published in three sets between 1904 and 1929.1 These are an exercise in style, most of them being parodies in the style of earlier writers. They will not be the focus of this paper, for they are often of a minor literary value. His most remarkable motoring stories are ‘Steam Tactics’ (1902), ‘“They”’ (1904), ‘Fairy-Kist’ (1927) and ‘Aunt Ellen’ (1932). ‘Steam Tactics’ and ‘“They”’ feature motorists in a pastoral landscape, whereas ‘Fairy-Kist’ and ‘Aunt Ellen’ are more directly focused on traffic accidents, but in the four texts, motoring is linked to mystification or mystery, in a comic or a fantastic mode.

5Kipling transforms his first-hand experience of the motorcar into a literary object that is not limited to its symbolic value. Although Kipling presents the novelty of the machine in a generally enthusiastic manner, which will be analysed in a first section, his most intriguing texts on the motorcar are not focused only on the technological issues, but also on the aesthetic and imaginative impact the car has on the motorist, and on how it can enable us to enter uncanny and traumatic regions of the mind. The second section of this paper will thus centre on the crucial relationship between motoring and trauma. Finally, I will show how the simultaneous development of motoring and the cinematograph led Kipling to combine thematically two technologies that offered a fascinating mobile spectacle. Through this association, he delineates a new sort of spatiality. Both technologies open doors onto the world of the psychological and symbolic uncanny through a visual and physical experience of movement, travel, and displacement.

6Drawing on motoring as a symbol of modernity, some of Kipling’s stories present the speed of the motorcar in a nearly futurist manner, with a narrator asserting his fascination with the technology. For instance, the story ‘The Bull That Thought’ starts in the Camargue with a night scene of a car breaking a speed record:

Westward from a town by the Mouths of the Rhone, runs a road so mathematically straight, so barometrically level, that it ranks among the world’s measured miles and motorists use it for records. . . . when her indicator climbed to a certain figure and held there for three blinding kilometres, he expressed himself satisfied. (Kipling 1924, 207)

7The deceptively restrained tone of the proud owner however comes in contrast with the amplified celebration of speed we can find in futurist literature. The interest in technology expressed here pertains more to an element of intellectual and social characterization than to an ideology, the narrator portraying himself as a privileged amateur of technology and a member of a small, secretive group of enthusiasts. Kipling’s passion for motors is linked to his keen interest in all technical domains, be it crafts, mechanics, strategy, science or engineering. In his autobiography, Kipling recalls how he started motoring, in a passage that celebrates the mechanical object’s technicality and mimics syntactically its intricacy of design and its cadenced noise:

It was a twenty-minute trip. We returned white with dust and dizzy with noise. But the poison worked from that hour. Somehow, an enterprising Brighton agency hired us a Victoria-hooded, carriage-sprung, carriage-braked, single-cylinder, belt-driven, fixed-ignition Embryo which, at times, could cover eight miles an hour. (Kipling 1937, 103)

8The parallelism ‘white with dust and dizzy with noise’ and the following list of compound adjectives recall the sound of the engine, rhythmically and through the alliteration pattern. They also allude to its visual aspect, with the numerous hyphens representing as many rods and screws, among other pieces of machinery. A few paragraphs down in the memoir, a humorous anecdote highlights the power of the engine and its consequences for the motorist—practicality and freedom:

In three years from our purchase the railway station had passed out of our lives. In seven, I heard my chauffeur say to an under-powered visiting sardine-tin; ‘Hills? There ain’t any hills on the London road.’
(Kipling 1937, 105)

  • 2 Some noteworthy examples of these movies are Cecil M. Hepworth’s How It Feels to Be Run Over (1900) (...)

