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RUDYARD KIPLING'S TACTICAL IMPRESSIONISM

  • Chris Ortiz y Prentice (a1)
Extract

A story titled “The Impressionists” that was published in 1897 should have something to say about art, but does it? The sixth installment in Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co. series, “The Impressionists” follows the antics of M'Turk, Stalky, and Beetle, three cunning boys at a dreary English military preparatory school. Suspecting these boys of cheating on their schoolwork, housemaster Mr. Prout turns them out of their private study into the main house dormitory. For revenge, and hoping to win back their room, Stalky & Co. become agents provocateurs. They start a fight in their house and manage to involve the other housemasters’ houses: “Under cover of the confusion the three escaped to the corridor, whence they called in and sent up passers-by to the fray. ‘Rescue, King's! King's! King's! Number Twelve form-room! Rescue, Prout's – Prout's! Rescue, Macrea's! Rescue, Hartopp's!’” (102). The three boys then allow Mr. Prout to overhear a conversation that makes money-lending seem common practice in the houses: “‘Where's that shillin’ you owe me?’ said Beetle suddenly. Stalky could not see Prout behind him, but returned the lead without a quaver. ‘I only owed you ninepence, you old usurer’” (103). Stalky & Co. rile up the other boys by telling ghost stories and spreading slanderous ditties; they turn the house against the prefects and undermine Mr. Prout's authority; and in the end they win back their room, but they are also found out by the headmaster, who mixes corporeal punishment with his admonishments: “There is a limit – one finds it by experience, Beetle – beyond which it is never safe to pursue private vendettas, because – don't move – sooner or later one comes – into collision with the – higher authority, who has studied the animal. Et ego – M'Turk, please – in Arcadia vixi” (117). The boys take the headmaster's attentions as a compliment, and they take his advice. Never again do they stake the school's peace in the pursuit of their own ends.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
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