Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The main point here is Kipling’s famous compression. It can safely be said that no detail in “Wireless” is without significance and, furthermore, that no reader has ever read this story with full comprehension on first attempt. The early details of birds and hare make no sense until one comes on the explicit references to “The Eve of St. Agnes.” Similarly, Shaynor’s cough cannot be recognized as terminal until he starts to cough blood. Once the general frame of the story has been recognized, however, the reader is challenged to return and discover every trace of explanation, hinted allusion, dramatic irony—an activity that requires a reading not only of Kipling but also of Keats. Thus, the narrator’s apparently casual remark that Shaynor’s eyes “shone like a drugged moth’s” takes on more meaning when one remembers Keats’s line near the heart of “The Eve of St. Agnes” comparing stained glass to the wings of a tiger-moth—and Shaynor indeed becomes “a tiger-moth as I thought” a few pages later. The moth imagery is, however, not only one of color but also one of doom: Fanny Brand kills Shaynor with her little excursion to the church like a candle tempting a moth to burning. Shining eyes, too, are a symptom of tuberculosis. One phrase, therefore, can work on three levels.

It is also significant that Shaynor’s Keatsian language starts just before his coma, as if triggering it, and further, that as he starts to come out of...

(The entire section is 410 words.)