Joseph Rudyard Kipling, 30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936) was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist. He was born in India, which inspired much of his work.
Kipling’s works of fiction include The Jungle Book (1894), Kim (1901), and many short stories, including “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888). His poems include “Mandalay” (1890), “Gunga Din” (1890), “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” (1919), “The White Man’s Burden” (1899), and “If—” (1910). He is regarded as a major innovator in the art of the short story; his children’s books are classics of children’s literature, and one critic described his work as exhibiting “a versatile and luminous narrative gift”.
Kipling was one of the most popular writers in the United Kingdom, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Henry James said: “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius, as distinct from fine intelligence, that I have ever known.” In 1907, at the age of 41, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English-language writer to receive the prize and its youngest recipient to date. He was also sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, both of which he declined.
Kipling’s subsequent reputation has changed according to the political and social climate of the age and the resulting contrasting views about him continued for much of the 20th century. George Orwell saw Kipling as “a jingo imperialist”, who was “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting”. Literary critic Douglas Kerr wrote: “[Kipling] is still an author who can inspire passionate disagreement and his place in literary and cultural history is far from settled. But as the age of the European empires recedes, he is recognized as an incomparable, if controversial, interpreter of how empire was experienced. That and increasing recognition of his extraordinary narrative gifts make him a force to be reckoned with.
Childhood of Rudyard Kipling (1865–1882)
Rudyard Kipling was born on 30 December 1865 in Bombay, in the Bombay Presidency of British India, to Alice Kipling (née MacDonald) and John Lockwood Kipling. Alice (one of the four noted MacDonald sisters) was a vivacious woman, about whom Lord Dufferin would say, “Dullness and Mrs. Kipling cannot exist in the same room.” Lockwood Kipling, a sculptor and pottery designer, was the Principal and Professor of Architectural Sculpture at the newly founded Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Bombay.
John Lockwood and Alice had met in 1863 and courted at Rudyard Lake in Rudyard, Staffordshire, England. They married and moved to India in 1865. They had been so moved by the beauty of the Rudyard Lake area that when their first child was born they named him after it. Two of Alice’s sisters married artists: Georgiana was married to the painter Edward Burne-Jones, and her sister Agnes to Edward Poynter. Kipling’s most famous relative was his first cousin, Stanley Baldwin, who was Conservative Prime Minister three times in the 1920s and ’30s.
Kipling’s birth home on the campus of the J J School of Art in Bombay was for many years used as the Dean’s residence. Although the cottage bears a plaque noting it as the site where Kipling was born, the original cottage may have been torn down decades ago and a new one built in its place. Some historians and conservationists are also of the view that the bungalow marks a site that is merely close to the home of Kipling’s birth, as the bungalow was built in 1882—about 15 years after Kipling was born. Kipling seems to have said as much to the Dean when he visited J J School in the 1930s
Rudyard Kipling wrote of Bombay:
Mother of Cities to me,
For I was born in her gate,
Between the palms and the sea,
Where the world-end steamers wait
According to Bernice M. Murphy, “Kipling’s parents considered themselves ‘Anglo-Indians‘ [a term used in the 19th century for people of British origin living in India] and so too would their son, though he spent the bulk of his life elsewhere. Complex issues of identity and national allegiance would become prominent in his fiction.”
Kipling referred to such conflicts, for example: “In the afternoon heats before we took our sleep, she (the Portuguese ayah, or nanny) or Meeta (the Hindu bearer, or male attendant) would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution ‘Speak English now to Papa and Mamma.’ So one spoke ‘English’, haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in
Education in Britain
Kipling’s days of “strong light and darkness” in Bombay ended when he was five years old. As was the custom in British India, he and his three-year-old sister Alice (“Trix”) were taken to the United Kingdom—in their case to Southsea, Portsmouth—to live with a couple who boarded children of British nationals who were serving in India. For the next six years (from October 1871 to April 1877), the children lived with the couple, Captain Pryse Agar Holloway, once an officer in the merchant navy, and Sarah Holloway, at their house, Lorne Lodge, at 4 Campbell Road, Southsea.
In his autobiography, published 65 years later, Kipling recalled the stay with horror, and wondered if the combination of cruelty and neglect which he experienced there at the hands of Mrs. Holloway might not have hastened the onset of his literary life: “If you cross-examine a child of seven or eight on his day’s doings (especially when he wants to go to sleep) he will contradict himself very satisfactorily. If each contradiction is set down as a lie and retailed at breakfast, life is not easy. I have known a certain amount of bullying, but this was calculated torture—religious as well as scientific. Yet it made me give attention to the lies I soon found it necessary to tell: and this, I presume, is the foundation of literary effort”
Trix fared better at Lorne Lodge; Mrs. Holloway apparently hoped that Trix would eventually marry the Holloways’ son. The two Kipling children, however, did have relatives in England whom they could visit. They spent a month each Christmas with their maternal aunt Georgiana (“Georgy”) and her husband, Edward Burne-Jones, at their house, The Grange, in Fulham, London, which Kipling called “a paradise which I verily believe saved me”.
In the spring of 1877, Alice returned from India and removed the children from Lorne Lodge. Kipling remembers, “Often and often afterward, the beloved Aunt would ask me why I had never told anyone how I was being treated. Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established. Also, badly-treated children have a clear notion of what they are likely to get if they betray the secrets of a prison-house before they are clear of it”.
In January 1878, Kipling was admitted to the United Services College at Westward Ho!, Devon, a school founded a few years earlier to prepare boys for the army. The school proved rough going for him at first, but later led to firm friendships and provided the setting for his schoolboy stories Stalky & Co. (1899). During his time there, Kipling also met and fell in love with Florence Garrard, who was boarding with Trix at Southsea (to which Trix had returned). Florence became the model for Maisie in Kipling’s first novel The Light That Failed (1891).
