Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 November 2016
In his essay on ‘The Short Story’, W. Somerset Maugham describes two very different pleasures that reading fiction offers its readers: the pleasure of ‘recognition’ and the pleasure of ‘strangeness and novelty’. The ‘exotic story’ offers the latter pleasure: ‘it is a release from the monotony of existence to be absorbed for a while in a world of hazard and perilous adventure’ (p. 175). He identifies Kipling as ‘the first to blaze the trail through this new-found region’: ‘in his discovery of what is called the exotic story he opened a new and fruitful field to writing’ (pp. 157, 156). In fact, if the ‘exotic story’ – or, more accurately, the colonial short story – was initiated by Kipling, it was to reach its final flowering with Maugham.
Early in 1890, Sampson Low published Rudyard Kipling's Soldiers Three in an edition of 7,000 copies. Although this was Kipling's introduction in book form to the general reading public in Britain, he had been publishing short stories for a number of years in India, and his work was not unknown even in English literary circles. Indeed, when he had arrived in London towards the end of 1889, his reputation as a writer of short stories preceded him. Sidney Low, the editor of the conservative daily newspaper The St James's Gazette, had read (and been impressed by) the Indian Library edition of Soldiers Three, and Andrew Lang had praised two of the other Indian Library volumes, In Black and White and Under the Deodars, in the Saturday Review. As Andrew Lycett notes, Lang – together with W. E. Henley and Edmund Gosse – had been promoting the work of Robert Louis Stevenson and Rider Haggard as part of a consciously masculinist agenda. Kipling, with his stories about British soldiers in India, looked like a new recruit for the campaign and for the promotion of Britain's imperial role.
Whether Kipling was the first person to write an ‘exotic story’, as Maugham suggests, is debatable. Nevertheless, because of the quantity, quality and high profile of his work, Kipling's fiction would seem to offer the epitome of the colonial short story. However, he was clearly not writing adventure romances of the kind written by Haggard.