Rudyard Kipling

It is easy to underestimate the variety, complexity, and subtlety of British author Rudyard Kipling’s writing. He became an extraordinarily popular writer in the 1890s with short stories and poems enlivened by strange and interesting settings, a brisk narrative, and the fresh energy of the voices that told his tales. Credited with popularizing the short-fiction genre in England, Kipling is perhaps most famous for his insightful stories of Indian culture and Anglo-Indian society and for his masterly, widely read stories for children.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Born in British Colony Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay, India, where his father was professor of architectural sculpture in the School of Art. At the time, India was a colony of Great Britain, as at least parts of it had been since the early seventeenth century when the British East India Company gained control of some of its territory. Resentment of British authority and British disregard for Indian religious law led to the first open demonstration for independence in 1857. Though the rebellion was suppressed, the Government of India Act of 1858 gave India some rights, improved the country’s administration, and gave Indians the right to serve as counselors to the viceroy (the person appointed by the British monarch to govern India). Despite these small measures, India remained firmly in British control and economic exploitation had only increased by the time Kipling was born.

Educated in England In 1871, Kipling was sent to England for his education. He entered the United Services College at Westward Ho!—a boarding school in Devon—in 1878. There, young ‘‘Gigger’’ endured bullying and harsh discipline but also enjoyed the close friendships, practical jokes, and merry pranks he later recorded in Stalky & Co. (1899). Headmaster Price encouraged Kipling’s literary ambitions by having him edit the school paper and praising the poems Kipling wrote for it. When Kipling sent some of these to India, his father had them privately printed as Schoolboy Lyrics (1881), Kipling’s first published work.

In 1882, Kipling rejoined his parents in Lahore, a Muslim city in what would later become Pakistan, and became a subeditor for the Civil and Military Gazette. In 1887, he moved to the Allahabad Pioneer, a better paper that gave him greater liberty in his writing. The result was a flood of satiric verses, published as Departmental Ditties in 1886, and over seventy short stories published in 1888 in seven paperback volumes. In style, the stories showed the influence of Edgar Allan Poe, Bret Harte, and Guy de Maupassant, but the subjects were Kipling’s own. His stories focused on Anglo-Indian society, which he readily criticized with an acid pen, and the life of the common British soldier and the Indian native, which he portrayed accurately and sympathetically.

In the 1880s, there was an increased call for Indian independence. Because the colonial overlords turned over large areas of India from rice cultivation to cotton farming in this period, the Indian food supply was endangered, but British factories had more raw materials for their textile factories. The British further impoverished India by destroying its native textile industry by flooding the market with cheaper, tariff-free British products. Because of such situations, Indians founded the Indian National Congress in 1885 to express their desires and to make plans for achieving independence.

Fame in England and America In 1889, Kipling took a long voyage through China, Japan, and the United States. When he reached London, he found that his stories had preceded him and established him as a brilliant new author. He was readily accepted into the circle of leading writers, including William Ernest Henley, Thomas Hardy, George Saintsbury, and Andrew Lang. For Henley’s Scots Observer, he wrote a number of stories and some of his best-remembered poems: ‘‘A Ballad of East and West,’’ ‘‘Mandalay,’’ and’’ The English Flag. ‘‘He also introduced English readers to a ‘‘new genre’’ of serious poems in Cockney dialect: ‘‘Danny Deever,’’ ‘‘Tommy,’’ ‘‘Fuzzy-Wuzzy,’’ and ‘‘Gunga Din.’’ Kipling’s first novel, The Light That Failed (1891), was unsuccessful. But when his stories were collected as Life’s Handicap (1891) and poems as Barrackroom Ballads (1892), Kipling replaced Lord Tennyson as the most popular English author.

In 1892, Kipling married Caroline Balestier, an American. They settled on the Balestier estate near Brat-tleboro, Vermont, and began four of the happiest years of Kipling’s life, during which he wrote some of his best work, including Many Inventions (1893), perhaps his best volume of short stories; The Jungle Book (1894), and The Second Jungle Book (1895). These works not only assured Kipling’s lasting fame as a serious writer but also made him a rich man.

His Imperialism In 1897 the Kiplings settled in Rottingdean, a village on the English coast near Brighton. The outbreak of the Spanish-American War (fought to free Cuba from Spanish colonial rule as well as to assert the growing power of the United States) in 1898 and the Boer War (a conflict in South Africa between British colonial rule and Dutch settlers for control of the country) in 1899 turned Kipling’s attention to colonial affairs. He began to publish a number of solemn poems in the London Times. The most famous of these, ‘‘Recessional’’ (1897), issued a warning to Englishmen to consider their accomplishments in the Diamond Jubilee year of Queen

Victoria’s reign with humility and awe rather than pride and arrogance.

