Lispeth

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LISPETH
OK, so to Lispeth. An early Kipling, written in 1886, age 20. This is a typical Kipling story of the conflict between Occident and Orient in a colonial setting. The basic plot is this: a character crosses the divide; and crossing the disaster inevitably leads to disaster. Let us remind ourselves of the opening paragraph of this story, since it describes perfectly what we’re talking about: But there is the curious thing about Kipling: in his Indian tales, the white characters can often be delineated into heroes and villains, and the remarkable thing is, the heroes – the characters with whom we sympathise – are always the people who cross the divide; while the villains, whose views and actions anger us, are the very people who believe that the divide shouldn’t be crossed. It’s all very peculiar! In Lispeth, a character crosses the other way:

“She was the daughter of Sonoo, a Hill-man of the Himalayas, and Jadéh his wife. One year their maize failed, and two bears spent the night in their only opium poppy-field just above the Sutlej valley on the Kotgarh side; so, next season, they turned Christian, and brought their baby to the Mission to be baptized. The Kotgarh Chaplain christened her Elizabeth, and ‘Lispeth’ is the Hill or pahari pronunciation. Later, cholera came in to the Kotgarh valley and carried off Sonoo and Jadéh, and Lispeth became half servant, half companion, to the wife of the then Chaplain of the Kotgarh. This was after the reign of the Moravian missionaries in that place, but before Kotgarh had quite forgotten her title of ‘Mistress of the Northern Hills’. Whether Christianity improved Lispeth, or whether the gods of her own people would have done as much for her under any circumstances, I do not know; but she grew very lovely.” (The last line is classic piece of Kipling: colonialism will not merely better people’s lives but make the colonized girls more beautiful too. On which again, more later.) But once grown up, Lispeth ends up having...
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