Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born 30 December 1865 in Bombay, India, the first child of John Lockwood Kipling and Alice Macdonald Kipling. Although his parents were a relatively obscure young couple in India, connected neither with the all-important army or the Indian Civil Service, they had ties to celebrated figures back in England. Kipling's mother was the sister-in-law of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and Academy painter Edward Poynter, so she had grown up in an atmosphere of lively culture. John Lockwood Kipling was an educated, cultivated man, who had come to India to teach art in Bombay, where Kipling spent his early childhood. Kipling remained devoted to a family circle in which art and work were synonymous. Work, or to use Kipling's term, craft, was inseparable from everyday life and directly related to the Pre-Raphaelite concern with realism in presentation and idealism of content, as well as commitment to both the life of the mind and the life of the populace. Lockwood Kipling's particular tasks were to preserve and revive native Indian crafts and art forms as well as to help Indians adapt to an industrial age--concerns that influenced Rudyard Kipling's entire career.
His first six years were idyllic, stimulating, and indulgent. He had two Indian servants of his own, and with them he spoke the vernacular Hindustani and had to be reminded to speak English to his parents. Being brought up by Indians may also have laid the foundation of Kipling's rather polymorphous religious beliefs: his bearer Meeta took him to Hindu shrines, and his Goan ayah took him to Roman Catholic services. In sum, he had no reason to doubt the goodness and benevolence of life and the world.
Then everything changed. When Rudyard was three, Alice Kipling gave birth to a daughter, named after her mother but called Trix, and in 1870 she gave birth to a second son who died almost immediately. This event set the Kipling parents on a course of action quite common among colonial families though disastrous for their son and daughter. To remove Rudyard and Trix from the Indian heat and diseases, they took them back to England and placed them in the care of hired foster parents whom they had found through a newspaper advertisement. Why they did not place the children with any of Alice's three married sisters remains a mystery. For whatever reason, they found it best to deposit a six-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter in the care of strangers with painfully hasty goodbyes and not a word of explanation. They did not see them again for over five years.
The woman in charge of the fostering establishment in Southsea was a Mrs. Holloway. Her husband, an old sailor, lived with her for part of the Kipling children's stay, but died, leaving Mrs. Holloway and her son in complete control. In his autobiography Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown (1937), Kipling refused to write their names and referred to mother and son as "The Woman" and "The Devil Boy," and to Downe Lodge, the house in which he had lived, as "The House of Desolation." Another record of Kipling's reaction to being in Mrs. Holloway's care is his short story "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" , published in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Child Stories (1888). The boy in the story suffers verbal abuse, beatings, public humiliations, solitary confinement, fire-and-brimstone religious threats, and consequent fury, violence, despair, hallucinations, and attempted suicide. How much of the short story is factual and how much invention can never be known, but according to a witness who saw Kipling while he was writing the story, Kipling went about in a state of fury at the recollection. In the story three things save the boy: reading, telling stories, and the furtive affection of his sister and a succession of housemaids. The story leaves out the fourth thing that saved Kipling: his Christmas vacations with the genial Burne-Jones family. There he also came to know William Morris (Uncle Topsy to Kipling) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and played with their children. Kipling wrote in Something of Myself that later in life he asked for the bellpull from the Burne-Jones house that had let him "into all felicity" and put it on his own house "in the hope that other children might also feel happy when they rang it." Despite such exceptional furloughs, Downe Lodge was the rule until his mother returned suddenly from India and whisked her children away, but the Downe Lodge regime had affected him profoundly. In the final words of "Black Sheep": "when young lips have drunk deep of the bitter waters of Hate, Suspicion, and Despair, all the Love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge; though it may turn darkened eyes for a while to the light, and teach Faith where no Faith was." Though embittered by the experience, Kipling saved his aggression for the printed page, and he never forgot the vulnerability of children. On the other hand, his own resilience may have led him to overestimate the robustness of others based on his own recovery. He became enormously successful and was happily married for forty-four years, but he had had two breakdowns by the time he was twenty-five and suffered from insomnia from his teens to the end of his life. His resilience evidently had its limits.
In 1878 Kipling enrolled at the United Services College, run by a close family friend, Cromell ("Crom") Price. The school's sole aim was to get its students through the army entrance examination or into the Indian Civil Service and do it cheaply. In such a relentlessly practical setting, Kipling was odd boy out--too nearsighted for the army, too irrepressible for the civil service. Instead, "Uncle Crom" fostered Kipling's literary interests, printing his juvenilia in school papers and giving Kipling unlimited access to his personal library, which Kipling devoured. Back home, Kipling's parents collected these poems and, without consulting their son, published a selection of them in 1881 as Schoolboy Lyrics.
The school proved crucial to Kipling's development as a children's writer, providing the setting and characters of the stories collected as Stalky & Co. (1899), in which the author appears as Beetle and his friends George Beresford and L. C. Dunsterville as M'Turk and Stalky respectively. The extravagant exploits of the characters have no originals except in the fantasies of children who long for the power of adult authority and, conversely, in the nostalgia of adults who long for the freedom of children. The Stalky stories, published over a span of twenty-two years, cannot be taken as faithful reconstructions of unadulterated truth, but they reflect what Kipling felt and thought about his experiences in retrospect. Kipling began to memorialize his school in his thirties, publishing ten stories between 1897 and 1899, an eleventh in 1917, and the last three between 1924 and 1929, when The Complete Stalky & Co. appeared. The first ten, however, were collected in 1899, and it was to this Stalky & Co. that critics first reacted. It was immediately recognized as a collection for and about educating boys for the duties of empire--which is exactly what the United Services College was all about--the pragmatic values of which varied from those of the standard public-school story.
