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Rudyard Kipling, the unofficial poet laureate of the British Empire and one of the most widely quoted, discussed, and read writers of all time, was born in Bombay to English parents in 1865. His father, Lockwood Kipling, was a professor of architectural sculpture at Bombay's Jejeebhoy School of Art and Industry; his mother was Alice MacDonald, a member of a prominent Victorian artistic family. Kipling adored his parents and his Indian "ayah" (nanny) and was disconsolate when he and his younger sister were sent to England in 1871. Putting children "out to nurse" in England because of the dangers of Indian tropical diseases was a regular custom among Anglo-Indians, and Rudyard and his sister were sent to live with a couple in Southsea who made a living caring for such children.
The young Kiplings' foster father was a kindly man, but his wife was a tyrannical and puritanical disciplinarian who became obsessed with correcting the habits of "lying" that she perceived in the fanciful Rudyard; she succeeded in making Kipling's six childhood years in England the bitterest and most unpleasant of his life. He later recorded this traumatic time in his short story "Baa-Baa Black Sheep". In 1877 Kipling's mother came to England and removed the children from Southsea.
In 1878, Rudyard enrolled in a public school in Devonshire, where his glasses, day-dreaming tale-telling habits, and small size caused him to undergo some very rough treatment at the hands of more robust schoolfellows. In the end, however, he became something of a school character and an unofficial mascot, and made some lasting friendships among his classmates. He recorded this epoch of his life, slightly fictionalized, in Stalky and Co.
Kipling's eyesight precluded a military career, and his parents lacked the funds to send him to Oxford, so at the age of sixteen he journeyed back to India to take up an assistant editor job on a Lahore paper. He began as a general journalistic jack-of-all-trades, but soon took to writing poetry and then short stories, which began to find their way into the paper. His first anthology of short stories, Plain Tales from the Hills, was published in Calcutta in 1888, and before long found its way to England, where it, and subsequent volumes (including Wee Willie Winkie and Soldiers Three) caught the reading public's fancy in a manner unequalled since the appearance of Charles Dickens' first sketches. Kipling was a literary celebrity by the time he returned to England in 1889, following an extended ramble that took him through China, Japan, Canada, and the United States.
In 1891, Rudyard married Caroline Balestier, sister of his recently deceased friend, and American publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier, and settled in Brattleboro, Vermont, near his bride's old family estate. Kipling's years in Vermont were happy ones; both his daughters were born there, and it was there he also wrote some of his best books, including The Jungle Book, The Second Jungle Book, and Captains Courageous. However, Kipling's dislike of what he regarded as American "hustle" and arrogance (and his satires of these qualities in stories such as "An Error in the Fourth Dimension") made him somewhat unpopular with the American press. An unhappy legal dispute with his wife's alcoholic brother gave the press an opportunity to attack Kipling, and the resultant flurry of negative public attention deeply hurt and troubled him. Despite all his literary breeziness and occasional cockiness, Kipling was a very sensitive man, and rather than have his privacy violated by antagonistic reporters, he took his family and returned to England in 1896.
This move was upsetting enough to Kipling, but a much greater personal tragedy befell him when his daughter Josephine died of pneumonia in 1899. To control his grief, Kipling buried himself in writing, and turned out his last and greatest Indian story, the novel Kim, and the wonderful children's books Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies. His popularity and literary repute grew greater than ever in the years between the Boer War and World War 1, and he hit the climax of literary fame when he became the first Englishman to receive a Nobel Literary Prize in 1907.
The outbreak of World War 1 found Kipling full of anti-German sentiment and wholeheartedly in favor of the war, and he produced some extremely well-done propaganda tales (such as "Swept and Garnished" and "Sea Constables") during this time. However, the unexpected horrors of World War 1 and the death of his only son John in the Battle of Loos deeply grieved Kipling, and in his post-war work he grew more and more introspective and reflective. His stories during this period included the moving story of war-loss, "The Gardener," and the haunting tale of the afterlife, "Uncovenanted Mercies." Rudyard Kipling passed away in 1936, leaving an unfinished autobiography, Something of Myself.
Kipling will forever be controversial among critics. His English contemporaries often felt he had "gone native" entirely through his admiration for the Indian peoples and culture, while later writers considered him to be a smug, self-satisfied upper-class imperialist. Whatever one may think of Kipling's political views, he was one of the most talented authors who ever lived. His stories and poems have a spell-binding quality of rhythm and wording that cannot be compared with any other author's work, and as long as literature survives, you can bet that Kipling will still be read.Dan Neyer