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What's your favorite short story?
That assignment was one of my favorite short stories, The Gardener by Rudyard Kipling. It is one of the most unique stories I have ever read. I call it a "reverse mystery." Here's a brief summary of the story (although the original is not long):
Helen Turrell, a well-off single woman of good family, is living in the country village [of Hampshire] where she grew up. She goes to the south of France for her health, and later returns with baby Michael. She explains that he is the son of her recently dead scapegrace brother and a sergeant’s daughter, who has entrusted him to Helen to bring up. When Michael is six, she tells him that though she is his aunt, he may call her “Mummy” at bedtime. He is furious when he finds that she has explained this to her friends. At 10, he realises that he is illegitimate, and fears that she might reject him, but their bond grows closer than ever.The story is a reverse mystery because most mysteries begin with the crime and end with the solution. In this story, the reader may not know a "crime" has been committed until the very end of the story, which forces the reader to go back and reread to see how the "cover-up" is skillfully created by Kipling.
He grows up and wins a scholarship to Oxford, then World War I breaks out and he joins the Army instead. He is sent to the western front and before long is killed. His body is covered in rubble and he is posted “missing.” No news is received until after the Armistice, when Helen is officially informed that he is now buried in a military cemetery at Hagenzeele. She goes to see the grave.
On the way, Helen sees a Lancashire woman who has hysterics because she does not know where to look for her son’s grave, and cannot provide the necessary information to find it. Then Helen meets Mrs Scarsworth, who is visiting a neighbouring cemetery on behalf of friends, but confides that this is a cover for her own loss of a secret lover. Helen’s response is inarticulate and Mrs Scarsworth takes offence.
Next day, Helen goes to the cemetery, where she sees a man planting flowers on the graves. She asks him where to find her nephew: "Come with me," he said, "and I will show you where your son lies." When she leaves, she sees him at work again, and the story ends: “and she went away, supposing him to be the gardener.”
Without ever directly lying to the reader, Kipling deliberately misleads one into believing that Helen is as "open as the day," and, "there being no one to contradict," the reader accepts, along with the village, her story of Michael being her illegitimate nephew. At the end, when Helen encounters a gardener who omnisciently reveals the secret that Michael is really Helen's own illegitimate child, the carefully erected façade crumbles, and the reader is compelled to look again at the story.
Upon rereading, ironies pop up like mushrooms in a damp forest: Helen acted "nobly" in adopting Michael; Helen tells Michael, "It's always best to tell the truth," and young Michael responds, "But when the troof's ugly, I don't think it's nice"; when Michael is killed and his body is buried under the rubble, Kipling says, it was covered up "so neatly that none but an expert would have guessed that anything unpleasant had happened"; and, perhaps most ironic of all is Mrs. Scarsworth's confession, an unwitting assault upon Helen:
Because I'm so tired of lying. Tired of lying - always lying - year in and year out. When I don't tell lies I've got to act 'em and I've got to think 'em, always. You don't know what that means. He was everything to me that he oughtn't to have been - the real thing - the only thing that ever happened to me in all my life; and I've had to pretend he wasn't. I've had to watch every word I said, and think out what lie I'd tell next, for years and years!I love to teach this story. I use it for two purposes: First, it demands "close reading," which is our focus at the beginning of the course. Second, it has enormous depth, raising lots of questions, from the brilliant writing technique to fundamental moral questions and feminist concerns. The other thing I am trying to do early is teach them how to think more deeply. As I tell them: They need to grow past thinking like a high school student to thinking like a college student.
Ultimately, I see Helen as a very sympathetic character. The depth of her pain and guilt must be enormous, but she is never able to reveal it to anyone. The confrontation with Mrs. Scarsworth, who acts as her mirror (are Helen's scars worth it?), is an extremely powerful scene that evokes tremendous empathy. The underlying cause of the "crime" is the chauvinistic treatment of women that was a basic tenet of aristocratic England at the time. (We see the status of women in the early 20th century reflected in a similar way in Downton Abbey.)
I won't do a full analysis here, but there are couple of things I'll point out: One of the points of controversy is whether the gardener at the end is Christ or Helen's nephew/son Michael. I hold with the Christ camp because Kipling lifts the phrase "supposing him to be the gardener" directly from John 20:15, when Mary Magdalene does not recognize Jesus after the Resurrection. Also, the gardener in the story looks at Helen "with infinite compassion," a trait I would associate with Christ. He is set among "the naked black crosses." But a good case can be made that Helen's confrontation is with Michael, who has been resurrected after his death. Either way, the story works.
While Kipling never offers a direct moral judgment of Helen's lie, I think the ending suggests that we, like Jesus or an angelic Michael, should be compassionate and forgiving to Helen.
There is also some question as to who Michael's real father is. I think it is the rector's gardener, who is mentioned very briefly at the time of Michael's death. The ambiguous phrase that describes the rector's gardener as "thinking of his own son" when he hears the news of Michael's death could apply to Michael rather than a different son. After all, Kipling entitled his story "The Gardener," and except for references to the all-important mystical gardener at the end, this mention is the only other time the word appears in the story. It seems unlikely this ambiguity was accidental on the part of Kipling. Clearly, Kipling considered every single word of this meticulously crafted story.
Well, I've bored you enough. But there are lots of great short stories out there.