The violence in the stories is undoubted, but it is not violence alone which appeals to the reader. The majority of the stories concern a species of poetic justice in the form of practical jokes: jokes in which effect is less important than creativity and "stalkiness"--to be stalky is to be "clever, well-considered and wily, as applied to plans of action." Stalkiness allows the boys of Number Five Study to humiliate officious gamekeepers, paranoid or insulting masters, and overgrown bullies, and to play on intellectual prejudices of examiners and rescue less stalky pranksters from irate farmers. Kipling also considers more complex matters, advocating classical studies for army candidates in "Regulus", suggesting compromise in "The Satisfaction of a Gentleman", teaching patriotism in "The Flag of Their Country", or defining heroism in "A Little Prep" . If the stories are partly a school for building character, this last tale is perhaps the best example. In it the boys are all dazzled by the heroic appearance of alumni on leave from the army who have come for a reunion; they are thrilled by Crandall's account of the rescue of a fallen comrade during a skirmish on the Northwest Frontier. Meanwhile, the Head has been mysteriously absent from the school and has risked his own life to save a boy dying from diphtheria by using a tube to suck the infected mucus from the child's lungs. Moreover, he has kept his action a secret. When Stalky learns what has happened, he immediately recognizes the Head's action as more heroic than Crandall's exploit, and Crandall agrees: "It's about the bravest thing a man can do." So at the end of the story it is the self-effacing Head who is cheered by the school, rather than the flashy officers and gentlemen.
In 1882 Kipling started the working life for which Price and other masters at the college had tried to prepare him. He arrived in Bombay on 18 October 1882 and joined his family in Lahore, where his father was now principal of the Mayo School of Art and curator of the Lahore Museum. Rudyard Kipling's work had less refined accommodations at the Civil and Military Gazette, the local paper for the Punjab province. He owed his position of assistant editor to Price's and his father's connections to one of the paper's owners, who also owned a substantial part of the all-India Pioneer, based in Allahabad. The home of the provincial paper was the more interesting city, its ancient, predominately Islamic district coming close to the Occidental's fantasy conception of an Asian city in a golden age. Unfortunately, the difficulties of everyday life included the absence of refrigeration and electric fans and throughout his tenure in India, Kipling suffered from malaria and dysentery.
Kipling nevertheless worked long hours writing articles, acting as editor, and seeing the paper through the press, quite often without the help of his editor, who was frequently incapacitated by fever and the heat. Kipling fared better, perhaps because his father encouraged him, and by 1884 his mother and sister had joined them, reconstituting "the Family Square," a pleasant and emotionally self-sufficient group that fostered Kipling's creative work. In 1884 Rudyard and Trix Kipling published Echoes, a book of imitations and parodies in verse. With his family Kipling spent some of the hotter months of the year in the hill towns of Dalhousie or Simla, which was the viceroy's summer seat. And when a new viceroy, Lord Dufferin, arrived, the Kiplings unexpectedly found themselves included in the upper echelon of the caste-ridden Anglo-Indian society.
Kipling thus found himself with access to India at virtually every level. Work for the paper sent him to public events--receptions for maharajas, reviews of troops--and to different parts of India--the Himalayas, the Khyber Pass, Benares, Calcutta, and the ruins of Chitor, which he explored by moonlight. His insomniac night wanderings took him to opium dens, to the marginalized world of Eurasians, to bat-infested minarets, and to conversations with punkah wallahs who worked his cooling system. At the same time, his family connections kept him in contact with Indian arts, ancient and modern, and gave him entrée into Simla society, complete with dances, polo, picnics, and recreational flirting. This cross-caste way of living made the casteless ideal of Freemasonry naturally attractive to Kipling; it systematized and ritualized his ideas about what was possible when all races and religions met on an even footing. As he wrote of the society in his autobiography: "Here I met Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, members of the Araya and Brahmo Samaj, and a Jew tyler who was priest and butcher to his little community in the city. So yet another world opened to me which I needed." In return for this living model of what he hoped the imperial unification might accomplish, he gave the Freemasons his undying loyalty, and Masonic references appear throughout his works, including those for children.
Kipling's literary career began in earnest in 1886 with the publication of Departmental Ditties and Other Verses, a collection of light and satiric poems about Anglo-Indian careers and courtships. Then in 1886 Kay Robinson arrived to edit the Civil and Military Gazette and set Kipling to producing "turn-overs," short stories limited to one and a half columns--about two thousand to twenty-five hundred words. Kipling wrote thirty-two of these before the end of 1887 and collected them with eight more stories as Plain Tales from the Hills (1888). Late in 1887 Kipling moved to the Pioneer in Allahabad, where he supplied the paper's weekly magazine with readable fiction. Released from the constraints of the turnover, he wrote longer stories that were, along with a short novel, collected in six volumes by the Indian Railway Library. These editions sold quickly and attracted international attention.
In Allahabad, Kipling met Prof. S. A. Hill and his wife, Edmonia ("Ted"), an American woman who was about thirty, and who was plump and cheerful. Kipling seems to have been infatuated with her--he wrote to her every day when they were separated. He lived with the Hills as their guest during his last year in India, and he sailed with them when he felt ready to return to England to pursue his career. The trio sailed from India on 9 March 1889, visiting China, Japan, and many locations in the United States, including Elmira, New York, where Kipling interviewed Mark Twain for the Pioneer. All of his impressions of America are collected in From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches (1899). In Pennsylvania Kipling met and began courting Ted's sister, Caroline Taylor. Both sisters and their father went to England with Kipling, but once he was settled in London in October 1889, they returned to India. Kipling's religious beliefs became a barrier to a match with Caroline: her father was a strict Methodist and wanted assurance that Kipling was a thoroughgoing Christian. The young man made an idiosyncratic declaration of faith in a letter to Caroline, with the result that the engagement (such as it was) was broken off.
Kipling had more success with the literary establishment of London. Especially helpful were the critic Andrew Lang , who wrote favorable reviews of Kipling's Indian works, and magazine editors W. E. Henley and Mowbray Morris, who published his stories and poems in the National Observer and Macmillan's magazine.
