Reinvention of Rudyard Kipling and Bateman's


G.Sinem Bingol & Aykut Uluer

The argument in this paper is derived from a National Trust brochure about Bateman's, Rudyard Kipling's house at East Sussex; and will demonstrate that Bateman's is a symbol of power and control with relation to its materialistic and intellectual implications. From a cultural perspective, we will try to analyse the representation of the house according to three points of view. The three views are those:

1. of the author whose views will be discussed with the help of the letters written by Rudyard Kipling himself, basically about the estate;

2. of the National Trust, the information for which is provided from the materials, brochures, and video tapes of the foundation itself;

3. of the general public, from the perspective of those visitors who come to Bateman's.

This paper will focus on the cultural ideologies and meanings signified by this particular property both in the past and in the present. Kipling will thus be studied not as a literary figure but as an icon with relation to his cultural status within English society.

In the past; Kipling created this ideology for himself through the English countryside lifestyle he desired as an Anglo-Indian, a member of the Gentry, and an 'imperialist' writer voicing the intellectual, literary, and academic opinions of his age.

In the present, Bateman's as an estate of historic significance is once again explicitly approved by the National Trust, a "British Organisation founded in 1895 for the purpose of promoting the preservation of - and public access to - buildings of historic and architectural interest and land of natural beauty" (Centenary Souvenir, 1995: 4). Bateman's here is described as a "representative of fine domestic architecture" in National Trust 's brochure (5); it was built in the seventeenth century with the influence of Classical Italian Renaissance, with decorative detail in Gothic style, with its staircase, study, inner hall and parlour. The Classical Italian influence of the house represents the intellectuality and the high taste of its owners.

Kipling, being an Anglo-Indian, felt himself inferior to most Englishman and all through his life time was torn in-between two cultures. Rather than introducing himself as of mixed-blood, he preferred to maintain a reputation as an imperialist English writer, who considered themselves superior to those of the colonies like India.

After Kipling moved to England and especially to Bateman's - "since Rottingdean [where his former house was] was getting too populated and it isn't England: it's the downs" as he wrote to Norton (Pinney, 1996: 113-4) - he thought of himself as more of an Englishman then he had ever been before. According to him, "Englishness" meant living in the countryside, where time stands still, and where there is tranquillity, and where he is "one of the Gentry!" (Pinney, 1996: 113-4).

This paper will attempt to suggest an idea about the power of material organisation of space, that helps individuals or a group of individuals to 'create an image' of wealth and solidarity, as well as reshaping the whole culture through the recreation of human values by means of intellectuality and/or by literature.

Kipling and Bateman's

In the course of a long process of house-hunting, Rudyard Kipling had seen Bateman's, for the first time on 14 August 1900, "the most thoroughly delightful and perfect of its sort" as described in Mrs. Kipling's Diary. They succeeded in buying it for 9,300 and moved there in September 1902.

The house has its own individual history and character. It symbolises power with regard to its use of space, which we see throughout the estate : The Garden, The Rose Garden Fountain, The Mill stand for richness, since after the Industrial Revolution social life was reduced to limited space in the cities.

The countryside may also have aroused in Kipling a link with the imperial grandeur of England in the nineteenth century, which had begun to degenerate in the twentieth century, especially in the big industrial cities. As F.R.Leavis states:

[The] Industrial Revolution and the coming of the machine had altered worse, not people's material conditions but their consciousness. Dispossessed of their real past and sucked into the a manufacturing cities, people lost their traditional ways of life, lost a culture that was truly popular, an art of living (quoted in Samson, 1992: 6)

A majority of the English population had lived in the rural countryside until the Industrial Revolution. The migration of the population to the cities in order to hold a job at the factories increased the importance of the countryside in English society as remembrance of a majestic and better past. As large cities had made space a luxury, those that were able to afford to live in the countryside without losing their grip on new modern developments were the gentry; the upper class people who had the space to manifest their material power living a good life, and able to afford the upkeep of their large territories. This led the countryside to become idealised in the minds of those at the pinnacle of English society.

