Joseph Rudyard Kipling (December 30, 1865 – January 18, 1936) was a British author and poet, born in India. He is best known for the children's story The Jungle Book (1894), the Indian spy novel Kim (1901), the poems "Gunga Din" (1892), "If— " (1895), and his many short stories.
For a time after his death, he was not popular in literary circles mostly because, he was perceived by many as an unashamed defender of Western imperialism, who coined the phrase "The White Man's Burden". In more recent times the lasting merit of his writing has outweighed his unpopular imperialism. The height of his popularity was the first decade of the 20th century: in 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, still its youngest-ever recipient to date, and in 1934 he shared the Gothenburg Prize for Poetry with William Butler Yeats. In his own lifetime he was primarily considered a poet, and was even offered a knighthood and the post of British Poet Laureate — though he turned them both down.
Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India (The house in which he was born still stands on the campus of Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art in Mumbai). His father was John Lockwood Kipling, a teacher at the local Jeejeebhoy School of Art, and his mother was Alice Macdonald. They courted at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, England, hence Kipling's name. As a six-year-old he and his three-year-old sister were sent to England and cared for by a woman named Mrs. Holloway. The poor treatment and neglect he experienced until he was rescued at the age of 12 may have influenced his writing, in particular his sympathy with children. His maternal aunt was married to the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and young Kipling and his sister spent Christmas holidays with the Burne-Joneses in England from the ages of six to twelve, while his parents remained in India. Kipling was a cousin of the three-times Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
After a spell at a boarding school, the United Services College, which provided the setting for his schoolboy stories of Stalky &Co., Kipling returned to India, to Lahore (in modern-day Pakistan) where his parents were then working, in 1881. He began working as a newspaper editor for a local edition and continued tentative steps into the world of poetry; his first professional sales were in 1883.
By the mid-1880's, he was travelling around India as a correspondent for the Allahabad Pioneer. His fiction sales also began to bloom, and he published six short books in 1888. One short story dating from this time is "The Man Who Would Be King."
The next year, Kipling began a long journey back to England, going through Burma, China, Japan, and California before crossing the United States and the Atlantic Ocean, and settling in London. His travel account From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel, is based upon newspaper articles he wrote at that time. From then on, his fame grew rapidly, and he positioned himself as the literary voice most closely-associated with the imperialist tempo of the time, in the United Kingdom (and, indeed, the rest of the Western world and Japan). His first novel, The Light that Failed, was published in 1890. The most famous of his poems of this time is probably "The Ballad of East and West" (which begins "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet").
Career as a writer
In 1892, he married Caroline Balestier. Wolcott Balestier, her brother, an American writer; had been Kipling's friend, but had died of typhoid fever the previous year. While the couple was on honeymoon, Kipling's bank failed, and cashing in their travel tickets only allowed the couple return as far as Vermont (where most of the Balestier family lived). Rudyard and his new bride lived in the United States for the next four years. In Brattleboro, Vermont, they built themselves a house called "Naulakha" (Naulakha means “nine lakhs of rupees", = a fortune, the value of Sitaghai’s necklace in the novel Kipling wrote with Wolcott Balestier). The house still stands (on Kipling Road), a big, interesting dark-green shingled house that Kipling himself called his "ship". In the beginning, he was very happy there, his father visited him, and during this time, he turned his hand to writing for children, and he published the works for which he is most remembered today — The Jungle Book and its sequel The Second Jungle Book — in 1894 and 1895. A golf enthusiast, Kipling also invented the game of "snow golf" while playing in Vermont during the winter months.
But then he had a quarrel with his brother-in-law; a quarrel that ended up in court. This case darkened his mind; and he felt he must leave Vermont. He and his wife returned to England, and in 1897, he published Captains Courageous. In 1899, Kipling published his novel Stalky & Co. These affecting school stories suggest something about Kipling's equivocal views of easy patriotism, and also include one of the best accounts in literature of a Latin lesson. The book also gave currency to the expression: 'Your uncle Stalky is a great man.' The character, Beetle is based on Kipling's own school days as a short sighted intellectual boy.
In 1898, Kipling began travelling to Africa, for winter vacations almost every year. In Africa, Kipling met and befriended Cecil Rhodes, and began collecting material for another of his children's classics, Just So Stories for Little Children. That work was published in 1902, and another of his enduring works, Kim, first saw the light of day the previous year.
Kipling's poetry of the time included "Gunga Din" (1892), and "The White Man's Burden" (1899); in the non-fiction realm he also became involved in the debate over the British response to the rise in German naval power, publishing a series of articles collectively-entitled A Fleet in Being.
The first decade of the 20th century saw Kipling at the height of his popularity. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; "book-ending" this achievement, was the publication of two connected poetry and story collections, 1906's Puck of Pook's Hill and 1910's Rewards and Fairies. The latter contained the poem "If—". In a 1995 BBC opinion poll, it was voted Britain's favourite poem. This exhortation to self-control and stoicism is arguably Kipling's single, most-famous poem.