Indeed, Kipling had plenty of stories and poems to publish. Disappointed in love, depressed, lonely, sick with malaria and influenza, and broke because he was too proud to borrow money from a relative or ask a publisher for an advance, Kipling nevertheless entered one of his most productive and successful periods. By August 1890, when he suffered a breakdown from overwork and left for a cruise to Italy, Kipling's new publications included short stories and also the verses that would be collected in 1892 as Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses. His critical reception was overwhelmingly positive, his reputation made, his success assured--though Kipling never counted on any assurances. "Up like a rocket, down like the stick" was his motto.
When he returned to London from Italy, he held a different view of his professional world. His copyright was not protected in the United States, and Harper's effectively pirated a collection of his short stories under the slack laws. In London the literary establishment provided no help to Kipling, and three of the most eminent authors of the day--Walter Bezant, Thomas Hardy, and William Black--printed a letter in the Times (London) supporting the pirates. Thereafter Kipling sought comradeship and criticism elsewhere, first from his family and then from Wolcott Balestier, an American publisher's agent, who became Kipling's closest friend. When Balestier made his way in London, his family joined him. His elder sister, Caroline (Carrie), kept house for him and one day, visiting his office to go over the housekeeping books, met Kipling.
As the two friends collaborated on a novel, The Naulahka: A Story of West and East (1892), Kipling fell in love with Carrie and quietly began courting her. Before they could announce an engagement or marry, Kipling's health relapsed again in 1891, and he set off on another recuperative cruise, this time to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and India. Back in Lahore for Christmas with his parents, Kipling received a telegram from Carrie telling him that Wolcott had died suddenly of typhus. Kipling left immediately, stopping only to visit his old ayah in Bombay, and was back in London in fourteen days. He never saw India again.
Eight days after arriving in London, on 18 January 1892, Kipling married Carrie Balestier in a small, rather dreary service (all their relatives had influenza). Three years older than her husband and less beautiful than her sister Josephine, Carrie had characteristics that Kipling loved even though his friends and family did not. Kipling, with good reason, is not considered a great feminist. It does, however, speak something for him that when he married, he chose an independent, intelligent woman with a strength of character to match his own. She was considered unladylike by Henry James, and Lockwood Kipling called her "a good man spoiled." Even some of Kipling's biographers have been baffled by the attraction and have evolved extraordinary theories to account for the match, usually trying to see the marriage as a mere extension of the friendship with Wolcott. That Kipling might have loved Carrie because of, rather than in spite of, her strength is at least as likely.
On their round-the-world honeymoon tour, the couple learned that their bank had failed, taking with it Kipling's entire savings, except for one hundred dollars in a New York bank. Forced to give up their trip, they returned to the United States and set up housekeeping at Bliss Cottage near Brattleboro, Vermont. There, on 29 December 1892, Josephine Kipling was born. Her sister Elsie was born on 2 February 1896 in a house the Kiplings had built and christened Naulahka. Content with a home of his own, a wife, and children, Kipling enjoyed a richly productive literary period that saw the beginning of his career as a children's author, producing The Jungle Book (1894), The Second Jungle Book (1895), "Captains Courageous": A Story of the Grand Banks (1897), Kim (1901), and Just So Stories: For Little Children (1902).
The best-known character in The Jungle Book is Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves, but both Jungle Book volumes include other stories about animal/ human relationships: four in the first Jungle Book and three in the second. Besides their surface similarity in their interest in animals, the non-Mowgli stories are thematically akin to the Mowgli stories, especially in the case of the second volume in which both kinds of stories are more obviously and carefully arranged in an alternating pattern. Nevertheless, Kipling himself authorized a collection entitled "All the Mowgli Stories", singling out the character for special attention.
The Jungle Book begins with "Mowgli's Brothers" , in which Mowgli is adopted by the mother wolf and her mate. In doing so they deprive the man-eating tiger Shere Khan of his prey, leading to the tiger's hatred of Mowgli, his many attempts to kill the boy, and the war between them. Mowgli is accepted into the pack--his patrons being his parents, the chief wolf Akela, Baloo the Bear, and Bagheera the black panther. But when Akela grows old, a new generation comes to power, and, bribed by Shere Khan and afraid of Mowgli's power to stare them down, they vote to eject the boy from the pack. Hurt and furious, Mowgli reluctantly goes to live with men.
"Kaa's Hunting" , set before Mowgli's ostracism, concerns Mowgli's kidnapping by the Bandar-log, the Monkey People; his imprisonment in the Cold Lairs, an ancient ruined city; and his rescue by Baloo, Bagheera, and a new ally, Kaa the python. "'Tiger! Tiger!'" picks up from the end of "Mowgli's Brothers," telling how a village woman takes in Mowgli as her lost son. His foster wolf brothers and Akela warn him that Shere Khan is coming to kill him, and they help Mowgli kill the tiger instead. After a jealous rival starts rumors of Mowgli's magic powers, the villagers call him a devil and stone him. Outcast once again, he returns to the jungle but turns down the pack's offer to make him their leader, withdrawing instead to live with his brothers and old patrons.
In The Second Jungle Book , "How Fear Came" presents a version of the Fall of Man, an appropriate preface to "Letting In the Jungle" in which fear comes upon the villagers, who cast out Mowgli and then send a hunter to kill him. Meanwhile, out of superstition and greed, they decide to burn the "devil's" human foster parents as witches and divide their property among themselves. Mowgli and his friends rescue the couple; then Mowgli orchestrates a slow but inevitable destruction of the village, forcing the inhabitants to flee. "The King's Ankus" varies and amplifies the themes of violence, cruelty, and greed as six men kill each other in a single night, fighting for possession of a ceremonial elephant goad made of gold and precious stones. Mowgli follows its trail of death through the forest, finally retrieving the deadly stick and returning it to oblivion in the Cold Lairs. Although he was treated badly by men, he still feels some pity for them and tries to protect them. In "Red Dog" he protects the jungle and the pack from an invasion of imperialistic dholes, who ravage the jungle. The dholes' motto is "All Jungles are our Jungle," but Mowgli, Kaa, and the pack prove them wrong. At the end of a celebrated battle scene between the wolves and the dholes, Akela lies dying in Mowgli's arms. Mowgli affirms that he is a wolf: "I am of one skin with the Free People," Mowgli cries. "It is no will of mine that I am a man." But Akela tells him that he will return to men in the end. This return is the subject of the last story, "The Spring Running," in which Mowgli's sexual awakening draws him out of the jungle to follow "new trails."