We witness Kipling's growing imperialistic attitude before and after he moved to Bateman's. While he was living in Rottingdean, a small, urban town in Sussex, south-east England, he used to call King Edward VII "the fat man". Whereas after he moved to Bateman's, he suddenly came to understand the "real values" of becoming a countryside English gentleman; and for Kipling "the fat king" became a symbol of Englishness and its values. In his letter to his son he states: "All England - literally all our Empire - was getting ready for the King's burial ...We all knocked off work at Bateman's together. I only asked the men to attend the memorial service at one o'clock with their medals" (Pinney, 1996: 431-2).

Living at Bateman's also affected Kipling's writing. Unlike his earlier novels that were set in India, Kipling's latter writings are about the history and the life of the Kent and Sussex countryside: Puck of Pook's Hill, The Glory of the Garden, and the autobiographical Something of Myself (Bateman's, 1995: 7)

Although Kipling had an imperialistic background and a traditionalistic approach to the "English Gentry", he was able nonetheless to afford the technological facilities of the age (i.e. electricity). The combination of these traditional and modern values made Bateman's a suitable place for the meeting of those of high intellect and upper class, who constituted the dominant culture - sharing a common ideal; the greatness of literature. As Leavis suggested in his book Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture (1930), literature can help people - especially those with sufficient education - to perceive and reshape human values, solve social problems and gradually to 'control' the dominant [or ( academic?) or (high?) ] culture as a whole (Leavis, 1930: 3-5)

The domineering role of the material power through the management of space at Bateman's goes hand in hand with the domineering role of the intellectual power through the knowledge of the literature of Kipling and his "intellectual" friends. As Francis Mulhern suggests in his book The Moment of Scrutiny: "It was the abiding fact of human community that called forth a minority as homogeneous and compact as the most hermetic elite, and yet firmly opposed to any form of ... arrogance" (Mulhern, 1981: 309)

Hence, the rationale behind Kipling's purchase of Bateman's and his egocentric approach towards literature and high culture is observed through his urge to dominate others. Kipling's intellectual imperialism found roots through the use of space at Bateman's. This is clearly explained by the fact that his friends "and men from every corner of that Empire to whose ideals Kipling had given such moving and powerful expression" always met at Bateman's (Bateman's, 1995: 7)

The National Trust and Bateman's

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty was founded at 1895 in order to raise money "to acquire properties to ensure permanent preservation" and open to "public access" (Centenary Souvenir, 1995: 4) The charity was founded by Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley. These founders of the National Trust were all people who considered themselves as "high cultured", believing firmly in the power and value of literature in shaping and guiding all levels of society. Rawnsley had an extraordinary interest in English literature - especially in the Romantics and the poetry of pastoral life. Hunter was obsessed with the traditional use of English language, since he was very much of an admirer of Lefevere who was a representative of the school of "New Criticism" (NT: Centenary Souvenir, 5). As Walter Crane states, the mission of the National Trust is to preserve not only the properties but the "real values" of England. In his book William Morris to Whistler, he looks back with nostalgia and criticises how the traditional countryside houses were distorted and were founded only for the sake of providing permanence to the owners as well as the founders or philanthropists:

We might still be happy were it not for the whirlwind of trade, and the whirligig of fashion .... Happily they leave some quiet corners unswept ... or we could never have known what the homes of our ancestors were like ... But how many still does England hold of those delightful places full of the pathos of old time, where each dumb thing of wood or iron, or copper, each fragment of faded tapestry seems to have the speech of romance? (Crane, 1911: 113)

Octavia Hill, was one of the founders of the Trust, and a philanthropist. Hill claims that "her work for the urban poor and her determination to protect unspoiled countryside around London were not different aims, but part of the same endeavour." She wanted to provide "an open air sitting rooms for the poor" and she referred to her "National Trust work" in very much the same spirits as her "housing work" (Waterson, 1994: 32)

The National Trust made Bateman's available for public access, but when one considers "the old, real values," how much of the spirit is really kept or has the beauty perished even within its countryside setting? Would a poor, urban, working class man really feel the affectionate sympathy with the agricultural life led by Kipling at Bateman's, or again, would only those of high intellect be given the privilege to experience that feeling of "invaluable connection to their mental and imaginative outlook" (Waterson, 1994: 78) by sampling the same atmosphere as Kipling once did?

Bateman's as a tourist attraction: public access for all?