9Kipling’s motoring stories all present a humorous or even a frankly comic tone, often including staple scenes which can also be found in the motoring comic movies2 such as speeding tickets issued by inefficient policemen, disputes between motorists and local inhabitants who resent their passage, or minor accidents with horses and carts, for the most common plot twists. Kipling’s practical joke stories are intricate and mix political issues with slapstick comedy, as can be seen in this passage of ‘Steam Tactics’:

I caught sight of their faces as we came up behind the cart in the narrow Sussex lane; but though it was not eleven o’clock, they were both asleep.
That the carrier was on the wrong side of the road made no difference to his language when I rang my bell. He said aloud of motor-cars, and specially of steam ones, all the things which I had read in the faces of superior coachmen. Then he pulled slantwise across me.
There was a vociferous steam air-pump attached to that car which could be applied at pleasure
 . . . (Kipling 1902, 133)

10Motoring and the cinema are comparable types of leisure in that they are entertaining and exciting, and they are produced by a new and booming industry. Although the motorist may be seen as more active than the theatregoer, steering the wheel and regulating the speed, most of Kipling’s narrators are passengers, not drivers, which makes them therefore analogous to spectators: the spectator in a movie theatre and the motorist in his seat are both sitting while watching a moving image. This paradoxical posture leads them to experience a form of excitement similar to that of the early train passengers. In ‘Aunt Ellen’, Hollywood is presented as able to ‘satisfy the “mass appetence” of all the races who attend “Sinnymus”’ (Kipling 1932, 123). Both technologies could be defined as media because they project the viewers into the spectacle, they transport them mentally or physically into another place. Another specificity of the motorist is that he is both the spectator and the spectacle, particularly in the early days, when motorcars were still rare and aroused the curiosity of pedestrians.

11The introductory quality of the motorcar is remarkable as a narrative trope. In many beginnings, the story is set in motion as we follow a car which guides the narrator into unknown territories: ‘my car took the road of her own volition’ (Kipling 1904, 229). This type of incipit works like a cinematographic establishing shot, that is to say a long shot at the beginning of a scene, which presents the characters in their environment in a general way, so that the closer shots can be understood afterwards. In our examples, motoring is an idealized means of transport because it is individual and light. It does not clash with the landscape’s pastoral quality; it is confidential and private, it enables the discovery of the secret English country. Compared to the heavy railway infrastructure, the car is discreet, using the traditional roads and even merging into the landscape in many passages. The landscape also takes on the role of some almost conscious, personified guide, as can be seen in the sentences below where it is the subject, in contrast with the narrator who is placed as object, passively discovering the views behind a wheel which seems to magically steer itself:

One view called me to another; one hill top to its fellow, half across the county, and since I could answer at no more trouble than the snapping forward of a lever, I let the country flow under my wheels. The orchid-studded flats of the East gave way to the thyme, ilex, and grey grass of the Downs; these again to the rich cornland and fig-trees of the lower coast, where you carry the beat of the tide on your left hand for fifteen level miles; and when at last I turned inland through a huddle of rounded hills and woods I had run myself clean out of my known marks.
(Kipling 1904, 223)

12In a magazine for motorists, Kipling highlighted this paradoxical proximity between the car and a traditional view of the territory, when he claimed that motoring was for him first and foremost the means of visiting England, or rather of entering the world of historical fantasy and the uncanny:

  • 3 Rudyard Kipling’s article, published in The Complete Motorist in 1904 at the request of the editor (...)

But the chief end of my car, so far as I am concerned, is the discovery of England. To me it is a land full of stupefying marvels and mysteries; and a day in the car in an English countryside is a day in some fairy museum where all the exhibits are alive and real and yet none the less delightfully mixed up with books. For instance, in six hours, I can go from the land of the Ingoldsby Legends by way of the Norman Conquest, and the Barons’ War into Richard Jefferies’ country, and so through the Regency, one of Arthur Young’s less known tours, and Celia’s Arbour, into Gilbert White’s territory.
Horses, after all, are only horses; but the car is a time-machine on which one can slide from one century to another at no more trouble than the pushing forward of a lever.
 . . . In Africa one has only to put the miles under and go on; but in England the dead, twelve coffin deep, clutch hold of my wheels at every turn, till I sometimes wonder that the very road does not bleed. That is the real joy of motoring—the exploration of this amazing England.3 (Arscott 27–28)

13This simultaneous praise of motoring and England turns ambiguous when it resorts to such macabre visions. Despite his touristic enthusiasm, the motorist enters a world tainted by gothic images which take us away from the technical precision and the practicality of the beginning of the article. Through the evocation of corpses and blood, Kipling pictures England as a historically layered and organic entity, as opposed to the orientalist fantasy of a blank, ahistorical, colonial Africa. He also indirectly alludes to certain negative connotations attached to the motorcar which are less frequently advertised by the motoring lobby who published it.