In Rudyard Kipling and His World (1975), Kingsley Amis points out that when the stories appeared in St. Nicholas magazine, "the normally vocal readership was silent"; he suspects that the perpetually high sales of the books have more to do with adult gift-giving than juvenile preference. But Amis also quotes a six-year-old reader who praises the stories' action and humor, concluding that Kipling "writes things that sound a bit truish really." For the young reader, being "a bit truish" may be a comment on the lyrical realism with which Kipling describes his jungle, but from an adult point of view, it applies equally to such ideas, values, and themes in the tales as liminality, dual identity, rejection, and acceptance; the human need for variety and the dangers of living in a monoculture; the fragility of societies; the deadliness of greed and the sterility of acquisition; and, the favorite of critics and interpreters, the Law.
The first of these is the most obvious: man by birth, wolf by choice, Mowgli is accepted and rejected at different times by both men and wolves. They drive him out because he has displayed superior characteristics, which may mark Mowgli as a figure for imperialist-racist (human) domination of inferior (animal) peoples. Yet it is difficult to see the imperialist mentality in Mowgli's saying to his supposed inferiors that he would have been a wolf with them to the end of his life or claiming them as his parents or vowing that he and they are the same species. Mowgli is not only master of the jungle because he is a man, but he also is master of men because he is of the jungle, and he would have been master of neither if he had not been carefully and exhaustively educated by his jungle patrons. His greatness lies in the combination of human capacities for thought and compassion with the jungle's law of "Wisdom, Strength, and Courtesy" which frees him from human greed and fear.
What goes for Mowgli goes for societies as well: variety marks healthy group interaction in the jungle. In "Red Dog" Mowgli repels a violent invasion, but the wild bees he uses to dispose of the dholes allows no intrusion whatsoever. The hives of the Little People are given a half-mile berth by other animals, and their vast hives line a marble canyon, the "stale" honey "staining" the marble where the "clotted millions" live. Then their hives collapse under their own weight "like decayed tree trunks" above "huge masses of spongy rotten trash" compounded of "wasted honey" and "rubbish"--the perfect picture of a closed society. The difference between the Little People and the Free People of the jungle is that the bees have the paranoia of a monoculture, indiscriminately killing all strangers, while the pack entertain as observers and sometimes as decisive counselors and members Shere Khan, Bagheera, Kaa, and, of course, Mowgli.
Still, throughout the Jungle Book stories, mere multiplicity is not enough to hold a society together or guarantee its future. The prime necessity is the Law, the lack of which renders any society fragile and vulnerable to attack from without and decay from within. The chief figure for this fragility is the Cold Lairs, the ruined kingly city deep in the jungle. The two stories involving the Cold Lairs point to social decadence and its causes. In "Kaa's Hunting", the Cold Lairs are the retreat of the Bandar-log, who are "very many, evil, dirty, shameless, and they desire, if they have any fixed desire, to be noticed by the Jungle-People." Kipling attacks their lack of memory, of purpose, of follow-through, of any interest in anything for its own sake:
Whenever they found a sick wolf, or a wounded tiger, or bear, the monkeys would torment him and would throw sticks and nuts at any beast for fun and in the hope of being noticed. Then they would howl and shriek senseless songs, and invite the Jungle-People to climb up their trees and fight them, or would start furious battles over nothing among themselves, and leave the dead monkeys where the Jungle-People could see them. They were always just going to have a leader, and laws and customs of their own, but they never did, because their memories would not hold over from day to day, and so they compromised things by making up a saying: "What the Bandar-log think now the jungle will think later," and that comforted them a great deal.
When searching for an insult bad enough for the covetous, murderous humans in "Letting in the Jungle," Mowgli chooses "Men are blood-brothers of the Bandar-log."
The brotherhood is most marked by the human/monkey association with the Cold Lairs, where the mental bankruptcy of the monkeys lives atop the moral bankruptcy of men. Beneath the ruined city lives an ancient, savage, possessive, and sickly cobra, placed there to guard an immense treasury: "No mere money would begin to pay the value of this treasure, the sifted pickings of centuries of war, plunder, trade, and taxation." Although the treasure and the white cobra have endured together, the society that valued the one and set the other to kill for its sake has vanished. But as the cobra remarks, "Little do men change in the years." The moment a piece of the treasure gets above ground, six men kill each other for its possession, reenacting the strife that implicitly destroyed the ancient civilization.
If contempt for money, possessions, and empty talk protects the jungle-people from the behaviors that destroy human societies, obedience to the Law gives them a society to protect. This Law is a complex set of commands and prohibitions--part tradition, part practicality--that keeps relations among the jungle-people optimal, considering that most of them are either prey or predators. The Law is difficult to sum up partly because the elements are usually brought out situationally and partly because the Law is also something like destiny or necessity that is beyond maxims and prescriptions. When Mowgli exceeds the requirements of the Law, he fulfills the Law nevertheless, as when he defends and provides for Akela when the Law would allow his successor to kill him and his age would drive him to starvation. The Law is finally difficult to define because specific definitions tend to reduce it to conventional wisdom and rob it of its poetry, though some of the laws versified in "The Law of the Jungle" sound remarkably contemporary: negotiate to avoid fighting, do not drag other people into private quarrels, be considerate of others' needs, kill only for food and never for pleasure, do not allow the poor and weak to starve, children must be fed before adults, mothers must be subsidized, and fathers must have paternity leave.
With such maxims as these drumming in their ears, why are the wolves (and other jungle-people) called "The Free People?" Their freedom lies in their ability to accept or reject the Law. Shere Khan rejects it, as do the Bandar-log and even some wolves, bribed and goaded by Shere Khan (to their ruin). The dholes have no Law but aggression; the white cobra has none but possessiveness; human beings past and present are generally Lawless as well, often with disastrous results.