Return to India
Near the end of his time at the school, it was decided that Kipling lacked the academic ability to get into Oxford University on a scholarship. His parents lacked the wherewithal to finance him, so Kipling’s father obtained a job for him in Lahore, where he was Principal of the Mayo College of Art and Curator of the Lahore Museum. Kipling was to be the assistant editor of a small local newspaper, the Civil and Military Gazette.
He sailed for India on 20 September 1882 and arrived in Bombay on 18 October. He described this moment years later: “So, at sixteen years and nine months, but looking four or five years older, and adorned with real whiskers which the scandalized Mother abolished within one hour of beholding, I found myself at Bombay where I was born, moving among sights and smells that made me deliver in the vernacular sentences whose meaning I knew not. Other Indian-born boys have told me how the same thing happened to them.” This arrival changed Kipling, as he explains: “There was yet three or four days’ rail to Lahore, where my people lived. After these, my English years fell away, nor ever, I think, came back in full strength”.
Early adult life (1882–1914)
From 1883 to 1889, Kipling worked in British India for local newspapers such as the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore and The Pioneer in Allahabad.
The Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, the newspaper which Kipling was to call “mistress and most true love”, appeared six days a week throughout the year except for one-day breaks for Christmas and Easter. Stephen Wheeler, the editor, worked Kipling hard, but Kipling’s need to write was unstoppable. In 1886, he published his first collection of verse, Departmental Ditties. That year also brought a change of editors at the newspaper; Kay Robinson, the new editor, allowed more creative freedom and Kipling was asked to contribute short stories to the newspaper.
In an article printed in the Chums boys’ annual, an ex-colleague of Kipling’s stated that …”he never knew such a fellow for ink—he simply reveled in it, filling up his pen viciously, and then throwing the contents all over the office, so that it was almost dangerous to approach him”. The anecdote continues: “In the hot weather when he (Kipling) wore only white trousers and a thin vest, he is said to have resembled a Dalmatian dog more than a human being, for he was spotted all over with ink in every direction.”
In the summer of 1883, Kipling visited Shimla (then known as Simla), a well-known hill station and the summer capital of British India. By then, it was established practice for the Viceroy of India and the government to move to Simla for six months, and the town became a “center of power as well as pleasure”. Kipling’s family became yearly visitors to Simla, and Lockwood Kipling was asked to serve in Christ Church there. Rudyard Kipling returned to Simla for his annual leave each year from 1885 to 1888, and the town featured prominently in many of the stories that he wrote for the Gazette.
He describes this time: “My month’s leave at Simla, or whatever Hill Station my people went to, was a pure joy—every golden hour counted. It began in heat and discomfort, by rail and road. It ended in the cool evening, with a wood fire in one’s bedroom, and next morn—thirty more of them ahead!—the early cup of tea, the Mother who brought it in, and the long talks of us all together again. One had the leisure to work, too, at whatever play-work was in one’s head, and that was usually full.”
Back in Lahore, some thirty-nine stories appeared in the Gazette between November 1886 and June 1887. Kipling included most of these stories in Plain Tales from the Hills, his first prose collection, which was published in Calcutta in January 1888, a month after his 22nd birthday. Kipling’s time in Lahore, however, had come to an end. In November 1887, he was transferred to the Gazette‘s much larger sister newspaper, The Pioneer, in Allahabad in the United Provinces. In Allahabad, he worked as the assistant editor of The Pioneer and lived in Belvedere house, Allahabad from 1888 to 1889.
Kipling’s writing continued at a frenetic pace; in 1888, he published six collections of short stories: Soldiers Three, The Story of the Gadsbys, In Black and White, Under the Deodars, The Phantom Rickshaw, and Wee Willie Winkie, containing a total of 41 stories, some quite long. In addition, as The Pioneer‘s special correspondent in the western region of Rajputana, he wrote many sketches that were later collected in Letters of Marque and published in From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel.
Kipling was discharged from The Pioneer in early 1889, after a dispute. By this time, he had been increasingly thinking about the future. He sold the rights to his six volumes of stories for £200 and a small royalty, and the Plain Tales for £50; in addition, from The Pioneer, he received six-months’ salary in lieu of notice.
Return to London
He decided to use this money to make his way to London, the literary center of the British Empire. On 9 March 1889, Kipling left India, traveling first to San Francisco via Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. Kipling was favorably impressed by Japan, writing that the Japanese were “gracious folk and fair manners”.
Kipling later wrote that he “had lost his heart” to a geisha whom he called O-Toyo, writing while in the United States during the same trip across the Pacific that: “I had left the innocent East far behind … Weeping softly for O-Toyo … O-Toyo was a darling”. Kipling then traveled through the United States, writing articles for The Pioneer that were later published in From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel.
Starting his American travels in San Francisco, Kipling journeyed north to Portland, Oregon; to Seattle, Washington; up into Canada, to Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, through Medicine Hat, Alberta; back into the US to Yellowstone National Park; down to Salt Lake City; then east to Omaha, Nebraska, and on to Chicago, Illinois; then to Beaver, Pennsylvania, on the Ohio River to visit the Hill family; from there, he went to Chautauqua with Professor Hill, and later to Niagara Falls, Toronto, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston.
In the course of this journey, he met Mark Twain in Elmira, New York, and was deeply impressed. Kipling arrived unannounced at Twain’s home, and later wrote that as he rang the doorbell, “It occurred to me for the first time that Mark Twain might possibly have other engagements other than the entertainment of escaped lunatics from India, be they ever so full of admiration.”
