The Critic - Wilkins/Kipling

From The Critic Vol. 14 No. 353 (Oct 4, 1890)

The Lounger

Turning from ‘A Humble Romance,’ the other evening, after reading three of the short stories in which Miss Wilkins has caught so skilfully certain phases of New England life, I picked up a copy of ‘Plain Tales from the Hills,’ and read an equal number of Mr. Kipling's sketches of love and adventure in British India. They were the first of his stories I had read; and the reading brought a shock of surprise and admiration. Naturally, I could not but compare them with the ‘humble romances’ of the other writer. ‘What a contrast!’ I exclaimed. ‘Here is art, imagination, style. Miss Wilkins tells a plain tale in plain language; as you read you are apt to find your eyes moistening; or else they break into a smile — often the rainbow-smile that gleams through tears. But your pulse is always cool; you are never startled, never carried away. With Kipling's page before you, on the other hand, all your faculties are stimulated; your imagination is wakened, and yields itself to the romancer's will. This is literature; and this young Anglo-Indian is a master of his craft.’

I have read other stories of Mr. Kipling's, since then, and others of Miss Wilkins's; and I am still a great admirer of their work. But I am by no means so sure, now, that the Englishman is the better man. His vigor, freshness and individuality, and the novelty of his themes, are calculated to make a stronger impression upon the American reader at first sight than the more hackneyed motives and simpler style of the New Englander. But is their art really finer? Are the Tales more likely to live than the Romances? I doubt it. To ‘startle, waylay and alarm’ is not always the surest way to make a lasting conquest. Mr. Kipling's individuality is more pronounced; but there is a mannerism about his writing that wearies after a while. He is self-conscious to a degree; often he is the hero, or a chief actor, in his own tales. The personality of Miss Wilkins, on the contrary, is the last thing one thinks of in reading her stories. Afterwards he may feel some curiosity as to her traits and training, but at the time he cares for nothing but the story. So simple is her method that the plot of each narrative seems to unfold itself. Is this the cunning art that conceals itself? or is it the artlessness of a simple nature? It matters little: the result is the same; and one may not go far wrong who surmises that the ‘day’ of the ‘Humble Romance’ may be a longer one than that of the ‘Plain Tales.’ It is not a bad plan, by the way, to read a few of the Romances after reading a few of the Tales: each of the two books is likely to pall upon the palate if read persistently, and no better ‘corrective’ of either could be found than the other affords.