For Mowgli, the Law is not only the guarantor of social harmony, but also the guardian of identity and sanity. In "The Spring Running" both are put to the test when he must leave the jungle and live among the blood brothers of the Bandar-log. The Law has saved his life, and now it saves his conscience and dignity. In earlier stories Mowgli has been cast out of one group or another, but this time he chooses to leave the jungle. The animals who raised him understand completely; there is no embarrassment, no jealous clinging, nor any attempt to deny the pain of separation. The Law allows Mowgli to go freely, assured that his animal family loves him, that he can come home again, that his wolf brothers will come with him, and that in leaving he is acting not selfishly but lawfully. Kipling's theme of the Law is thus used to allay the fears children have about growing up and leaving home.
The primary themes in the Mowgli stories tend to recur in the non-Mowgli stories as well. Duality, Law, and compassion infuse the best of them, "The Miracle of Purun Bhagat", in which an Indian prime minister gives up everything to seek spiritual enlightenment as an anonymous beggar. Interspecies integration appears in the well-known "Rikki Tikki Tavi", about a heroic mongoose living in an Anglo-Indian garden. "The White Seal" is perhaps the most modern in its interests, being a story about the slaughter of baby seals and the need for a human-free sanctuary. "Toomai of the Elephants" is sheer fantasy, in which Kipling sends an elephant catcher's son off to witness the nocturnal, mystical dance of the wild elephants. The most adult-oriented story is "The Undertakers" , a rich satire on the fragility of the empire and the epidemic cruelty and death of the 1857 mutiny. The weakest stories are "Quiquern" , an Eskimo story, and "Her Majesty's Servants" , a talking-animal fable about livestock in the British army. But even these lesser efforts cannot detract from the overall excellence of the two collections, with their luminous prose, imaginative power, emotional intensity, and consistent decency.
"Quiquern" and "The White Seal" also display Kipling's interest in stories with a North American setting, and Captains Courageous , written in 1896, explores a specialized American setting in great detail. As was often the case with Kipling, the details came before the story. Kipling and the family doctor James Conland made a visit to Boston Harbor, attending the annual memorial service for drowned fishermen. To gather background, the two men explored the old T-wharf of Boston Harbor, clambered aboard ships, and collected quaint paraphernalia. So much does this passion for accuracy and atmosphere saturate the book, that one hesitates to classify Captains Courageous as strictly for children, even though the main character is a boy. It is less a children's book than a meticulous and loving elegy for a dying way of life. The men of the ship We're Here fish from dories with hooks and lines, and it is remarked more than once that her captain Disko Troop "ain't no ways progressive." Instead of reveling in the latest maritime technology, Kipling devotes himself to the traditional character of the New England fleet.
Harvey Cheyne, fifteen-year-old son of a railway king, is spoiled, arrogant, and overprotected. While crossing to Europe on an ocean liner, he falls overboard and is picked up by the We're Here. He tries to buy a passage back to New York, but the tales he tells of his extravagant wealth are unbelievable to the captain and crew. Concluding that Harvey has hit his head too hard in falling from the liner, Captain Troop instead offers him $10.50 a month to work out the rest of the fishing season. Harvey rejects the offer and calls Troop a thief. Troop punches him in the nose and tells him to get to work. After a day of manual labor Harvey is meekly apologizing and looking forward to earning his pay. Although his old personality collapses rather easily, the point seems to be that when he boards the We're Here, he has no personality to speak of, only a Kipling-like impressionability: "Harvey was a very adaptable person, with a keen eye and ear for every face and tone about him." Gradually he becomes like the good men around him, genuinely humble yet justly proud of his accomplishments. In keeping with Harvey's less grandiose place in life, the bulk of the book subordinates his adventures to the larger fortunes of the ship and its motley crew--the Gloucester captain and his son; an Irishman from Galway; a Portuguese; a Gaelic-speaking, clairvoyant black cook from Cape Breton; and an amnesiac Moravian farmer hired on as an act of charity because he lost his family in the disastrous Johnstown flood of 1889. The last two chapters concern Harvey's grieving parents, their race by rail to meet Harvey when they learn he is alive, and the improvement wrought by Harvey's reformation.
Whatever kind of American literature Kipling might have gone on to produce was lost before Captains Courageous saw print in 1897. Tensions between the Kiplings and Carrie's improvident brother Beatty Balestier over his mishandling of money grew until, in a moment of anger, the latter threatened to kill Kipling, who foolishly decided to prosecute his brother-in-law. The resulting publicity drove the intensely private Kiplings to return to England, setting up house first in Torquay and then in Rottingdean, Sussex, in 1897. There, instead of a hostile Beatty for a neighbor, Kipling had his beloved Uncle Ned Burne-Jones, his Aunt Georgina, and cousins the age of his own daughters. His son John was born in August.
The return to England and the birth of a son may well have revived Kipling's literary interest in his own boyhood, sparking the beginning of the Stalky stories. In addition, Kipling produced two more works for adults: The Day's Work (1898) and From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches (1899). Two of Kipling's best-known and somewhat contradictory political poems were also written in 1898: "Recessional", addressed to the English as they celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee; and "The White Man's Burden", addressed to the Americans as they prepared to annex the Philippines. After the Boer War broke out in 1899, Kipling returned to journalism, working briefly on the Friend, a British army newspaper based in South Africa. His connection with South Africa had developed through friendships with Sir Arthur Milner and Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes went so far as to build for the Kiplings a house dubbed "The Woolsack" adjoining his estate near Cape Town so that they could escape the English winter in comfort, a practice they continued from 1898 to 1908.