As it was, Twain was glad to welcome Kipling and had a two-hour conversation with him on trends in Anglo-American literature and about what Twain was going to write in a sequel to Tom Sawyer, with Twain assuring Kipling that a sequel was coming; but he had not decided upon the ending: either Sawyer would be elected to Congress or would be hanged. Twain also passed along the literary advice that an author should: “Get your facts first and then you can distort ’em as much as you please.” Twain, who rather liked Kipling, later wrote about their meeting: “Between us, we cover all knowledge; he covers all that can be known and I cover the rest”. Kipling then crossed the Atlantic and reached Liverpool in October 1889. He soon made his début in the London literary world—to great acclaim.
Rudyard Kipling in London
In London, Kipling had several stories accepted by magazines. He also found a place to live for the next two years at Villiers Street, near Charing Cross (the building was subsequently named Kipling House):
Meantime, I had found me quarters in Villiers Street, Strand, which forty-six years ago was primitive and passionate in its habits and population. My rooms were small, not over-clean or well-kept, but from my desk, I could look out of my window through the fanlight of Gatti’s Music-Hall entrance, across the street, almost on to its stage. The Charing Cross trains rumbled through my dreams on one side, the boom of the Strand on the other, while, before my windows, Father Thames under the Shot tower walked up and down with his traffic.
In the next two years, he published a novel, The Light That Failed, had a nervous breakdown, and met an American writer and publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier, with whom he collaborated on a novel, The Naulahka (a title which he uncharacteristically misspelled; see below). In 1891, on the advice of his doctors, Kipling embarked on another sea voyage visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and once again India.
He cut short his plans for spending Christmas with his family in India when he heard of Balestier’s sudden death from typhoid fever and immediately decided to return to London. Before his return, he had used the telegram to propose to and be accepted by Wolcott’s sister Caroline Starr Balestier (1862–1939), called “Carrie”, whom he had met a year earlier, and with whom he had apparently been having an intermittent romance. Meanwhile, late in 1891, his collection of short stories about the British in India, Life’s Handicap, was published in London.
On 18 January 1892, Carrie Balestier (aged 29) and Rudyard Kipling (aged 26) were married in London, in the “thick of an influenza epidemic, when the undertakers had run out of black horses and the dead had to be content with brown ones”. The wedding was held at All Souls Church, Langham Place, central London. Henry James gave the bride away.
Kipling and his wife settled upon a honeymoon that would take them first to the United States (including a stop at the Balestier family estate near Brattleboro, Vermont) and then on to Japan. When they arrived in Yokohama, Japan, they discovered that their bank, The New Oriental Banking Corporation, had failed. Taking this loss in their stride, they returned to the US, back to Vermont – Carrie by this time was pregnant with their first child —and rented a small cottage on a farm near Brattleboro for ten dollars a month.
According to Kipling, “We furnished it with a simplicity that fore-ran the hire-purchase system. We bought, second or third hand, a huge, hot-air stove which we installed in the cellar. We cut generous holes in our thin floors for its eight-inch [20 cm] tin pipes (why we were not burned in our beds each week of the winter I never can understand) and we were extraordinarily and self-centered content.”
In this house, which they called Bliss Cottage, their first child, Josephine, was born “in three-foot of snow on the night of 29 December 1892. Her Mother’s birthday being the 31st and mine the 30th of the same month, we congratulated her on her sense of the fitness of things.
It was also in this cottage that the first dawnings of the Jungle Books came to Kipling: ” . . workroom in the Bliss Cottage was seven feet by eight, and from December to April, the snow lay level with its window-sill. It chanced that I had written a tale about Indian Forestry work which included a boy who had been brought up by wolves. In the stillness, and suspense, of the winter of ’92 some memory of the Masonic Lions of my childhood’s magazine, and a phrase in Haggard’s Nada the Lily, combined with the echo of this tale. After blocking out the main idea in my head, the pen took charge, and I watched it begin to write stories about Mowgli and animals, which later grew into the two Jungle Books “. With Josephine’s arrival, Bliss Cottage was felt to be congested, so eventually, the couple bought land – 10 acres (4.0 ha) on a rocky hillside overlooking the Connecticut River – from Carrie’s brother Beatty Balestier and built their own house.
Kipling named the house Naulakha, in honor of Wolcott and of their collaboration, and this time the name was spelled correctly. From his early years in Lahore (1882–87), Kipling had become enamored with the Mughal architecture, especially the Naulakha pavilion situated in Lahore Fort, which eventually became an inspiration for the title of his novel as well as the house. The house still stands on Kipling Road, three miles (5 km) north of Brattleboro in Dummerston, Vermont: a big, secluded, dark-green house, with shingled roof and sides, which Kipling called his “ship”, and which brought him “sunshine and a mind at ease”. His seclusion in Vermont, combined with his healthy “sane clean life”, made Kipling both inventive and prolific.
In the short span of four years, he produced, in addition to the Jungle Books, a collection of short stories (The Day’s Work), a novel (Captains Courageous), and a profusion of poetry, including the volume The Seven Seas. The collection of Barrack-Room
Ballads were issued in March 1892, first published individually for the most part in 1890, and containing his poems “Mandalay” and “Gunga Din“. He especially enjoyed writing the Jungle Books – both masterpieces of imaginative writing – and enjoyed, too, corresponding with the many children who wrote to him about them.
Life in New England
The writing life in Naulakha was occasionally interrupted by visitors, including his father, who visited soon after his retirement in 1893, and British writer Arthur Conan Doyle, who brought his golf-clubs, stayed for two days and gave Kipling an extended golf lesson. Kipling seemed to take to golf, occasionally practicing with the local Congregational minister, and even playing with red-painted balls when the ground was covered in snow. However, wintertime golf was “not altogether a success because there were no limits to a drive; the ball might skid two miles (3 km) down the long slope to Connecticut river“.