14The car has indeed been associated with death from the earliest period. In his book The Car in British Society, Sean O’Connell argues that the humour present in many popular and middlebrow cultural productions featuring motorcars was ‘born out of a growing sense of fatalism and powerlessness surrounding the car’, and that this humour was an ‘outlet through which tensions concerning the dangers of the car were released. Another safety valve—and popular entertainment—was presented by the involvement of the car in action and crime stories and films’ (O’Connell 203). The car was perceived as dangerous and inhuman, precisely because of its speed and of the risk of collision with human bodies.

15Kipling’s stories feature car crashes and detail the physical traumas caused by the car. In ‘Aunt Ellen’, one character is fooled into thinking that he has run over a person, whereas it was merely an eiderdown quilt rolled into a human shape. One of the pranksters, Henry Lettcombe, works in the cinema industry. The several collisions in the story are told in a style reminiscent of movie scripts, with short, descriptive sentences which foreground the succession of events and the visual effects created by the automobile’s lights in the night:

The road behind us ran straight, a few hundred yards, to a small wood and there turned. It was wholly void when I started. . . . A large head-light illuminated the wood. A small car pelted round the curve. A horn squawked. There was a sound of ironmongery in revolt; the car bounded marsupially to its right, and, with its head-light, disappeared. But before it did this, I fancied I had seen my bundle lying in its path. I went to look. (Kipling 1932, 124)

16The paratactic succession of sentences produces the same effect as cinematographic jump cuts, that is to say the editing practice of breaking the time continuity of a shot: both create an impression of rapidity and discontinuity, and leave it to the reader or to the spectator to interpret the actions retrospectively. The reader is confronted to the instantaneity of the crash, and its lack of meaning is conveyed in a humorous manner in this passage, with the incongruous adverb ‘marsupially’. Generally, the humour in Kipling’s elaborate prank stories could be attributed to a channelling of tensions created by the threatening characteristics of the car, as analysed by O’Connell.

17In ‘Fairy-Kist’, the story starts with an inquiry into the mysterious death of a young woman on the side of the road. The inquest will prove that the neat wound at the base of her neck was caused by a lorry which only just struck her when it skidded: it was an accident after all, despite the initial assumption that she had been murdered by someone skilled in human anatomy. The event of the accident is staged, performed and reiterated during the inquest, with the same lorry being put in the same driving conditions in order to check if it really is the cause of death. The narrator uses the term ‘stunt’ in this context, and the repetition of the same scene resembles several cinematographic devices: it is evocative of a flashback and of the possibility of rerunning a film, but it also corresponds to the practice of filming action scenes in many takes. The reiteration of the event also makes it seem inevitable, which expresses the notion of fate associated to the accident:

We made him take out the particular lorry implicated, with the same driver, and a duplicate load packed the same way, and demonstrate for us. We kept her stunting half Sunday morning in the rain, and the skid delivered her into the left-hand gutter of the London Road every time she took that corner; and every time her tail with the girders swiped along the blank of that lane like a man topping a golf-ball. And when she did that, there were half-a-dozen paces—not more—along that schoolchildren’s path, that meant sure death to anyone on it at the time.
(Kipling 1927, 167)

18Physical trauma is the inevitable consequence of the crash, albeit the paradoxically discreet wound described in this particular story. Nicholas Daly explains how J. G. Ballard’s novel Crash (1973) took further the exploration of the encounter between the body and the car, showing that Ballard presents a figure which is not ‘the nervous, galvanic body of the sensation novel, still less the euphoric body electric of the 1920s flapper, but the post-crash body, a body scarred but also strangely liberated and libidinized by the encounter with the machine’ (Daly 116). The extremely unbalanced relationship between the vulnerable and fleshy human body and the car as a weapon-like, hard mechanical object is however already at the root of the physical and psychological trauma experienced by Kipling’s characters.