Despite the difficulties with Beatty Balestier and the family ties to Rottingdean, the Kiplings decided in 1899 to make a voyage to the United States, arriving in New York at the beginning of February. Carrie wanted to visit her relatives, Kipling had some copyright litigation to pursue, and perhaps they also hoped that they could return to what had once been a happy home. The trip was an unqualified disaster: on the voyage all the children suffered a series of illnesses, including whooping cough and bronchitis; on arrival, Carrie too fell ill. Three weeks into the visit both Kipling and six-year-old Josephine came down with pneumonia. Kipling's condition deteriorated, and he was delirious with fever for days. Doctors virtually despaired of his life, and concerned crowds of people blocked traffic outside his New York hotel, some of them kneeling on the sidewalk to pray for his recovery. The lobby was packed with reporters who sent the news in headlines around the world, provoking a landslide of letters and telegrams. By 27 February 1899 Kipling had rallied, and on 4 March he was pronounced out of danger, though he was still very weak. However, two days later Josephine died. Josephine had been a precocious and beautiful child with her father's arrestingly intelligent blue eyes. She had been Kipling's favorite and his constant companion. Her loss seemed irreparable and Kipling was never able to speak of her or hear her name again, alluding to her life or his grief only indirectly here and there in his poetry and fiction.
Typically, Kipling kept working in the aftermath of disaster, continuing to publish and to travel. In 1901 he published Kim , the novel about India that he had projected since his journalist days in Lahore and Allahabad. The novel was immediately recognized as something uniquely fine in Kipling's career and in English letters in general. In Kim, perhaps naively, Kipling presents the imperial British regime as the best possible agency for the fullest appreciation of India. As Judith A. Plotz explains in "The Empire of Youth" (1992): "With a freedom impossible for any actual Indian, necessarily bound by rules of caste and community, Kim slides in and out of the multiple inhibiting rules of Indian life just as in and out of the rules of different games. What is the realm of necessity and law for Indians is the realm of choice and freedom for Kim. He inhabits an idyll, but it is an idyll of imperialism." Readers have often been troubled by what they perceive to be an insoluble conflict in Kim between East and West.
Imperialism aside, Kim has been admired for its fluency and beauty of language, for its clarity of detail, for its vivid depiction of place and character, and for the affection it attaches to the places and people of India. Kipling called the book "a naked picaresque," yet it has a distinct, if subtle, plot: a double quest. Kim searches for his destined work so that he can begin his adult life by turning his gifts for language, observation, and imitation to a responsible purpose. Meanwhile, a Buddhist lama searches for a sacred river so that he can end his long life--one that has had worldly and militant passages--with freedom from sin. They take up this double search together and move in and out of each other's quests for the beginning and ending of a life's work, both searches requiring constant ethical self-examinations.
A readable and energetic adventure story, Kim has been classified as a children's book, although most critics agree that it appeals to adults as well. Kim O'Hara is the orphan child of an Irish sergeant retired from the Mavericks, a British regiment serving in India. Kim's Irish mother predeceased his father, so the boy has been left in the care of an Indian woman who has virtually let him run wild in the streets of Lahore. His friendliness leads him to help the unworldly lama when he appears in front of the Lahore Museum and earns Kim a place at the holy man's side. In the midst of their search Kim is discovered by the Mavericks, who, when they establish his parentage, decide to send him to an Anglo-Indian school. The lama, eager that Kim's education should be the best, pays his tuition and retires to a Jain monastery. On holidays from the school Kim readily returns to his un-Anglicized habits and the company of the lama, but their wanderings take on a special purpose for Kim under the guidance of members of the secret service, who have been quick to recognize in Kim a virtually ready-made spy. Toward the end of the novel Kim induces the lama to turn his steps into the Himalayas so that Kim, with spymaster Huree Babu leading the way at a discreet distance, can help to foil an invasion-reconnaissance mission by a pair of Russian spies. The demands of the return journey to get the lama safely to the plains again and to deliver the Russians' papers to his superiors exhaust Kim, who recovers at the house of the Sahiba, an elderly, outspoken, and commanding widow of a minor king. On her maternal estate Kim grasps his identity, and the lama finds his river, achieving enlightenment and, like Buddha before him, returning for a time to the earth for the sake of his follower, smiling "as a man may who has won Salvation for himself and his beloved."
Generally, critics have seen the need to choose between the lama's "Eastern" passivity and spiritualism and the British Empire's "Western" activity and materialism as the watershed decision that Kim must make if he is to enter adulthood. But Kim's decision is never made explicit. Some have argued that Kipling was reluctant or unable to end Kim's childhood. On the other hand, Kipling may well have recognized that the cultural-ethical-political synthesis that is Kim must be permanently in process, that the price paid for being Kim is never to be presented with a single definitive decision between the great game of the government or the buddhist way of enlightenment.
In Kipling's works variety is richness, and Kim ultimately asserts a working identity based on the world around him, variegated yet solid. The blending of cultures in Kim develops familiar Kipling concerns--liminal identity, surrogate parentage, education, the quest for belonging, the primacy of friendship, and the discovery of worthwhile work.
Kim proved that Kipling could master both the short story and the more prestigious novel. Following its success, Kipling returned to shorter forms. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the collection Just So Stories: For Little Children. The stories are literary versions of orally composed tales made up for Kipling's own children; its title, Angela Thirkell explains in her autobiography Three Houses (1931), refers to "a ritual about them, each phrase having its special intonation which had to be exactly the same each time"--in other words, just so. Although Kipling's other children's books were literary from the beginning, Just So Stories originated as performances, and their range of verbal virtuosity and play reaches a new baroque height, perhaps because the ritual intonations made him responsible first to sound and only second to sense. An example is the opening of "How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin":
Once upon a time, on an uninhabited island on the shores of the Red Sea, there lived a Parsee from whose hat the rays of the sun were reflected in more-than-oriental splendour. And the Parsee lived by the Red Sea with nothing but his hat and his knife and a cooking-stove of the kind that you must particularly never touch. And one day he took flour and water and currants and plums and sugar and things, and made himself one cake which was two feet across and three feet thick. It was indeed a Superior Comestible (that's Magic), and he put it on the stove because he was allowed to cook on that stove, and he baked it and he baked it till it was all done brown and smelt most sentimental. But just as he was going to eat it there came down to the beach from the Altogether Uninhabited Interior one Rhinoceros with a horn on his nose, two piggy eyes, and few manners.