From all accounts, Kipling loved the outdoors, not least of whose marvels in Vermont was the turning of the leaves each fall. He described this moment in a letter: “A little maple began it, flaming blood-red of a sudden where he stood against the dark green of a pine-belt. Next morning there was an answering signal from the swamp where the sumacs grow. Three days later, the hill-sides as fast as the eye could range were afire, and the roads paved, with crimson and gold. Then a wet wind blew, and ruined all the uniforms of that gorgeous army; and the oaks, who had held themselves in reserve, buckled on their dull and bronzed cuirasses and stood it out stiffly to the last blown leaf, till nothing remained but pencil-shadings of bare boughs and one could see into the most private heart of the woods.
In February 1896, Elsie Kipling was born, the couple’s second daughter. By this time, according to several biographers, their marital relationship was no longer light-hearted and spontaneous. Although they would always remain loyal to each other, they seemed now to have fallen into set roles. In a letter to a friend who had become engaged around this time, the 30‑year‑old Kipling offered this somber counsel: marriage principally taught “the tougher virtues—such as humility, restraint, order, and forethought”.
The Kiplings loved life in Vermont and might have lived out their lives there, were it not for two incidents—one of global politics, the other of family discord—that hastily ended their time there. By the early 1890s, the United Kingdom and Venezuela were in a border dispute involving British Guiana. The US had made several offers to arbitrate, but in 1895, the new American Secretary of State Richard Olney upped the ante by arguing for the American “right” to arbitrate on grounds of sovereignty on the continent (see the Olney interpretation as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine). This raised hackles in the UK, and the situation grew into a major Anglo-American crisis, with talk of war on both sides.
Although the crisis led to greater US–British co-operation, at the time Kipling was bewildered by what he felt was the persistent anti-British sentiment in the US, especially in the press. He wrote in a letter that it felt like being “aimed at with a decanter across a friendly dinner table”. By January 1896, he had decided to end his family’s “good wholesome life” in the US and seek their fortunes elsewhere.
A family dispute became the final straw. For some time, relations between Carrie and her brother Beatty Balestier had been strained, owing to his drinking and insolvency. In May 1896, an inebriated Beatty encountered Kipling on the street and threatened him with physical harm. The incident led to Beatty’s eventual arrest, but in the subsequent hearing, and the resulting publicity, Kipling’s privacy was destroyed, and he was left feeling miserable and exhausted. In July 1896, a week before the hearing was to resume, the Kiplings packed their belongings, left the United States, and returned to England.
By September 1896, the Kiplings were in Torquay, Devon, on the southwestern coast of England, in a hillside home overlooking the English Channel. Although Kipling did not much care for his new house, whose design, he claimed, left its occupants feeling dispirited and gloomy, he managed to remain productive and socially active.
Kipling was now a famous man, and in the previous two or three years had increasingly been making political pronouncements in his writings. The Kiplings had welcomed their first son, John, in August 1897. Kipling had begun work on two poems, “Recessional” (1897) and “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) which were to create controversy when published. Regarded by some as anthems for enlightened and duty-bound empire-building (that captured the mood of the Victorian era), the poems equally were regarded by others as propaganda for brazen-faced imperialism and its attendant racial attitudes; still, others saw the irony in the poems and warnings of the perils of empire.
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
—The White Man’s Burden
There was also foreboding in the poems, a sense that all could yet come to naught.
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
A prolific writer during his time in Torquay, he also wrote Stalky & Co., a collection of school stories (born of his experience at the United Services College in Westward Ho!) whose juvenile protagonists displayed a know-it-all, cynical outlook on patriotism and authority. According to his family, Kipling enjoyed reading aloud stories from Stalky & Co. to them and often went into spasms of laughter over his own jokes.
Visits to South Africa
In early 1898, the Kiplings traveled to South Africa for their winter holiday, thus beginning an annual tradition which (excepting the following year) was to last until 1908. They always stayed in “The Woolsack”, a house on Cecil Rhodes‘ estate at Groote Schuur (and now a student residence for the University of Cape Town); it was within walking distance of Rhodes’ mansion.
With his new reputation as Poet of the Empire, Kipling was warmly received by some of the most influential politicians of the Cape Colony, including Rhodes, Sir Alfred Milner, and Leander Starr Jameson. Kipling cultivated their friendship and came to admire the men and their politics. The period 1898–1910 was crucial in the history of South Africa and included the Second Boer War (1899–1902), the ensuing peace treaty, and the 1910 formation of the Union of South Africa. Back in England, Kipling wrote poetry in support of the British cause in the Boer War and on his next visit to South Africa in early 1900, he became a correspondent for The Friend newspaper in Bloemfontein, which had been commandeered by Lord Roberts for British troops.
Although his journalistic stint was to last only two weeks, it was Kipling’s first work on a newspaper staff since he left The Pioneer in Allahabad more than ten years earlier. At The Friend, he made lifelong friendships with Perceval Landon, H. A. Gwynne, and others. He also wrote articles published more widely expressing his views on the conflict. Kipling penned an inscription for the Honoured Dead Memorial (Siege memorial) in Kimberley.
In 1897, Kipling moved from Torquay to Rottingdean, East Sussex; first to North End House and later to The Elms. In 1902, Kipling bought Bateman’s, a house built in 1634 and located in rural Burwash, East Sussex, England. Bateman’s was Kipling’s home from 1902 until his death in 1936.
The house, along with the surrounding buildings, the mill and 33 acres (13 ha) was purchased for £9,300. It had no bathroom, no running water upstairs, and no electricity, but Kipling loved it: “Behold us, lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house—A.D. 1634 over the door—beamed, paneled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked. It is a good and peaceable place. We have loved it ever since our first sight of it.” (from a November 1902 letter).
