This is a guest post written by the author Mary Hamer. Mary is a university professor and the author of several academic texts. Her first novel, Kipling & Trix, was published in October 2012 by Aurora Metro and tells the story of the life of Rudyard Kipling’s sister Trix. Here she writes about why Trix’s story continues to fascinate us, and why she chose to write about her.
Who knew that he even had a sister, Rudyard Kipling, the man with the moustache and pebble glasses, the one who wrote The Jungle Book? Trix Kipling’s work also achieved fame—but only when she wrote under a false name. My novel Kipling & Trix brings their stories together for the first time.
When I began to pay attention to Trix, I found that the story of her life was more gripping than any fiction she managed to publish. I set out meaning to write a novel about her brother, Rudyard, starting with the traumatic scenes of his childhood. I soon recognised, though, that the impact on his little sister would have been even more damaging. I’ll say more about what happened to them in a moment.
Instead of tracing Rudyard’s struggle to overcome this early experience, a struggle which was successful in many ways, for he became the most widely read writer in the English language, I found myself playing with the contrast between his life and what happened to Trix.
She grew up in a family of writers who supported and encouraged her. When they were both still in their teens she published a set of parodies jointly with her brother. The whole family collaborated on the Christmas number for the English language newspaper out in Lahore, the Civil and Military Gazette. (Lovely name!) That number included a short story written by Trix.
When she published her first novel, at twenty-two, her career as a writer seemed to be taking off. Titled The Heart of a Maid, it was surprisingly daring, describing the feelings of an engaged girl who shrinks from physical intimacy. Reading the marriage service gave her new cause for fear and hesitation, Trix writes. It told of duties from which she shrank . These words have the ring of emotional truth but they left Trix and her own feelings dangerously exposed. She herself had only been married a year.
Marrying Major Jack Fleming on her twenty-first birthday—which sounds as though her family didn’t like it and had asked her to wait— opened a long period of progressive desperation and decline. As an army wife out in Calcutta, she was isolated, separated too from her literary family. Now the damage she had suffered as a small child really began to kick in.
She couldn’t grow past it.
The Kipling pair weren’t the only young children sent back to England for the sake of their health and their education but the experience of little Ruddy and Trix was exceptional in crucial respects. When Trix was three and a half and her brother was rising six, they were left without explanation, by their parents. Bad enough, you’d think. Then their foster-mother, Mrs. Holloway, turned out to be a disastrous choice, using threats of Hell fire to subdue the children and break their spirit.
She also attempted to separate them. Attacking the little boy at every opportunity, she tried to diminish him in his sister’s eyes while she smothered Trix in a cloying affection. The children never complained to their parents at the time. Perhaps even more surprisingly, once they’d grown up, Rudyard and Trix never told them what a mistake leaving them with Mrs. Holloway had been or how much they had suffered.
So we can sort of see why Trix might have had problems, both with intimacy and with finding her voice. Those vulnerabilities played out in her life as an adult in ways that are fascinating. Remembering them allows us to make emotional sense of her development as a woman and as a writer.
Trix didn’t appear to flourish, married to Jack. Her writing stalled. A second novel, entitled A Pinchbeck Goddess spun an odd and unconvincing tale of a woman who because of her past has chosen to live in disguise. I can’t help wondering whether Trix was unconsciously admitting that she dared not reveal herself further, or open up as a writer. She did publish some rather derivative short stories in English magazines but she never managed to write a third novel.
Instead Trix comforted herself by experimenting with ‘automatic writing’. This activity was associated with spiritualism, at the time a form of serious scientific enquiry. If radio waves could carry through the ether, people thought perhaps spirit messages, voices of the dead, might do the same. Trix would sit at her desk, pencil in hand, notebook at the ready, and wait. Her hand, she reported to friends, would start moving of its own volition, scribbling over the page.
Today it seems likely, if not obvious, that what she wrote came from inside herself, not from outside. But when Trix sent copies of these messages back to the Society for Psychical Research in London, they were taken extremely seriously. Her ‘spirit-writings’ were collected as part of a group experiment, known as the ‘cross-correspondences’. Under the pseudonym of ‘Mrs. Holland’ she became celebrated.
Reading those messages, however, what strikes a modern reader are their cries of loneliness and longing, the voice of the child in Trix, perhaps, suppressed but refusing to be silenced.
Rudyard warned his sister to keep clear of spirit writing, well aware that it had been known to cause breakdowns. But it was too important to her. She persisted. And duly broke down, in 1898 and again for a long period starting in 1911, when her mother died.
Yet her story doesn’t end on that note. After years living apart, Trix came home to her husband and to a handsome house in Edinburgh. It’s a hotel these days and I’ve slept there myself. She remade her life, a popular figure, always beautifully dressed and full of fun. Perhaps rather too talkative. Kipling & Trix ends with her visiting the Edinburgh Zoo, followed by a little crowd of admirers as she makes her way from cage to cage, talking to the animals in the Hindustani she spoke so fluently as a child.