19Another instance of the flashback is the fact that the physical shock inflicted by the car on the characters, or the shock of the confrontation between the car and an archaic, pastoral setting, prompts in different characters a cathartic release of repressed memories. Indeed, many of Kipling’s motoring and cinema stories have to do with mental illness. The cinema is said to cause ‘injuncted psychoses’ (Kipling 1932, 123) by one character in ‘Aunt Ellen’, suggesting that it causes a loss of contact with reality (McGivering) and, more crucially, that madness and the enjoyment of fiction are similar states of mind. The same character uses the neologism ‘endyoclinics’ (Kipling 1932, 123): endyo means in Greek sink into clothing, clothe oneself, which suggests that the spectator relinquishes control and lets himself be enveloped by the fictional motion picture, willingly suspending his disbelief.

20In ‘Fairy-Kist’, the initial suspect in the inquest is Henry Wollin, a former soldier who ‘had been wounded and gassed and gangrened in the war’ (Kipling 1927, 164). He is said to be fairy-kissed, kissed by the fairies, that is to say, mad. Among his symptoms, he hears voices that order him to perform some apparently illogical actions, mainly riding his motorbike at night to go and plant flowers by the roadside. His condition is shell-shock, a consequence of industrial warfare, and it is partially cured by talking with the motorists who understand his dual fascination with technology and gardening. Henry Wollin recollects forgotten memories of the stories that the nurse who took care of him told him during his recovery. He realizes the voices he hears are actually memories from these stories: the nurse had been reading Mrs Ewing’s classic children’s story Mary’s Meadow in which the characters plant flowers in a meadow so that those who do not have a garden can enjoy them. ‘The pain and dope had made that nursery story stick in one corner of his mind till it took charge—it does sometimes—but all mixed up with bombings and nightmares’ (Kipling 1927, 177).

  • 4 In this respect, the traumatized characters of ‘The Disturber of Traffic’, ‘At the End of the Passa (...)

21Wollin is systematically mentioned in association with his motorbike and his gardening tools, he is perceived as partly mechanical and electrical himself, especially since his main medical condition is nerves. He is also tellingly described as ‘a methodical bird’ (Kipling 1927, 173), characterizing him as obsessive. His repetitive behaviour and his technical attributes are reminiscent of many other Kiplingian characters whose interest in technologies find an echo in their psyche and in the physical traumas they experience, for instance a shell-shocked soldier or a character carrying a set of false teeth.4 Wollin corresponds to this type of character; his war trauma has induced machine-like physical and mental processes.

22The narrator of ‘“They”’ also faces his psychological trauma by using his motorcar. On a motoring expedition in the Sussex countryside, he chances upon a mysterious house deep in the forest. The house is inhabited by a blind woman, a gardener and an uncanny group of elusive children, among whom he finally encounters the ghost of his late daughter on the occasion of a third visit. So as to come in contact with the children, he uses his motorcar as bait, counting on the curiosity of the shy and wary young ghosts, on their fascination for technical novelty:

It was sacrilege to wake that dreaming house-front with the clatter of machinery, but I swung the car to clear the turf . . . .
She felt her way lightly to the front of the car, and with one foot on the step she called: ‘Children, oh, children! Look and see what’s going to happen!’
 . . .
Very disposedly we paraded the length of the walk and at her request backed again. This time the child had got the better of his panic, but stood far off and doubting.
 . . .
‘Perhaps they’re only shy of the motor. The little maid at the window looks tremendously interested’. (Kipling 1904, 226)

23The motorcar is more than a mere transportation medium, it is also the medium of a fantastic encounter between the dead and the living, between the substantial world of technology and the uncanny.