In the non-fiction realm he became involved in the debate over the British response to the rise in German naval power known as the Tirpitz Plan to build a fleet to challenge the Royal Navy, publishing a series of articles in 1898 which were collected as A Fleet in Being. On a visit to the United States in 1899, Kipling and Josephine developed pneumonia, from which she eventually died.
‘Peak of career’
n the wake of his daughter’s death, Kipling concentrated on collecting material for what would become Just So Stories for Little Children. That work was published in 1902, the year after Kim was first issued. The American literary scholar David Scott has argued that Kiedis proves the claim made by Edward Said about Kipling as a promoter of Orientalism as Kipling – who was deeply interested in Buddhism —presented Tibetan Buddhism in a fairly sympathetic light and aspects of the novel appeared to reflect the Buddhist understanding of the universe. Kipling was offended by the German Emperor Wilhelm II‘s Hun speech (Hunnenrede) in 1900 urging German troops being sent to China to crush the Boxer Rebellion to behave like “Huns” and to take no prisoners.
In his 1902 poem The Rowers, Kipling attacked the Kaiser as a threat to Britain and made the first use of the term “Hun” as an anti-German insult, using Wilhelm’s own words and the actions of German troops in China to portray Germans as essentially barbarians. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, the Francophile Kipling called Germany a menace and called for an Anglo-French alliance to stop it. In another letter at the same time, Kipling described the “unfree peoples of Central Europe” as living in “the Middle Ages with machine guns”.
Kipling wrote a number of speculative fiction short stories, including “The Army of a Dream“, in which he attempted to show a more efficient and responsible army than the hereditary bureaucracy of England at that time, and two science fiction stories, “With the Night Mail” (1905) and “As Easy As A.B.C.” (1912). Both of those were set in the 21st century in Kipling’s Aerial Board of Control universe. They read like modern hard science fiction and introduced the literary technique known as indirect exposition, which would later become one of science fiction writer Robert Heinlein‘s hallmarks. This technique is one that Kipling picked up in India, and used to solve the problem of his English readers not understanding much about Indian society when writing The Jungle Book.
Nobel laureate and beyond
In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature after having been nominated in that year by Charles Oman, professor at the University of Oxford. The prize citation said: “In consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.” Nobel prizes had been established in 1901 and Kipling was the first English-language recipient. At the award ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December 1907, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Carl David af Wirsén, praised both Kipling and three centuries of English literature:
The Swedish Academy, in awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature this year to Rudyard Kipling, desires to pay a tribute of homage to the literature of England, so rich in manifold glories, and to the greatest genius in the realm of narrative that that country has produced in our times.
“Book-ending” this achievement was the publication of two connected poetry and story collections: Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906), and Rewards and Fairies (1910). The latter contained the poem “If—“. In a 1995 BBC opinion poll, it was voted the UK’s favorite poem. This exhortation to self-control and stoicism is arguably Kipling’s most famous poem.
Such was Kipling’s popularity that he was asked by his friend Max Aitken to intervene in the 1911 Canadian election on behalf of the Conservatives. In 1911, the major issue in Canada was the reciprocity treaty with the United States signed by the Liberal Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier and vigorously opposed by the Conservatives under Sir Robert Borden. On 7 September 1911, the Montreal Daily Star newspaper published a front-page appeal to all Canadians against the reciprocity agreement with the United States by Kipling who wrote: “It is her own soul that Canada risks today. Once that soul is pawned for any consideration, Canada must inevitably conform to the commercial, legal, financial, social, and ethical standards which will be imposed on her by the sheer admitted weight of the United States.” At the time, the Montreal Daily Star was Canada’s most read newspaper. Over the next week, Kipling’s appeal was reprinted in every English newspaper in Canada and is credited with helping to turn Canadian public opinion against the Liberal government that signed the reciprocity agreement.
Kipling sympathized with the anti-Home Rule stance of Irish Unionists, who opposed Irish autonomy. He was friends with Edward Carson, the Dublin-born leader of Ulster Unionism, who raised the Ulster Volunteers to prevent Home Rule in Ireland. Kipling wrote in a letter to a friend that Ireland was not a nation, and that before the English arrived in 1169, the Irish were a gang of cattle thieves living in savagery and killing each other while “writing dreary poems” about it all. In his viewpoint, it was only British rule that allowed Ireland to advance. A visit to Ireland in 1911 confirmed Kipling’s prejudices as he wrote the Irish countryside was beautiful but was spoiled by what he called the ugly homes of the Irish farmers, with Kipling adding that God had made the Irish into poets because he had “deprived them of a love of line or knowledge of color”. In contrast, Kipling had nothing but praise for the “decent folk” of Protestant majority and Unionist Ulster.
Kipling wrote the poem “Ulster” in 1912 reflecting his Unionist politics. Kipling often referred to the Irish Unionists as “our party”. Kipling had no sympathy with or understanding of Irish nationalism, and for him, Home Rule was an act of treason by the government of the Liberal Prime Minister H. H. Asquith that would plunge Ireland into the Dark Ages and allow the Irish Catholic majority to oppress the Protestant minority. The British scholar David Gilmour wrote that Kipling’s lack of understanding about Ireland could be seen in that he attacked John Redmond – the Anglophile leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party who wanted Home Rule because he believed it was the best way of keeping the United Kingdom together – as a traitor working to break up the United Kingdom. Ulster was first publicly read at a Unionist rally in Belfast, where the largest Union Jack ever was also unfolded. In his poem Ulster, which Kipling admitted was meant to strike a “hard blow” against the Asquith government’s Home Rule bill, he wrote: “Rebellion, rapine, hate, Oppression, wrong and greed, Are loosed to rule our fate, By England’s act and deed”. Ulster generated much controversy with the Conservative MP Sir Mark Sykes – who as a Unionist was opposed to the Home Rule bill – condemning Ulster in an article in The Morning Post as a “direct appeal to ignorance and a deliberate attempt to foster religious hate”.
