Rudyard Kipling (30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936) was an English
author and poet. Born in Bombay, British India (now Mumbai), he is best
known for his works of fiction The Jungle Book (1894) (a
collection of stories which includes "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi"), Kim
(1901) (a tale of adventure), many short stories, including The Man
Who Would Be King (1888); and his poems, including Mandalay (1890),
Gunga Din (1890), and If— (1910). He is regarded as a
major "innovator in the art of the short story"; his children's books
are enduring classics of children's literature; and his best works speak
to a versatile and luminous narrative gift.
Kipling was one of the
most popular writers in English, in both prose and verse, in the late
19th and early 20th centuries. The author Henry James said of him:
"Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as
distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known." In 1907, he
was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English
language writer to receive the prize, and to date he remains its
youngest recipient. Among other honours, he was sounded out for the
British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, all
of which he declined.
Later in life Kipling
came to be recognized (by George Orwell, at least) as a "prophet of
British imperialism." Many saw prejudice and militarism in his works,
and the resulting controversy about him continued for much of the 20th
century. According to critic Douglas Kerr: "He 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 an increasing
recognition of his extraordinary narrative gifts, make him a force to be
“I have always felt the menacing darkness of tropical eventides, as I have loved the voices of night-winds through palm or banana leaves, and the song of the tree-frogs”—from his autobiography Something of Myself (1937)
The newly opened Suez Canal created a bustling port city which captivated young Rudyard, an intersection to the ancient cultures and mystical rites of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Anglo-Indians and their then colonial rulers.
The idyllic days were to end when in 1871 Rudyard and Alice were sent to school in Southsea, England, to live with Captain Holloway and his wife. She ruled the boarding house with fire and brimstone and Kipling was often beaten by her and her son. “Then the old Captain died, and I was sorry, for he was the only person in that house as far as I can remember who ever threw me a kind word.”—ibid. Kipling soon learned to read and found solace in literature and poetry, voraciously turning to the magazines and books his parents sent him including Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone and works by the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bret Harte also left an indelible impression on Kipling.
Respite from the Holloway household was gained when he spent one month a year in London with his mother’s kindly sister Aunt Georgie and her husband, pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne Jones and their children. Those months of December were a veritable paradise to Kipling; North End House was constantly brimming with visiting friends and relatives, and the homey and artistic effects of the affectionate couple were everywhere. Their home echoed with laughter and the patter of little feet or was eerily hushed as the children raptly listened to fantastic stories told by Edward. They also played the organ, sang songs, dressed up in costumes and acted out plays.
In 1877 Kipling’s mother returned to England and collected him from ‘The House of Desolation’ as he grimly refers to the Holloway’s over sixty years later in his autobiography, so that he could attend the United Services College in Westward Ho!, Devon. He was now armed with spectacles, for Kipling was nearly blind without them and his undiagnosed vision problems were the source of much grief from Mrs. Holloway and his schoolteachers. He learned to defend himself from bullies and settled into the life of a student, became the editor of the school paper, and in his second year started writing his own Schoolboy Lyrics (1881) printed by his parents. In 1878 his father took him to the Paris Exhibition where he was allowed to wander freely and gained much appreciation for French culture which he wrote about in Souvenirs of France (1933).
In 1881 Kipling traveled back to Lahore, India to live with his parents. It was a happy homecoming and his ayah was overjoyed to see him too. Ensconced in his own office he became the assistant editor for the Anglo-Indian Civil and Military Gazette and later The Pioneer. He had suffered frail health as a child and his penchant for working ten or more hours a day may have led to a later nervous breakdown.
Thus began Kipling’s career as roving reporter, traveling to various parts of India and the United States. He wrote dozens of essays, reviews and short stories like “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888) and “Gunga Din” (1890) which would later be collected in such volumes as Departmental Ditties (1886, poetry), Plain Tales From the Hills (1888, short stories), Wee Willie Winkie (1888, short stories), American Notes (1891, non-fiction), and his first major success Barrack-Room Ballads (1892, poetry). In 1887, he met professor Alec Hill who would become a great friend and travel companion.
Now living just off the Strand in London, England on Villiers Street, Kipling enjoyed the success of many of his publications and continued his prodigious output. During the influenza epidemic, on 18 January 1892 Kipling married Caroline ‘Carrie’ Balestier, the sister of his American publisher. American author Henry James attended. The Kiplings started their ‘magic carpet’ honeymoon in a wintry Canada (they bought twenty acres of land in North Vancouver only to learn several years later that it was owned by someone else) then went on to Yokohama, Japan, but the same day an earthquake struck he was informed by the bank that all his funds with the New Oriental Banking Corporation were lost when it failed. Left with the clothes on their backs and what they owned in their trunks, they made their way back to the United States, first living in ‘Bliss Cottage’ in the New England town of Brattleboro, Vermont before moving into ‘The Naulakha’. Their first daughter Josephine was born in 1892, Elsie in 1896, and son John “on a warm August night of ‘97’”. After a legal falling out with his publisher and brother-in-law Beatty Balestier, Kipling decided to move to England in 1896 and settled at ‘The Elms’ in Rottingdean, Sussex. He was now a success in India and America and The Jungle Book (1894) established his fame in England. Many other titles were published around this time including The Naulahka: A story of West and East (1892), The Second Jungle Book (1895) and Captains Courageous (1896).
In the winter of 1898, the Kiplings went on their first of many holidays in South Africa. “the children throve, and the colour, light, and half-oriental manners of the land bound chains round our hearts for years to come.” While in the United States a year later, Josephine died of pneumonia. Kipling had been gravely ill from it too and her death was a terrible blow to him. When the Boer War broke out Kipling joined in campaign efforts to raise money for the troops and reported for army publications. During a harrowing two-week stay in Bloemfontein he came face to face with the tragedies of war; the deaths by typhoid and dysentery and appalling conditions in the barracks. “They were wonderful even in the hour of death—these men and boys—lodge-keepers and ex-butlers of the Reserve and raw town-lads of twenty.”—Something of Myself
Embittered by the Great War Kipling sought solitude in the Sussex downs and in 1902 he and Carrie found the house ‘Bateman’s’ in Burwash, which he purchased and lived in for the rest of his life. First serialised in McClure’s Magazine, Kim was published in 1901. It follows the adventures of Kimball O’Hara in the Himalayas and reflects the conflicts between Britain, Russia, and central Asia. Kipling had thus far refused many awards and honours including that of England’s Poet Laureate but in 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature “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.”
In 1915 during World War I Kipling visited the Western Front as reporter and wrote “France at War”. The Fringes of the Fleet (1915) was followed by Sea Warfare (1916). His son John died at the age of eighteen while fighting with the Irish Guards in the Battle of Loos which he wrote about in The Irish Guards in the Great War (1923). In 1922 he was named Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The same year he produced “The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer” or “The Iron Ring Ceremony” and Obligation at the request of the University of Toronto Engineering department. In 1926 he was featured on the cover of Time magazine. In 1935 Kipling gave an address to the Royal Society of St. George, “An Undefended Island”, outlining the dangers Nazi Germany posed to Britain.
Rudyard Kipling died of a hemorrhage on 18 January 1936 in London, and his ashes are interred in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, London, England near to T. S. Eliot. Today his study and the gardens at ‘The Elm’ are preserved by the Rottingdean Preservation Society, and Bateman’s is held by the National Trust. The Kipling Society was founded in 1927. From his poem “Recessional”—Lest we forget is now a popular epitaph used by many including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (est.1917) which Kipling worked as literary adviser for during World War I.