Kipling sympathised with the anti-Home Rule stance of Irish Unionists. He was friends with Edward Carson, the Dublin-born leader of Ulster Unionism, who raised the Ulster Volunteers to oppose "Rome Rule" in Ireland. Kipling wrote the poem "Ulster" in 1912(?) reflecting this. The poem reflects on Ulster Day, 28th September, 1912 when half a million people signed the Ulster Covenant.
The effects of World War I
Kipling was so closely associated with the expansive, confident attitude of late 19th-century European civilisation that it was inevitable that his reputation would suffer in the years of and after World War I; Kipling also knew personal tragedy at the time as his eldest son, John, died in 1915 at the Battle of Loos, after which he wrote "If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied". This wording may have been due to his hand in getting John a commission in the Irish Guards, when he would have struggled with the medical on account of his eyesight. Partly in response to this tragedy, he joined Sir Fabian Ware's Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), the group responsible for the garden-like British war graves that can be found to this day dotted along the former Western Front and all the other locations around the world where Commonwealth troops lie buried. His most significant contribution to the project was his selection of the biblical phrase "Their Name Liveth For Evermore" found on the Stones of Remembrance in larger war graves. He also wrote a history of the Irish Guards, his son's regiment.
With the increasing popularity of the automobile, Kipling became a motoring correspondent for the British press, and wrote enthusiastically of his trips around England and abroad.
In 1922, Kipling, who had made reference to the work of engineers in some of his poems and writings, was asked by a University of Toronto civil engineering professor for his assistance in developing a dignified obligation and ceremony for graduating engineering students. Kipling was very enthusiastic in his response and shortly produced both an obligation and a ceremony formally entitled "The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer". Today, engineering graduates all across Canada, and even some in the United States, are presented with an iron ring at the ceremony as a reminder of their obligation to society.
Death and legacy
Kipling kept writing until the early 1930s, but at a slower pace and with much less success than before. He died of a brain haemorrhage in January of 1936 at the age of 70.
(His death had in fact previously been incorrectly announced in a magazine, to which he wittily wrote: "I've just read that I am dead. Don't forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.")
Following his death, Kipling's work continued to fall into critical eclipse. Fashions in poetry moved away from his exact metres and rhymes. Also, as the European colonial empires collapsed in the mid-20th century, Kipling's works fell far out of step with the times. Many who condemn him feel that Kipling's writing was inseparable from his social and political views, despite Kipling's considerable artistry. They point to his portrayals of Indian characters, which often supported the colonialist view that the Indians and other colonised peoples were "incapable of surviving" without the help of Europeans, claiming that these portrayals are "racist". Examples cited to demonstrate this "racism" include the mention of "lesser breeds without the Law" in "Recessional", and the reference to colonised people in general, as "half-devil and half-child" in the poem "The White Man's Burden". However, arguments countering the belief that Indians can not live without the West could clearly be seen in The Jungle Book, where a native boy, Mowgli, is able to happily live in a dangerous environment. Kipling, in common with many British people of his time, had prejudiced and negative views about Jews. Some consider this to be antisemitism. Examples can be seen in the brief episodes about Punch and The Times in the last chapter of his autobiography Something of Myself.
Kipling's defenders point out that much of the most blatant racism in his writing is spoken by fictional characters, not by him, and thus accurately depicts the characters. An example is that the soldier who speaks "Gunga Din" calls the title character "a squidgy-nosed old idol". However, in the same poem, Gunga Din is seen as a heroic figure; "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din". They may see irony or alternative meanings, in poems in the author's own voice, including "The White Man's Burden" and "Recessional".
Despite changes in racial attitudes and literary standards for poetry, Kipling's poetry continues to be popular with those who see it as "vigorous and adept" rather than "jingling". Even that "very different" poet, T. S. Eliot edited A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943), although in doing so, he commented that "he could write poetry on occasions - even if only by accident!". His stories for adults also remain in print, and have garnered high praise from writers as different as Poul Anderson and Jorge Luis Borges. Nonetheless, Kipling is most highly regarded for his children's books. His Just-So Stories have been illustrated, and made into successful children's books, and his Jungle Books have been made into several movies; the first by producer Alexander Korda, and the others by the Walt Disney Company.
After the death of Kipling's wife in 1939, his house, "Batemans" in Burwash, East Sussex was bequeathed to the National Trust, and is now a public museum to the author. There is a thriving Kipling Society in the United Kingdom, and a boarding house at Haileybury is named after him.
- Works by Kipling at Project Gutenberg
- Works by Kipling at the University of Newcastle
- Note that as Kipling's writing is mostly in the public domain, a large number of individual websites contain parts of his work; these two sites are comprehensive, containing almost everything publicly available.
- Something of Myself, Kipling's autobiography
- The Kipling Society website
- Kipling Readers' Guide from the Kipling Society; annotated notes on stories and poems.
- Kipling's Imperialism by David Cody - a brief entry on The Victorian Web
- A collection of contemporaneous responses to White Man's Burden
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