Williamson County Public Library Blog

Rudyard Kipling: Extreme Traveler

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By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Rudyard Kipling, the name brings up so many different connotations, depending on how old you are. If you’re an octogenarian you may have grown up on his adventure stories. Those of you who were children of the sixties, now in your sixties yourself, may remember him as another colonialist apologist whose inclusion in your curriculum was something to fight against. If you happen to be of the eighties then the strongest connection you may have is through the cub scouts where terms like akela and law of the pack proliferate. Finally, for grade school kids, he is the guy that wrote that movie they liked so much last year. So who is the real Kipling? He is all of these things and more, including a man who couldn’t stay in place until he was in his 40’s (which was especially impressive considering that travel during that time period was quite a long undertaking).

Kipling was named after a popular lake in Staffordshire, England where his parents had met and often visited, but he was a true child of empire. He was born at the end of December, 1865 in Bombay (now called Mumbai). His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was a teacher and later principal there before moving 900 miles north to head another school in Lahore. The elder Kipling was an artist of some renown, having contributed designs to the Victoria and Albert Museum and other well-known buildings of the time as well as illustrations for his son’s books. Rudyard’s mother Alice (nee MacDonald) ran her husband’s household and did her best to help advance his career, but she also wrote and published poems, was musical and sewed.

Young Ruddy spent his first five years in Bombay with his parents before he and his younger sister Trix, then three, were sent to live and go to school in England (big move #1). Kipling refers to this time very darkly and was unhappy. After it had been determined he was not educationally suited for Oxford he returned to India (actually, what is now Pakistan) to work for a newspaper in Lahore where his father was now head of a new Art School (big move #2). It was during his time with the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore that his stories became known to others. An open minded editor allowed for more creative freedom and thus Kipling published thirty-nine stories through his newspaper. In late 1887 he transferred to a sister newspaper, The Pioneer, in Allahabad where he would publish 41 more stories (big move #3). After a dispute with The Pioneer he was sacked and decided to return to England, via Asia and North America (big move #4, via the scenic route). He traveled to San Francisco via Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, and before traveling extensively through the United States and Canada.

Kipling’s England: A map of England showing Kipling’s homes.

Upon his return to Britain, he continued writing and had a nervous breakdown. After recovering, he acquired a new publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier. It was through Wolcott that he met Caroline, called Carrie, Balestier’s sister. While traveling (visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and once again India), Kipling heard of Wolcott’s untimely death and proposed to Carrie by telegram. They were married in 1892.  For a while, the Kiplings lived in the United States (big move #5) and it was here that many of his most famous works were written; Captain’s Courageous, Gunga Din and the Jungle Book. It was also here that his two daughters were born and where the older, Josephine died. After several years in new England near his wife’s family, the couple decided to return to England (final big move #6, even though he moved again within England).

It was in England that John, known as Jack, was born. Kipling continued to write and publish, and two of his works form this period, including White Man’s Burden, provide a great deal of fodder for his critics. Nonetheless, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, the first English language author to do so. He continued to travel (mostly to South Africa) and wrote Kim at this time as well.

Lt John Kipling.

Seven Years later a great tragedy befell the Kiplings. With the start of World War I, their eighteen year old son Jack wanted to enlist in the Navy and once refused, the army. He was kept from doing so by poor eyesight. Rudyard, ever the patriotic Briton, called in a favor and got his son posted to the Irish Guards as an officer. Sadly, like so many young men of that time he was killed in trenches, during the Battle of Loos. His body was not identified until 1992. The loss of Jack affected Kipling. His patriotism dimmed and he began to work with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the organization that maintains the overseas graves of British Commonwealth military personnel. He did continue to write for the next twenty years. He finally passed away January the Eighteenth, 1936.

In his time Kipling was considered a great writer and thinker, but his work has been up and down since then. Many literary scholars find his stance of imperialism to be, at best, an unfortunate relic of his time and place, and at worst, uncaring racial and regional superiority. Orwell admired his ability but decried his message. Many universities removed him from curriculum due to protests in the 1960s. In the field of children’s literature however he has remained, fairly consistently, well regarded. His Jungle Book and Just So Stories have been favorites for generations and have been adapted many times for film, stage and television. His work, the Jungle Book in particular provided a structure for the new junior division of Boy Scouts Kipling’s good friend Robert Baden Powell created in 1916. Laws of the pack, Akela and Baloo are terms familiar to many people who have gone through the cub programs in many countries. While he still carries a whiff of imperialist dogma around with him, many modern scholars choose to look at him as a window to a time outside of our experience.


Fiction

The cover of The Jungle Book first edition, 1894.

Non-Fiction

DVD

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