Even while composing these stories, Kipling remained concerned with creation, transformation, and incantation of art and poetry. Animals, alphabets, and written communication are created, varied, mutated, transformed. Gods, butterflies, cave-women, jinn, dingoes, cats, and every sort of creature make or fall under incantations, invocations, and spells, witnesses to or masters of the power of words, their rhythms and repetitions.
The book itself mutated for the better, as Brian Alderson explains in "Just-So Pictures: Illustrated Versions of Just So Stories for Little Children." The stories first appeared in magazines illustrated by professional artists, but when they were published in book form, the illustrations were by Kipling. Nor were they ordinary illustrations: the pictures have varying degrees of relevance to the text of the story. Some illustrate scenes described in the text, while others depict events never mentioned or mentioned only in passing in the narrative, and still others break away from what they "illustrate" entirely, a fact confessed in the whimsical caption for the "inciting map of the Turbid Amazon done in Red and Black," which "hasn't anything to do with the story except that there are two Armadilloes in it--up by the top." Since Kipling worked in more than one graphic style, the kinds of jokes and comments possible increase with each new pictorial technique. The captions which presumably would clarify the relationship between the drawing and the story do so, but they also ask questions of the reader, answer the reader's implied questions, provide irrelevant information and noninformation, and apologize for the achievements and limitations of the artist. The verbal playfulness of the stories is kept up in the captions and transposed to visual playfulness in the illustrations. This shared richness of invention and facetiousness of tone, rather than any functional or rational link, unify the stories, pictures, and captions in a unique authorial game.
In 1902 Kipling settled permanently at Bateman's near Burwash in Sussex. The most meticulously imagined and fervently realized product of the ensuing period is a pair of books for children, Puck of Pook's Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910), both collections of stories and poems that had previously appeared in magazines. Unlike the Jungle Book collections and Just So Stories, however, the Puck books are unified by a frame-narrative device. Two children, modeled on Kipling's children Elsie and John, summon up the playful sprite Puck by acting out a portion of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595) on Midsummer eve while standing in a fairy ring on their Sussex farm. Puck, modeled on Kipling in his role of mediator for otherwise inarticulate people of action, introduces them to a series of ghosts from England's past: a British-Roman soldier, a Norman knight, a Renaissance artist, a thirteenth-century Jewish physician, Elizabeth I (incognito), a Regency miss, a prehistoric hunter, a Franco-English gypsy of the Napoleonic era, a seventh-century bishop, a Civil War physician, and an Elizabethan boatwright. Each ghost in turn tells a story to the children.
Their stories form a history of England from the perspective of unsung heroes. They remember kings and cabbages with impartiality--the operations of time have rendered all equal. Although didactic, the stories are not dull: the heroes and heroines of the Puck books are vividly alive, passionate about lives and times still immediate to them, and endowed with distinct and complex personalities.
The characters usually live during times of evolution and devolution of "Cities and Thrones and Powers", the title of a poem in the collection. The tales take place on the border of a shrinking Roman Empire, just before and just after the Norman Conquest, during the rise and fall of Napoleon, in the infancy of the United States, and so on. The fall of one order overlaps the ascent of the new, the adversaries in one story becoming the heroes of the next or their ancestors. For instance, the heroes of the Roman stories fend off Vikings whose descendant is the Saxon hero of another tale. Thus Kipling's fascination with conflicting and complementary elements of identity ranges from personal to national, and his old faith in inclusiveness and "melting pot" unification is upheld. Whereas in Mowgli's jungle the unification depends on filial love between a child and his foster parents, in the Puck books unification is a function of varied friendships: Roman with Viking, Norman with Saxon, Gypsy and Moravian with Seneca, saint with pagan, Roundhead with Cavalier. Kipling hoped this spirit of friendship and love would unite and (no doubt) extend the British Empire.
But mere justification was not enough for Kipling; he could justify his past by becoming its historian, but he could only describe and define it by becoming its poet. Although there had been poetry in his other children's books, the verses in the Puck books are some of Kipling's best, the work of a mature poet at the top of his form: "Harp Song of the Dane Women", "Cities and Thrones and Powers" , "A Smuggler's Song", "Cold Iron", "If--", "Eddi's Service", and "The Way through the Woods". Amis calls this last poem "a pastoral lyric so well done and so far outside its author's usual range, whatever that is, as to make it difficult to think of a literary parallel."
The blend of story and verse creates a piece of didactic romancing about the provenance and continuity of the English and English virtues (and vices) combined with a lyrical hymnody about the beauty and richness of the English countryside and character. Interestingly, however, these British characters fall neatly into the Indian caste system: physicians and priests, soldiers, merchants, artisans (who cast considerable light on Kipling's concept of himself), and farmers. Kings appear but are, with one exception, seen from the perspective of the less exalted. "A Charm" in Rewards and Fairies tells us that the author's concern is not with the overtly powerful, but with the obscurely good: "Not the great or well-bespoke, / But the mere uncounted folk / Of whose life and death is none / Report or lamentation." It is fitting, therefore, that one of the recurring symbols in the Puck books is iron--a common metal capable of endurance, brightness, and magic--whether as a singing sword, compass needle, cannon, or horse-shoe.
With their idyllic frame narrative and absorption in good characters, the Puck books are fundamentally hopeful in tenor. But this does not prevent Kipling from dealing with old age, loneliness, grief, incurable diseases, blindness, maiming, alienation, vendetta, violence, racism, religious persecution, madness, melancholia, and death in these stories. His children's England belongs to children whose names, Dan and Una, evoke the biblical hero and the heroine from book 1 of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene (1590), and it is no place of facile safety any more than the empire of Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible or the haunts of Duessa and Archimago in Spenser's work. No victory is assured, no defeat impossible. The last story, "The Tree of Justice", deals with the respect and gentleness owing to the defeated and the guilt-ridden melancholy that falls upon the conquerors.