Kipling courtesy biography.com
Woman with baby courtesy flickrhivemind.net
Grave tender courtesy adaswar.net
Mushrooms courtesy commons.wikimedia.org
Painting of Christ and Mary Magdalene by Hans Baldung courtesy wikipaintings.org
Latest Updates on Kossack Regional Meet-Up News Below the New Day sunrise cloud
Let's build communities!
Every region needs a meatspace community like SFKossacks.
We take care of each other in real life.
I urge YOU to take the lead and organize one in your region.
Please tell us about it if you do and we're here for advice.
THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY
NEW GROUPS IN THE PROCESS OF ORGANIZING:These are the groups that have started since * NEW DAY * began. Please Kosmail navajo if you have started a group before that.
Send a Kosmail to the organizers and ask for an invitation to the group.• Northern Indiana Area: Kosmail Tim Delaney
• Long Island: Kosmail grannycarol
• Northern Michigan: Kosmail JillS
• Nebraska: Kosmail Nebraska68847Dem
• Westburbia Chicago Kossacks: Kosmail Majordomo
• New York Hudson Valley Kossacks: Kosmail boran2
• North Carolina Triangle Kossacks: Kosmail highacidity
• Caprock Kossacks (Panhandle/Caprock/Lubbock/Amarillo area) : Kosmail shesaid
• West Texas Kossacks (including Big Bend Region and El Paso) : Kosmail Yo BubbaNote to the above new leaders: Feel free to leave a comment any day reminding readers about your new group. Also, tell us about your progress in gathering members. Kosmail me when you've chosen a good name for your group and have created a the group. Then I'll move you to the NEW GROUPS LIST. When you've planned a date for your first event I'll make a banner for you to highlight your event in our diaries and your diaries.
NEW GROUPS LIST:
• Kansas City Kossacks - Formed Oct 15, 2012, Organizer: [Founder stepped down]
ESTABLISHED GROUPS LIST: (List will grow as we discover them)
Sunday, Sept 15th
Chicago Kossacks Meet-up at a Powwow!
TIME: 11:30 AM
LOCATION: Chicago's 60th Annual American Indian Center Powwow
Busse Woods Forest Preserve • Elk Grove Village
ORGANIZER: Send figbash a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: Chicago Kossacks Go To A Powwow: Sunday, Sept 15 2013
3. Mr. broths
5. Liberal Granny
7. Expat Okie
DeKalb, Illinois KossacksSaturday, September 21st
DeKalb, Illinois Kossacks Dinner & a Show!
TIME: 6:00 PM
LOCATION: Rosita's Mexican Restaurant
642 East Lincoln Highway • DeKalb
TIME: 7:30 PM
LOCATION: The Stage Coach Players Theater
126 South 5th Street (2 blks. from dinner) • DeKalb
ORGANIZER: Send NormAl1792 a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: Northern IL Kossacks Dinner and a Show - Saturday, Sept. 21
1. NormAl1792 (on stage as Henry II)
4. Mr. luvs
Saturday, September 28th
Indianapolis Kossacks First Ever Meet-up
TIME: 2:00 PM
LOCATION: Shapiro's Deli
808 S Meridian • Downtown Indianapolis
ORGANIZER: Send CityLightsLover a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: [Waiting for linked diary]
4. Alexandra Lynch
Saturday, October 19th
DKos Asheville Kossacks Meet-up
TIME: 1:00 PM
LOCATION: The Bywater
796 Riverside Dr. • Asheville
ORGANIZER: Send randallt a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: DKos Asheville - Weekly Open Thread
7. Sandy on Signal
8. Mr Sandy on Signal
11. Mr Alecia
people power granny
One Pissed Off Liberal
Christian Dem in NC
Phil S 33
Sunday, October 20th
MEGA Philly/NJ/NYC Kossacks Meet-up!
LOCATION: Stuff Yer Face
49 Easton Avenue • New Brunswick, NJ
ORGANIZER: Send mconvente a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: Philly/NJ/NYC Mega Meetup! Initial Information & Interest Diary
2. belinda ridgewood
11. blue jersey mom
aravir and son
Friday, October 25th
LAKossacks & SoCal Inland Empire See Lewis Black!
TIME: 9:00 PM
LOCATION: Agua Caliente Casino Resort & Spa
32-250 Bob Hope Dr. • Rancho Mirage
ORGANIZER: Send 714day a kosmail to attend.
Latest diary: L.A. Kossacks, Lewis Black Fans in So Cal
Friday, October 25th
Meet the Daily Kos Editorial Staff!
TIME: TBD in the PM
LOCATION: Daily Kos HQ
Address given privately to RSVP'ers • Berkeley
ORGANIZER: Send navajo a kosmail to attend.
You will need to bring Potluck. Stay tuned for assignments.
2. Susan Gardner
3. Meteor Blades
4. Faith Gardner
5. Will Rockafellow
and many more staff... stay tuned
8. side pocket
15. remembrance +TLO?
16. Glen the Plumber
21. Dave in Northridge
SFKossacks BBQ in the Wine Country
LOCATION: Andrew McGuire's home in the Wine Country
Address to be given privately to RSVPs • Windsor
1. Andrew McGuire
6. Hunter/elfling offspring
14. Mr. dksbook
17. side pocket
18. Mrs. side pocket
20. ceebee7's sister
21. leema (will carpool from Marin)
22. Meteor Blades
Glen The Plumber
Send navajo a kosmail if you post a diary about an event so we can update our round-up.
Okay. Floor's open.
Tell us what you are doing on this NEW DAY?