The equally well-known ‘‘White Man’s Burden’’ (1899) clearly expressed the attitudes toward empire implicit in the stories in The Day’s Work (1898) and A Fleet in Being (1898). He referred to less highly developed peoples as ‘‘lesser breeds’’ and considered order, discipline, sacrifice, and humility to be the essential qualities of colonial rulers. These views have been denounced as racist, elitist, and jingoistic. For Kipling, the term ‘‘white man’’ indicated citizens of the more highly developed nations, whose duty it was to spread law, literacy, and morality throughout the world.

Commented on Spanish-American War The Spanish-American War provoked Kipling to write for vice president Theodore Roosevelt a poem with the now offensive title ‘‘The White Man’s Burden.’’ Its message was typical for Kipling. Seeing that America suddenly had acquired vast new colonial possessions from its defeat of Spain, thus joining the European powers in their race to colonize the rest of the world, Kipling argued that it was the responsibility of the United States to care for its new subjects liberally and humanely, if also as effective owners or wardens. Roosevelt reportedly responded, though not to Kipling, ‘‘Rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansionist viewpoint.’’

During the Boer War, Kipling spent several months in South Africa, where he raised funds for soldiers’ relief and worked on an army newspaper, the Friend. In 1901, Kipling published Kim, the last and most charming of his portrayals of Indian life. But anti-imperialist reaction following the end of the Boer War caused a decline in Kipling’s popularity. When he published The Five Nations, a book of South African verse, in 1903, he was attacked in parodies, caricatures, and serious protests as the opponent of a growing spirit of peace and democratic equality. Kipling then retired to ‘‘Bateman’s,’’ a house near Burwash, a secluded village in Essex, England.

Later Works Kipling now turned from the wide empire as subject to England itself. In 1902, he published Just So Stories for Little Children. He also issued two books of stories of England’s past, intended, like the Jungle Books, for young readers but suitable for adults as well: Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910).

His most significant work was a number of volumes of short stories written in a new style: Traffics and Discoveries (1904), Actions and Reactions (1904), A Diversity of Creatures (1917), Debits and Credits (1926), and Limits and Renewals (1932). These later stories treat more complex, subtle, and somber subjects in a style more compressed, allusive, and elliptical. Consequently, these stories have never been as popular as his earlier work. But modern critics, in reevaluating Kipling, have found a greater power and depth that make them his best work.

In 1907, Kipling became the first English writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died on January 18, 1936, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His autobiography, Something of Myself, was published posthumously in 1937.

Works in Literary Context

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  • Rudyard Kipling’s Dress Parade – Part 1
  • Hardy’s Boer War poetry shows little interest in soldiers until they die. More concerned with the effects of their departure and return—or failure to return—it allows them only a posthumous voice, so that they may confront the cause for which they were sacrificed. Soldiers are tragic figures in Hardy’s work, tramping gloomily to their inevitable
  • Rudyard Kipling’s Dress Parade – Part 2
  • Kipling’s Boer War poetry exploits the authority of experience. Most of his output divides between the Cockney poems spoken by low-ranking soldiers, and the high pronouncements, in propria persona, on the justif - cations for war and (subsequently) the lessons to be learnt from it. These two types might be expected to enjoy a symbiotic
  • Rudyard Kipling’s Dress Parade – Part 4
  • ‘Chant-Pagan’ lays numerous charges againsThengland, but they are all distilled into the complaint that ‘there’s somethin’ gone small with the lot’.60 After the Boer War, England appears to Kipling’s irregular soldier a petty and prissy nation, with its absurdly deferential society and its ‘ ’ouses both sides of the street’.61 Paul Fussell quotes Sassoon’s observation
  • Imperialism in India
  • Throughout history, many nations have implemented imperialism to enforce their will over others for money, protection and civilization. India was no exception. Since its discovery, Europeans were trying get a piece of India's action. In many cases England was the imperial, or mother country. Since India was put under imperialism, a great deal of things
  • Imperialism in India
  • British imperialism on India had many positive and negative affects on both the mother country, Britain and the colony, India. Many people would argue which effects were more prominent in these countries and some would agree that they were equal. But in both cases there were actually both. In India the British colonization had more positive