Though modern children may relish the Puck books less than adults do, Kipling declares in Something of Myself that the tales were designed for both groups: "Yet, since the tales had to be read by children, before people realized that they were meant for grown-ups; and since they had to be a balance to, as well as a seal upon, some aspects of my 'Imperialistic' output in the past, I worked the material in three or four overlaid tints and textures, which might or might not reveal themselves according to the shifting light of sex, youth, and experience." But if reviewer Brander Matthews, writing in 1926, is correct, then the appeal is weighted toward the adults: "Only the mature, who have come to an understanding of life ... have experience enough to relish the rich savor of Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies, that incomparable pair of volumes." Though less regarded by contemporary critics, the Puck books are arguably the last long masterpiece of Kipling's career.
The life led by Kipling after moving to Bateman's until his death can be thought of as a period of losses--of parents, another child, friends, health, and public standing. Kipling's mother died in November 1910, and his father outlived her by less than three months, dying in January 1911. Kipling consoled himself through his wife and two children, and when his son John began school, Kipling frequently visited him, evidently determined not to reenact his own parents' willingness to dispense with his company for years at a time. John Kipling was popular and pleasant and, though no great scholar, was accepted by the army readily in 1914 when World War I began. He was commissioned in the Irish Guards and left with them for France on his eighteenth birthday, 17 August 1915. He served creditably for six weeks and was then reported wounded and missing in action. His body was never found. It seems characteristically stoic of Kipling that after the war he served on the Imperial War Graves Commission, writing epitaphs and inscriptions and inspecting cemeteries, attending to the graves of other people's children when there was none for his own. He wrote a history of his son's regiment, in which John's name appears only on a list of casualties, but otherwise the author was as reticent about this grief as he had been about his loss of Josephine and his parents.
The Imperial War Graves Commission was not the only official or public connection that Kipling made after settling in Sussex. He was as indefatigable as ever, strengthening ties with increasingly extreme right-wing politicians, indulging his Francophilia by traveling to France and studying its literature, watching his friend Sir Robert Baden-Powell institutionalize Mowgli-like ideas of education by founding the Boy Scouts, becoming in the 1920s a friend of King George V, and using his popularity with the armed services to study at close hand the Royal Navy and the infantine Royal Aircraft Establishment. He declined knighthood twice; he declined membership in the British Academy, which would have required him to criticize other writers; and he declined the Order of Merit in 1921 and again in 1924. He received honorary doctorates from McGill University in Canada; the Universities of Durham, Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh; and the Universities of Paris and Strasbourg. He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1907, and in 1923 he became lord rector of Saint Andrew's University. At home he carried on more like an undergraduate: always hungry for information, Kipling studied ancient manuscripts, botany, Jacobean poets, John Donne, and the history of medicine, and he pursued his love of Horace by reading his works and by writing English imitations of his poems.
Perhaps more distressing than the state of his health was the loneliness he and Carrie felt after Elsie married George Bambridge in 1924 and followed her husband abroad for his diplomatic career. Kipling wrote to friends the familiar complaint about the excessive size and quietness of his house with his children gone, but the Kiplings were scarcely living in enforced isolation. There was a steady procession of friends, admirers, and, best of all for Kipling, their friends' children who were, as always, Kipling's favorite company. Carrington records that when writing to invite friends and their children, Kipling "always insisted that they should come in their oldest clothes, fully prepared to fall into the pond."
Despite such amusements, his losses, his painfully failing health, his hobbies, and more formal commitments, Kipling continued to write, though no longer for children, barring some verses to accompany chapters in C. R. L. Fletcher's A History of England (1911). In 1923 he made up a collection intended for Baden-Powell's Scouts, Land and Sea Tales. This awkward assortment had only two or three short stories that might actually interest a young reader: "Stalky", collected for the first time since its publication in 1898; "His Gift" , a harmless tale about a misfit Boy Scout who discovers a talent for cooking; and "The Son of His Father", the precocious escapades of the small son of Strickland, the policeman hero of several of Kipling's earliest tales. But with the exception of "'Stalky'" these stories for children are lackluster. More successful at the end of his career were his fictions intended for adults, which include some of his finest mature work.
After 1919 Kipling's interest in medicine was more than omnivorous amateurism. He was beginning to suffer from gastric disorders which went undiagnosed for fourteen years and were ineffectively treated for the rest of his life. He feared cancer but was in fact afflicted with ulcers; thus, he lived the rest of his life in acute and unremitting pain which ended only when the ulcers ruptured, and he died on 18 January 1936 of the consequent stroke.
At the nadir of its popularity at his death, Kipling's work never entirely lost its readership. The fairly negligible Thy Servant a Dog, Told by Boots (1930) sold one hundred thousand copies in six months. When Kipling died his British publishers had sold seven million copies of his works and his American publishers eight million, excluding articles in magazines and newspapers, numerous translations, and the uncountable number of pirated editions which broadened his audience, even if they did not enrich his bank account.
Kipling was cremated at Golders Green and interred in Poets' Corner at Westminister Abbey. Conspicuous by their absence at his funeral were the members of his own profession and professional critics who had turned out in force, Kipling included, to bury Thomas Hardy only a few years before. But Westminster Abbey was nevertheless filled with friends and admirers, and the crowd overflowed into the streets.
Hardly a decade has passed since without one critic or another attempting to restore Kipling's reputation, damaged by its inevitable association with imperialism. The recent lapse of copyright and the consequent availability of paperback editions from Oxford and Penguin may do more than any critical revision to restore Kipling to the public. With the exception of a small boom in imperialist readings, critical attention has continued at a steadily modest rate. Kipling was the most popular British author since Charles Dickens and the most read and recited poet since Alfred Tennyson, yet he has not accumulated a fraction of their scholarly apparatus, possibly because he was such a controversial figure. Whether or not his critical reputation ever changes, one thing is assured: his work for children (or writing disguised as work for children) called out the best in him at every level.
From: McCutchan, Corinne. "Rudyard Kipling." British Children's Writers, 1880-1914, edited by Laura M. Zaidman, Gale, 1994. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 141.