24Thematically, the cinema is omnipresent in ‘Aunt Ellen’, which includes for instance a scene in which the characters fake the shooting of a movie, but the story is also cinematographic stylistically. The type of comedy wrought here by Kipling is based on situation comedy and visual gags, for instance the final explosion of the eiderdown quilt, with the description of how the white feathers stick to the characters who have just been covered in mud after fixing yet another mechanical failure of the car: ‘The Policeman disappeared. When we saw him again–Lo! He was older than Abraham, and whiter than Lot’s wife. He blew a good deal through his Father Christmas moustache, but no words came’ (Kipling 1932, 145). The spectacle of the mud and the feathers is only one instance of a recurrent play on stark black-and-white contrasts, an aesthetic choice also visible in the opposition between obscure night-time landscapes and the restricted beam of the car’s headlight. The characters’ emphatic expressions and attitudes also remind us of the early film performances, in their vaudevillian manner. The scene when a woman screams abuse at the pranksters is characteristic of such theatrical acting:

Maria took breath between her teeth and went on. She defined Phil’s business as running up and down the world, murdering people better than himself. That was the grey canvas she embroidered idly, at first, as with flowers; then illuminated with ever-soaring fireworks; and lastly rent asunder from wing to wing with forked-lightning-like yells of: ‘Murderer! Murderer!’ (Kipling 1932, 135)

25The italics in the exclamation are part of the many indications which could be intended to direct the actress’s performance, if the text were a script or a theatrical play. Despite the use of reported speech, a large proportion of dialogue in the story lets the reader imagine a performance or a screening of the whole story.

26Kipling explicitly compares his narrative to a cinematographic one by inserting humorous metanarrative comments, notably in reference to the narrative intertitles which were inserted in most silent movies:

Thus, then, we laboured London-ward for a while, deep in the heart of the night and all its unpredictable allures. (The caption is Lettcombe’s.) (Kipling 1932, 130)
Phil, alone in the car, emitted (the caption, again, is Lettcombe’s) a low wolf-like howl, shifted into the driving-seat, and fled up the London road. (Kipling 1932, 135)

27These intertitles were generally written in a melodramatic style, sensationally enhancing the thrill of the story. Here, the stereotypical metaphors and comparisons are intended for the movie-going reader. Many descriptive passages also echo certain types of shots or of editing, as exemplified earlier with the collision scene told in a paratactic series of short sentences.

28Beyond these stylistic correspondences, the proximity of Kipling’s motoring stories and the cinema seems also to be generic, with the fantastic and adventure as the most prominent genres. As is obvious in Méliès’s films, movies are a fitting medium for fantastic stories, precisely because of the impression of realism conveyed by the filmic image. In his analysis of the paradoxical fantastic quality of the early cinematograph, Nicholas Daly explains that ‘the ghostliness of mechanical image-reproduction stands in synecdochically for that of machine culture in general. Mechanization, the development, in effect, of a second nature, introduces its own spectres’ (Daly 58). The cinema is indeed able to convey a sense of the fantastic despite the simple assumption that technology is to be grounded in materialist and realist concerns. The technological uncanny is not limited to the cinema and applies here to motoring in Kipling’s stories: despite the initial impression that technical and mechanical motifs could be reduced to reality effects and background elements, it appears that motoring is actually the means of introducing an uncanny element in the story. Technology opens up onto the fantastic; there is a ghostly element in the interaction between man and the machine.

29As to the adventurous qualities of the motorist, they are linked to the dangers of the technical adventure, which are stated bluntly in ‘Steam Tactics’: ‘[the] petrol will light up and the boiler may blow up’ (Kipling 1902, 136). The motorist is a pioneering figure, who defies the policeman’s authority, has practical skills, and leads an exceptional life, while his car becomes a heroine as well:

And she—oh! that I could do her justice!—she turned her broad back bows to the westering light, and lifted us high upon hills that we might see and rejoice with her. She whooped into veiled hollows of elm and Sussex oak; she devoured infinite perspectives of park palings; she surged through forgotten hamlets, whose single streets gave back, reduplicated, the clatter of her exhaust, and, tireless, she repeated the motions. Over naked uplands she droned like a homing bee, her shadow lengthening in the sun that she chased to his lair. (Kipling 1902, 152)

30In the Edwardian period, motoring was still an exceptional and exciting means of travelling, but the tropes of amplification and personification heighten greatly the impression of movement and the glamour attached to the mechanical object, in a cinematographic manner.

