This story was first published in Harper’s Weekly, 15 and 22 November 1890, and the Christmas Number of the Detroit Free Press in 1890.
The story is collected in:
This is a fearful tale of the London slums, set in a bad part of the East End of London, in Bow, Canning Town, Limehouse, Poplar, or Stepney, where money is short, consumption and other diseases are rife, and it is common for men to get drunk and beat up their womenfolk.
Badalia Herodsfoot is a lively young woman, of strong character and decisive temperament, who has been deserted by her husband, and keeps herself by selling flowers. One day she encounters the local curate, who is one of the many people dispensing charity to the poor and ill of the street, and tells him that much of his charity is misplaced. He asks her to help him, and before long she is managing a little fund of money for him, and making sure it goes to deserving people. She keeps a painstaking Record of it in an accounts book.
But her husband, tiring of his latest woman, comes home drunk in search of Badalia, and demands money. She offers him all she has of her own, but refuses to give him any of the charity fund. He beats her to the floor and kicks her to death. With her dying breath she says it was done by a stranger.
Some critical comments
One of the critics wrote at the time the story first appeared:
Kipling went to the East End for ten minutes, and produced the best coster story every written.Another described the story as 'Foully indecent', and it was taken off some bookstalls.
The novelist Gilbert Frankau (1884-1952) thought this was 'Kipling’s first real awakening to the fact that women were not sexless, thereby managing to ignore Mrs. Cusack-Bremmils’s outfit in “Three and—an Extra” and Mrs. Hauksbee entirely. The story seems to have been the forerunner of others by other authors in the same vein, e.g., Arthur Morrison’s Tales of Mean Streets, publsied by Methuen in 1894.
Angus Wilson writes that:
...the story is a little sentimental but still greatly superior to the mass of realistic stories of London slum life that appeared under the influence of Zola in the nineties from Arthur Morrison or the writers for the Savoy ... the first really successful expression of that deep compassion for lonely and unloved women that ran alongside his superficial misogyny and outlived it to produce some of the finest stories of his last twenty years.See in particular "The Dog Hervey" and "Mary Postgate" in A Diversity of Creatures (1917), and "The Wish House" and "The Gardener" in Debits and Credits (1926). See also "Lispeth" in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888).
©Peter Havholm 2007 All rights reserved