Octavia Hill can be perceived a member of the so-called high culture who "sympathises" with the low culture and her notion of collective identity is used for the public show of her wealth and prestige. She had a philanthropic ambition to help the undeserving poor, but at the same time never actually wanted to be a part of their low culture and poverty. Her philanthropy masquerading as charity is deeply felt in the following lines: "All my life I have longed to see the Lakes ... I shall never see them now, but I should like to keep them for others" (Centenary Souvenir, 1995: 12)

One, and probably the most important, of the policies of the National Trust is to attract the interest of all levels of society. Although The National Trust insists on the uniqueness and the unquestionable quality of their organisation appealing to "all", it is nonetheless worth speculating on the kind of "qualifications" expected from a visitor to one of its properties, such as Bateman's, in order to become a member of the "all".

Archibald Alison is a typical representative of the objectives of the National Trust in terms of eliciting the intellectual level of the English society. When he describes the "new sense" for the appreciation of landscape, he suggests that only "the man of taste" could be expected to know imaginative literature: the poetry of country life, which provided idealised models for the assessment of rural life and scenery in Britain as well as the "discovery" of the British landscape. A literary education functioned as an extra expensive, piece of intellectual equipment to take into the field of tourism (Andrews, 1989: 3-4) Therefore the promotion of literature increases the attraction of a tourist attraction that has been maintained by The National Trust.

The preservation of Bateman's by the National Trust as a house of "historic interest' standing in its setting of "natural beauty" is a typical example of the "dreams" of Imperialism. As W.J.T.Mitchell in his book Landscape and Power points out, the landscape belongs to nobody, and it is not fair to create a social class system where the upper class is never questioned because of their attempts to make England a mythical land. This kind of distinction is explicitly made by Hill herself, as she implies that the National Trust is there to benefit "the others" or "the poor people" who are starving for compassion and benevolence.

Kipling, having an Anglo-Indian heritage felt himself inferior; in an attempt to create a sense of Englishness, and a sense of belonging, he bought Bateman's and at last became an English countryside gentleman. Kipling and his intellectual friends who knew how to appreciate literature chose to meet in this pastoral setting deliberately, isolating themselves from the urban life, creating a group in which only those of high intellect and "culture" could be a member. "Literature", in this context, is a symbol for intellectuality and cultivation. As Mulhern points out:

[Literature] was the keenest instrument we have for the understanding of human values and hence indispensable control in the culture as a whole ... Control stood for "the critical minority", witness to the community of the past, and incarnation of the possibility foreshadowed in the act of literary judgement itself of "a new sense of consensus" (Mulhern, 1981: 118)

Bateman's, which had previously been a house of no significant importance, became a location of "high intellectual and literary" activity after Rudyard Kipling bought it in 1902. The appreciation of the works Kipling wrote at Bateman's is a subject best left to literary critics and the issue we have tried to discuss in this paper is the reinvention of Kipling and Bateman's in accordance with the policy of the National Trust, focusing also on it's materialistic and intellectual connotations. The use of space at Bateman's - like the garden, fountain - reminds us of the imperialistic past of England, enhancing Kipling's position in the literary arena as well as forming a suitable basis for the interest National Trust has shown in the place. But we believe the attention the National Trust has shown in guiding different socio-economic groups within English society to show interest in places such as Bateman's is an ambitious effort. Bateman's as a tourist attraction, as it is at present, brings forward the notion of "supply and demand" into one's mind. Do these different groups within society need the guidance of such "philanthropically" structured foundations to show them what is good and what is not? And again, who decides what is good, institutions like the National Trust or other institutions within English society? And if such places are deemed worthless by the majority, what good are the struggles of foundations like the National Trust except to please the few who see themselves as the "high cultured", maybe still living in long forgotten delusions of grandeur. In the early 20th century Kipling, as an Anglo-Indian had tried to buy himself into Englishness and the gentry by purchasing Bateman's, attempting to strengthen his image as an imperialist writer in English intellectual and academic circles. After the foundation of Bateman's by the National Trust, the house became a symbol of a place of historic significance settled in its setting of natural beauty. In the late 20th century, this time the National Trust has tried to put forward an image of this power of space and materialism, strengthening it with Kipling's literary character and presenting it to all levels of British society as a place where they can heighten their humanistic aesthetic values and culture by appreciating such places of literary intellectuality. This appreciation would in turn lead to a feeling of gratitude in all levels of society towards such philanthropists and those who deem themselves to be members of a "high culture"'.