Masculinity, Madness and Empire in Kipling’s ‘Thrown Away’ and ‘The Madness of Private Ortheris’

Griffiths, Andrew (2021). Masculinity, Madness and Empire in Kipling’s ‘Thrown Away’ and ‘The Madness of Private Ortheris’. Journal of Victorian Culture, 26(4) pp. 552–567.



Institutional records suggest that the grounds for anxiety about insanity in late-nineteenth-century India were many and varied. Amongst other causes, one might have been rendered insane by sunstroke, fever, head injury, strong drink, and inherited tendency, the loss of money, grief, jealousy, anger, sexual excess, excessive joy, or (perhaps disturbingly) excessive study.1 With such a panoply of anxieties to explore, it is scarcely surprising that Rudyard Kipling’s Indian fiction abounds with characters who experience madness of various kinds and degrees. This paper focuses on two short stories collected in Kipling’s 1888 volume Plain Tales from the Hills: ‘Thrown Away’ and ‘The Madness of Private Ortheris’. These two stories offer particular insight into madness, its relationship to masculinity, and its consequences for the social order of British India. As Jonathan Saha has pointed out, madness in a colonial context was doubly significant. Since insanity ‘could strike anyone, rulers and the ruled, men and women . . . madness threatened to undermine the colonial racial boundary and disrupt the established norms of masculinity and femininity’.2 Both ‘Thrown Away’ and ‘The Madness of Private Ortheris’ explore or expose a psychological crisis that takes the form of a deviation from gender norms and is resolved by an enforced return to those norms. Reading the stories alongside asylum records, this paper contextualizes their representation of gender and madness and argues that the fiction offers a glimpse of what might fill important gaps in the archival record.

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