Kipling was a staunch opponent of Bolshevism, a position which he shared with his friend Henry Rider Haggard. The two had bonded upon Kipling’s arrival in London in 1889 largely on the strength of their shared opinions, and they remained lifelong friends.
According to the English magazine Masonic Illustrated, Kipling became a Freemason in about 1885, before the usual minimum age of 21. He was initiated into Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782 in Lahore. He later wrote to The Times, “I was Secretary for some years of the Lodge . . . , which included Brethren of at least four creeds. I was entered [as an Apprentice] by a member from Brahmo Somaj, a Hindu, passed [to the degree of Fellow Craft] by a Mohammedan, and raised [to the degree of Master Mason] by an Englishman. Our Tyler was an Indian Jew.” Kipling received not only the three degrees of Craft Masonry but also the side degrees of Mark Master Mason and Royal Ark Mariner.
Kipling so loved his masonic experience that he memorialized its ideals in his famous poem, “The Mother Lodge”, and used the fraternity and its symbols as vital plot devices in his novella, The Man Who Would Be King.
First World War (1914–18)
At the beginning of the First World War, like many other writers, Kipling wrote pamphlets and poems which enthusiastically supported the UK’s war aims of restoring Belgium after that kingdom had been occupied by Germany, together with more generalized statements that Britain was standing up for the cause of good. In September 1914, Kipling was asked by the British government to write propaganda, an offer that he immediately accepted. Kipling’s pamphlets and stories were very popular with the British people during the war, with his major themes being glorifying the British military as the place for heroic men to be, German atrocities against Belgian civilians and the stories of women being brutalized by a horrific war unleashed by Germany, yet surviving and triumphing in spite of their suffering.
Kipling was enraged by reports of the Rape of Belgium together with the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, which he saw as a deeply inhumane act, which led him to see the war as a crusade for civilization against barbarism. In a 1915 speech, Kipling declared that “There was no crime, no cruelty, no abomination that the mind of men can conceive of which the German has not perpetrated, is not perpetrating, and will not perpetrate if he is allowed to go on … Today, there are only two divisions in the world … human beings and Germans.”
Alongside his passionate antipathy towards Germany, Kipling was privately deeply critical of how the war was fought by the British Army, complaining as early as October 1914 that Germany should have been defeated by now, and something must be wrong with the British Army. Kipling, who was shocked by the heavy losses that the British Expeditionary Force had taken by the autumn of 1914, blamed the entire pre-war generation of British politicians, who he argued had failed to learn the lessons of the Boer War. As a result, thousands of British soldiers were now paying with their lives for their failure in the fields of France and Belgium.
Kipling had scorn for those men who shirked duty in the First World War. In “The New Army in Training” (1915), Kipling concluded the piece by saying:
This much we can realize, even though we are so close to it, the old safe instinct saves us from triumph and exultation. But what will be the position in years to come of the young man who has deliberately elected to outcast himself from this all-embracing brotherhood? What of his family, and, above all, what of his descendants, when the books have been closed and the last balance struck of sacrifice and sorrow in every hamlet, village, parish, suburb, city, shire, district, province, and Dominion throughout the Empire?
Death of John Kipling
Kipling’s son John was killed in action in the First World War, at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, at age 18. John had initially wanted to join the Royal Navy, but having had his application turned down after a failed medical examination due to poor eyesight, he opted to apply for military service as an Army officer. But again, his eyesight was an issue during the medical examination. In fact, he tried twice to enlist but was rejected. His father had been lifelong friends with Lord Roberts, former commander-in-chief of the British Army, and colonel of the Irish Guards, and at Rudyard’s request, John was accepted into the Irish Guards.
John Kipling was sent to Loos two days into the battle in a reinforcement contingent. He was last seen stumbling through the mud blindly, with a possible facial injury. A body identified as his was found in 1992, although that identification has been challenged. In 2015, the Commonwealth War Grave Commission confirmed that they had correctly identified the burial place of John Kipling; they record his date of death as 27 September 1915, and that he is buried at St Mary’s A.D.S. Cemetery, Haines.
After his son’s death, Kipling wrote, “If any question why we died / Tell them because our fathers lied.” It is speculated that these words may reveal his feelings of guilt at his role in getting John a commission in the Irish Guards. Others, such as English professor Tracy Bilsing, contend that the line is referring to Kipling’s disgust that British leaders failed to learn the lessons of the Boer War, and were not prepared for the struggle with Germany in 1914, with the “lie” of the “fathers” being that the British Army was prepared for any war when it was not.
John’s death has been linked to Kipling’s 1916 poem “My Boy Jack“, notably in the play My Boy Jack and its subsequent television adaptation, along with the documentary Rudyard Kipling: A Remembrance Tale. However, the poem was originally published at the head of a story about the Battle of Jutland and appears to refer to a death at sea; the ‘Jack’ referred to is probably a generic ‘Jack Tar’. In the Kipling family, Jack was the name of the family dog while John Kipling was always John, making the identification of the protagonist of “My Boy Jack” with John Kipling somewhat questionable. However, it is true that Kipling was emotionally devastated by the death of his son. It is said that Kipling helped assuage his grief over his son’s death by reading the novels of Jane Austen aloud to his wife and daughter. During the war, he wrote a booklet The Fringes of the Fleet containing essays and poems on various nautical subjects of the war. Some of the poems were set to music by English composer Edward Elgar.
Kipling became friends with a French soldier named Maurice Hammoneau whose life had been saved in the First World War when his copy of Kim, which he had in his left breast pocket, stopped a bullet. Hammoneau presented Kipling with the book, with the bullet still embedded, and his Croix de Guerre as a token of gratitude. They continued to correspond, and when Hammoneau had a son, Kipling insisted on returning the book and medal.