31Such stylistic and thematic correspondences can be viewed as the result of a two-way influence between literature and the cinema, especially at that time when most of the prominent movies were adaptations of novels or short stories. But what is particularly cinematographic in Kipling’s motoring stories is how they exploit the structural resemblance between the two technologies. As said before, the posture of the spectator is similar to that of the motorcar passenger, both are passively seated while the spectacle in front of them moves. The presence of a screen in both cases is also interesting: the screen acts as a filter, mediating the viewer’s perception of reality. Kipling’s motorists regularly need to stop and step out of the car or stand in it so as to find their bearings, as if remaining behind the screen caused them to lose their way: ‘I stood up in the car to take the bearings of that great Down’ (Kipling 1904, 223); in ‘Aunt Ellen’, in addition to the screen the eiderdown quilt partially blocks the view, ‘[going] down the drive I could scarcely squint round the corner of the thing, and at the turn into the road, it lurched into my eye’ (Kipling 1932, 122), but it is only when the motorist stops and gets out of the car that he can grasp the situation, in ‘the stillness that emphasises percipience when one’s car has stopped’ (Kipling 1932, 124).

32The screen also provides a frame which directs the viewer’s glance: it both shows an image and hides what is outside the frame. The early motorists were not protected by a screen, but as soon as the machines became more comfortable, with a windshield and a roof, they were also accused of screening the motorist from reality, of promoting a form of tourism that had more to do with voyeurism than with authentic discovery.

  • 5 My translation. ‘L’écran n’a pas pour seule fonction de nous permettre de voir (le film) mais aussi (...)

33Kipling leaves a lot unsaid or off screen so as to create a fantastic atmosphere, most poignantly at the end of ‘“They”’: when the narrator is near the fireplace with the blind woman, and he feels his hand being kissed by an invisible child in the exact manner of his deceased daughter, ‘a fragment of a mute code devised very long ago. Then I knew. . . . What time passed after this I cannot say. I was roused by the fall of a log, and mechanically rose to put it back. Then I returned to my place in the chair very close to the screen’ (Kipling 1904; 243). The proximity of the fire screen visually represents the simultaneous revelation and secrecy of the scene. Pascal Bonitzer explained this dual function of the screen: ‘The screen’s function is not only to allow us to see (the film) but also, as its name suggests, to hide us (from reality). The cinematographic image is haunted by what is not there’.5 The spectator is screened from reality, but the power of the narrative is heightened by what is left unsaid. In ‘“They”’, the child remains off screen, the narrator recognizes her touch but does not look at her.

34In many short stories and poems, Kipling celebrates technology by foregrounding the excitement created by its peculiar romance, but his tribute to motoring goes beyond his fascination for the technical. He manages to exploit the narrative potential of the motorcar as a driving force in the story, setting the plot in motion in a realistic setting but opening it up to adventure and the fantastic. The most interesting stories rework the motorcar stereotypes—the futurist car, the deadly car crash, the industrial intrusion in a pastoral environment—and offer a metanarrative analysis of the structure of the text as a mechanism. This is also visible in the binary construction of many of Kipling’s collections of stories, which alternate poems and stories and are entitled in pairs of concepts: Traffics and Discoveries, Actions and Reactions, and Limits and Discoveries, among others.

  • 6 ‘With the Night Mail’ (1909) and ‘As Easy As A.B.C’ (1912).

35What the motif of the motorcar adds to Kipling’s other technological interests is the specific spatiality that it entails: freeing the traveller from almost all social and spatial constraints and generating a flowing network of interactions, the car corresponds less to the ships and trains to be found in almost all his works than to the aircraft present in his rare science-fiction stories.6 Like the cinema, motoring creates a new type of spatiality, a relationship to space that permits the unveiling of trauma behind the technological screens. In that sense, the car is not only a means of transport and a time machine, but also a revelatory media, similar to the cinema.

