November 3, 2017

Just So

Category: History,Literature :: Permalink

Angela Thirkell describes how she used to play Cavaliers and Roundheads with her cousins.  She and her cousin Josephine Kipling were the Cavaliers, and the Roundhead was Josephine’s father, whom Thirkell calls “Cousin Ruddy”:

Josephine, very fair-haired and blue-eyed, was my bosom friend, and though we both adored her father, the stronger bond of patriotism drew us yet more firmly together as Cavaliers against Cousin Ruddy’s whole-hearted impersonation of an Arch-Roundhead….

The war between Cavaliers and Roundheads raged furiously every year as long as the Kiplings were at Rottingdean, Josephine and I leading forlorn hopes against the Regicide and being perpetually discomfited by his superior guile, or by the odious way in which the Nannies would overlook the fact that we were really six feet high with flowing locks, a hat with feathers, and huge jack-boots, and order us indoors to wash our hands or have an ignominious midday rest.

How would they have liked it if they were plotting to deliver King Charles from Carisbrooke and their Nannies had suddenly pounced upon them with a “Get up off the grass now Miss Angela and come and lie down before lunch, and there’s Lucy waiting for you Miss Josephine, so put those sticks down like a good girl and run along.”  Fools!  Couldn’t they see that these were no pea-sticks, but sword, dagger, and pistol, ready to flash out or be discharged in the service of the King?  But Nannies are by nature unromantic, so we had to submit and pretend to be little girls till we could meet again later (Three Houses, 83-84).

Later, when she talks about Josephine’s death at six years of age, Thirkell writes:

I still have a letter from Josephine, written in sprawly childish capitals.  “I will help you,” it ran, “in the war against the Roundhead.  He has a large army but we can beat him.  He is a horrible man let us do all the mischief we can to him.”  It must have been a very real game that made her call the father she loved a “horrible man.”  The world has known Josephine and her father as Taffimai and Tegumai in the Just So Stories and into one short poem he put his heart’s cry for the daughter that was all to him (86).

Thirkell was one of the first to hear these stories:

During those long warm summers Cousin Ruddy used to try out the Just So Stories on a nursery audience.  Sometimes Josephine and I would be invited into the study….  Or sometimes we all adjourned on a wet day to the Drill Hall where the horse and parallel bars made splendid forts and camping grounds, and when the battle was over and the Roundhead had been unmercifully rolled upon and pommelled by small fists he would be allowed by way of ransom to tell us about the mariner of infinite resource and sagacity and the suspenders–you must not forget the suspenders, Best Beloved.

The Just So Stories are a poor thing in print compared with the fun of hearing them told in Cousin Ruddy’s deep unhesitating voice.  There was a ritual about them, each phrase having its special intonation which had to be exactly the same each time and without which the stories are dried husks.  There was an inimitable cadence, an emphasis of certain words, an exaggeration of certain phrases, a kind of intoning here and there which made his telling unforgettable (87-88).


Posted by John Barach @ 6:17 am | Discuss (0)

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