On 1 August 1918, a poem, “The Old Volunteer”, appeared under his name in The Times. The next day, he wrote to the newspaper to disclaim authorship, and a correction appeared. Although The Times employed a private detective to investigate, and the detective appears to have suspected Kipling himself of being the author, the identity of the hoaxer was never established.
After the war (1918–1936)
Partly in response to John’s death, Kipling 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 troops of the British Empire lie buried.
His most significant contributions to the project were his selection of the biblical phrase, “Their Name Liveth For Evermore” (Ecclesiasticus 44.14, KJV), found on the Stones of Remembrance in larger war cemeteries, and his suggestion of the phrase “Known unto God” for the gravestones of unidentified servicemen. He also chose the inscription “The Glorious Dead” on the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London. Additionally, he wrote a two-volume history of the Irish Guards, his son’s regiment: it was published in 1923 and is considered to be one of the finest examples of regimental history.
Kipling’s moving short story, “The Gardener”, depicts visits to the war cemeteries, and the poem “The King’s Pilgrimage” (1922) depicts a journey which King George V made, touring the cemeteries and memorials under construction by the Imperial War Graves Commission. 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, even though he was usually driven by a chauffeur.
After the war, Kipling was skeptical about the Fourteen Points and the League of Nations, but he had great hopes that the United States would abandon isolationism and that the post-war world would be dominated by an Anglo-French-American alliance. Kipling hoped that the United States would take on a League of Nations mandate for Armenia as the best way of preventing isolationism, and hoped that Theodore Roosevelt, whom Kipling admired, would once again become president. Kipling was saddened by Roosevelt’s death in 1919, believing that his friend was the only American politician capable of keeping the United States in the “game” of world politics.
Kipling was very hostile towards communism, writing about the Bolshevik take-over in 1917 that one-sixth of the world had “passed bodily out of civilization”. In a 1918 poem, Kipling wrote about Soviet Russia that everything good in Russia had now been destroyed by the Bolsheviks and all that was left was “the sound of weeping and the sight of burning fire, and the shadow of a people trampled into the mire”.
In 1920, Kipling co-founded the Liberty League with Haggard and Lord Sydenham. This short-lived enterprise focused on promoting classic liberal ideals as a response to the rising power of communist tendencies within Great Britain, or, as Kipling put it, “to combat the advance of Bolshevism
In 1922, Kipling, who had made reference to the work of engineers in some of his poems, such as “The Sons of Martha”, “Sappers”, and “McAndrew’s Hymn“, and in other writings, including short story anthologies such as The Day’s Work, was asked by University of Toronto civil engineering professor Herbert E. T. Haultain for his assistance in developing a dignified obligation and ceremony for graduating engineering students. Kipling was enthusiastic in his response and shortly produced both, formally entitled “The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer“. Today, engineering graduates all across Canada are presented with an iron ring at the ceremony as a reminder of their obligation to society. In 1922 Kipling also became Lord Rector of St Andrews University in Scotland, a three-year position.
Kipling, who was a Francophile, argued strongly for an Anglo-French alliance to uphold the peace, calling Britain and France in 1920 the “twin fortresses of European civilization”. Along the same lines, Kipling repeatedly warned against revising the Treaty of Versailles in Germany’s favor, which he predicted would lead to a new world war. An admirer of Raymond Poincaré, Kipling was one of the few British intellectuals who supported the French Occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 at a time when the British government and most public opinion was against the French position. In contrast to the popular British view of Poincaré as a cruel bully intent on impoverishing Germany by seeking unreasonable reparations, Kipling argued that Poincaré was only rightfully trying to preserve France as a great power in the face of an unfavorable situation. Kipling argued that even before 1914, Germany’s larger economy and higher birth rate had made that country stronger than France; with much of France devastated by the war, and the French suffering heavy losses that the low French birth rate would have trouble replacing while Germany was mostly undamaged and still with a higher birth rate, he reasoned that the future would advantage German domination if Versailles were revised in Germany’s favor. He wrote that it was madness for Britain to seek to pressure France to revise Versailles in Germany’s favor
In 1924, Kipling was opposed to the Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald as “Bolshevism without bullets”, but believing that Labour was a communist front organization, he took the view that “excited orders and instructions from Moscow” would expose Labour as such an organization to the British people. Kipling’s views were on the right and though he admired Benito Mussolini to a certain extent for a time in the 1920s, Kipling was against fascism, writing that Oswald Mosley was “a bounder and an arriviste“. By 1935, he called Mussolini a deranged and dangerous egomaniac and in 1933 wrote, “The Hitlerites are out for blood”.
Despite his anti-communism, the first major translations of Kipling into Russian took place during Lenin‘s rule in the early 1920s, and during the interwar period, Kipling was very popular with Russian readers. Many of the younger Russian poets and writers such as Konstantin Simonov were influenced by Kipling. Kipling’s clarity of style, his use of colloquial language and the way in which he used rhythm and rhyme were considered to be major innovations in poetry that appealed to many of the younger Russian poets. Though it was obligatory for Soviet journals to begin translations of Kipling with an introduction attacking him as a “fascist” and an “imperialist”, such as Kipling’s popularity with Russian readers that his works were not banned in the Soviet Union until 1939 with the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Kipling’s work was unbanned in the Soviet Union in 1941 after Operation Barbarossa when Britain become a Soviet ally, but his work was banned again, this time for good, with the Cold War in 1946
Many older editions of Rudyard Kipling’s books have a swastika printed on their covers associated with a picture of an elephant carrying a lotus flower, reflecting the influence of Indian culture. Kipling’s use of the swastika was based on the Indian sun symbol conferring good luck and the Sanskrit word meaning “fortunate” or “well-being”. He used the swastika symbol in both right- and left-facing orientations, and it was in general use by others at the time.
