[ilds] Iolanthe and Mrs. Bathurst

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sat May 21 16:59:31 PDT 2016

Durrell’s Tunc is highly allusive.  An example follows:

Tunc:  “Among the films we were shown as we crossed the Indian Ocean was one made in Egypt, trivial and melodramatic, in which to my surprise Iolanthe had a small part.  She swam up out of the screen without warning, moving into close-up which projected her enlarged face with its heavily doctored eye shapes almost into my lap” (p. 224; 4.1).

Kipling’s “Mrs. Bathurst” (pub. 1904):  “… when quite slowly … comes out Mrs. Bathurst.  There was no mistakin’ the walk in a hundred thousand.  She comes forward—right forward—she looked out straight at us with that blindish look which Pritch alluded to.  She walked on and on till she melted out of the picture” (The Portable Kipling, ed. Irving Howe, p. 464).

The context of Pyecroft’s remark is an early viewing of a “motion picture,” when he suddenly sees Mrs. Bathurst appear on film.  He’s astonished.

Kipling’s short story “Mrs. Bathurst” is one of the most baffling stories ever written.  Here’s what P. G. Wodehouse says in a letter, “Listen, Bill, something really must be done about Kip’s ‘Mrs Bathurst’.  I read it years ago and didn’t understand a word of it.  I thought to myself, ‘Ah, youthful ignorance!’  A week ago I re-read it.  Result, precisely the same” (28 Sep. 1928).

It’s possible that Durrell had “Mrs. Bathurst” in mind when he was creating Iolanthe and her baffling film career.  But it goes beyond that.  As far as Tunc goes, a normal reaction to reading it might be:  “I didn’t understand a word of it.”


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