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Arscott, David. A Sussex Kipling: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose. Lewes, Sussex: Pomegranate, 2007.

Bonitzer, Pascal. ‘Hors-champ (un espace en défaut)’. Cahiers du cinéma 234-235 (Dec. 1971, Jan-Feb 1972), 15–26.

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1 The first set contained fourteen poems, in 1904, a second set of six poems was published in 1919, and a last set of six poems in 1929.

2 Some noteworthy examples of these movies are Cecil M. Hepworth’s How It Feels to Be Run Over (1900) and Will Hay’s Ask a Policeman, which was produced later (1939).

3 Rudyard Kipling’s article, published in The Complete Motorist in 1904 at the request of the editor Filsom Young, is reproduced in David Arscott’s anthology A Sussex Kipling (2007).

4 In this respect, the traumatized characters of ‘The Disturber of Traffic’, ‘At the End of the Passage’, ‘“Wireless”’ and ‘Mrs Bathurst’ are respectively influenced by tidal currents and maritime traffic, photography, radio waves and the cinema.

5 My translation. ‘L’écran n’a pas pour seule fonction de nous permettre de voir (le film) mais aussi, comme son nom l’indique, de nous cacher (de la réalité). L’image cinématographique est hantée par ce qui ne s’y trouve pas’(Bonitzer 16)

6 ‘With the Night Mail’ (1909) and ‘As Easy As A.B.C’ (1912).

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Élodie Raimbault, « Technology and the Cinematographic Writing of Trauma in Kipling’s Motoring Short Stories », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 89 Spring | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2019, consulté le 19 novembre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/cve.5114

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Élodie Raimbault

Élodie Raimbault is a senior lecturer at the University of Grenoble-Alpes (ILCEA4/CEMRA). Her current research concentrates on popular literature, detection and adventure in the works of Victorian and Edwardian authors such as Kipling, Rider Haggard, Conrad, Wells and Conan Doyle. She focuses on the cartographic, political and geopoetic representations of colonial territories in these authors’ texts, as well as on their scientific and technological scope. Her recent publications include the articles ‘Rudyard Kipling’s Writing of the Indian Space: The Shifting Lines of Fiction and Reality, Adventure Narrative and Journalism’ (in Literature and Geography; The Writing of Space Throughout History, Emmanuelle Peraldo ed., Cambridge Scholars Press, 2016: 248-261), and ‘Conflating Points of View on Europe in The Eyes of Asia: Kipling’s Fiction of Reverse Orientalism’ (Kipling Journal 369, Jan Montefiore and Monica Turci eds. (July 2017): 23-28). She has co-edited with André Dodeman Literary Location and Dislocation of Myth in the Post/Colonial World (Leiden: Brill/Rodopi, 2017).
Élodie Raimbault est maître de conférences à l’Université de Grenoble-Alpes (ILCEA4/CEMRA). Ses recherches actuelles se concentrent sur la littérature populaire, les récits de détection et d’aventure dans les œuvres d’auteurs victoriens et édouardiens tels que Kipling, Rider Haggard, Conrad, Wells et Conan Doyle. Elle travaille sur les représentations cartographiques, politiques et géopoétiques des territoires coloniaux dans les textes de ces auteurs, ainsi que sur leur portée scientifique et technologique. Parmi ses publications récentes figurent les articles « Rudyard Kipling’s Writing of the Indian Space: The Shifting Lines of Fiction and Reality, Adventure Narrative and Journalism » (dans Literature and Geography; The Writing of Space throughout History, Emmanuelle Peraldo dir., Cambridge Scholars Press, 2016 : 248-261), et « Conflating Points of View on Europe in The Eyes of Asia: Kipling’s Fiction of Reverse Orientalism » (Kipling Journal 369, Jan Montefiore et Monica Turci dir. (juillet 2017) : 23-28). Elle a coédité avec André Dodeman l’ouvrage collectif Literary Location and Dislocation of Myth in the Post/Colonial World (Leiden : Brill/Rodopi, 2017).

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