In a note to Edward Bok written after the death of Lockwood Kipling in 1911, Rudyard said: “I am sending with this for your acceptance, as some little memory of my father to whom you were so kind, the original of one of the plaques that he used to make for me. I thought it being the Swastika would be appropriate for your Swastika. May it bring you even more good fortune.” Once the Nazis came to power and usurped the swastika, Kipling ordered that it should no longer adorn his books. Less than a year before his death, Kipling gave a speech (titled “An Undefended Island”) to the Royal Society of St George on 6 May 1935, warning of the danger which Nazi Germany posed to Britain.
Kipling scripted the first Royal Christmas Message, delivered via the BBC’s Empire Service by George V in 1932. In 1934, he published a short story in The Strand Magazine, “Proofs of Holy Writ”, which postulated that William Shakespeare had helped to polish the prose of the King James Bible.
Death of Rudyard Kipling
Kipling kept writing until the early 1930s, but at a slower pace and with much less success than before. On the night of 12 January 1936, he suffered a hemorrhage in his small intestine. He underwent surgery but died less than a week later on 18 January 1936, at the age of 70 of a perforated duodenal ulcer. His death had previously been incorrectly announced in a magazine, to which he wrote, “I’ve just read that I am dead. Don’t forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.”
The pallbearers at the funeral included Kipling’s cousin, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and the marble casket was covered by a Union Jack. Kipling was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium in northwest London, and his ashes interred at Poets’ Corner, part of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey, next to the graves of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy
In 2010, the International Astronomical Union approved that a crater on the planet Mercury would be named after Kipling—one of ten newly discovered impact craters observed by the MESSENGER spacecraft in 2008–9. In 2012, an extinct species of crocodile, Goniopholis kiplingi, was named in his honor, “in recognition for his enthusiasm for natural sciences”.
More than 50 unpublished poems by Kipling, discovered by the American scholar Thomas Pinney, were released for the first time in March 2013
Rudyard Kipling: Posthumous reputation
Various writers, such as Edmund Candler, were strongly influenced by Kipling’s writing. Kipling’s stories for adults remain in print and have garnered high praise from writers as different as Poul Anderson, Jorge Luis Borges, and Randall Jarrell who wrote that, “After you have read Kipling’s fifty or seventy-five best stories you realize that few men have written this many stories of this much merit, and that very few have written more and better stories.”
His children’s stories remain popular, and his Jungle Books have been made into several movies. The first was made by producer Alexander Korda, and other films have been produced by The Walt Disney Company. A number of his poems were set to music by Percy Grainger. A series of short films based on some of his stories was broadcast by the BBC in 1964. Kipling’s work is still popular today.
The poet T. S. Eliot edited A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1941) with an introductory essay. Eliot was aware of the complaints that had been leveled against Kipling and he dismissed them one by one: that Kipling is ‘a Tory’ using his verse to transmit right-wing political views, or ‘a journalist’ pandering to popular taste; while Eliot writes “I cannot find any justification for the charge that he held a doctrine of race superiority.” Eliot finds instead,
An immense gift for using words, an amazing curiosity and power of observation with his mind and with all his senses, the mask of the entertainer, and beyond that a queer gift of second sight, of transmitting messages from elsewhere, a gift so disconcerting when we are made aware of it that thenceforth we are never sure when it is not present: all this makes Kipling a writer impossible wholly to understand and quite impossible to belittle.
— T.S. Eliot
Kipling’s home at Burwash
After the death of Kipling’s wife in 1939, his house, Bateman’s in Burwash, East Sussex, South East England, where he had lived from 1902 until 1936, was bequeathed to the National Trust and is now a public museum dedicated to the author. Elsie Bambridge, his only child who lived to maturity, died childless in 1976, and also bequeathed her copyrights to the National Trust, which in turn donated them to the University of Sussex to ensure better public access.
Novelist and poet Sir Kingsley Amis wrote a poem, ‘Kipling at Bateman’s’, after visiting Kipling’s Burwash home (Amis’ father had lived in Burwash briefly in the 1960s) as part of a BBC television series on writers and their houses.
In 2003, actor Ralph Fiennes read excerpts from Kipling’s works from the study in Bateman’s, including, The Jungle Book, Something of Myself, Kim, and The Just So Stories, and poems, including “If …” and “My Boy Jack”, for a CD published by the National Trust
Rudyard Kipling: Reputation in India
In modern-day India, whence he drew much of his material, Kipling’s reputation remains controversial, especially amongst modern nationalists and some post-colonial critics. Rudyard Kipling was a prominent supporter of Colonel Reginald Dyer, who was responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar(in the province of Punjab). Kipling called Dyer “the man who saved India” and also initiated collections for the latter’s homecoming prize. However, Subhash Chopra, in his book Kipling Sahib – the Raj Patriot, writes that the benefit fund was started by The Morning Post newspaper and not by Kipling and that Kipling made no contribution to the Dyer fund. While Kipling’s name was conspicuously absent from the list of donors as published in The Morning Post, he clearly admired Dyer.
Other contemporary Indian intellectuals such as Ashis Nandy have taken a more nuanced view of his work. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, often described Kipling’s novel Kim as one of his favorite books.
I happen to pick up R. Kipling’s autobiographical “Kim”.
Therein, this self-appointed whiteman’s burden-bearing sherpa feller’s stated how, in the Orient, blokes hit the road and think nothing of walking a thousand miles in search of something.
Indian writer R. K. Narayan said, “Kipling, the supposed expert writer on India, showed a better understanding of the mind of the animals in the jungle than of the men in an Indian home or the marketplace.”
In November 2007, it was announced that Kipling’s birth home in the campus of the J J School of Art in Mumbai would be turned into a museum celebrating the author and his works.