Invisible Ink: No 127 - Rudyard Kipling
Sunday 10 June 2012
'Do you like Kipling?" asks the colonel on the seaside postcard. "I don't know, I've never Kippled," replies the shopgirl. But most people had, and they made him one of the most popular writers in the land. Remembered mainly for children's fables, he developed an image problem that kept his adult work off the radar for 60 years. The knee-jerk reaction is that he's a celebrator of British imperialism at its worst, so it's easy to overlook a few balancing facts.
Joseph Kipling was born in Bombay in 1865 and moved to England as a child. "Rudyard" was a middle name, after the lake in Staffordshire where his parents courted. The first cousin of the Conservative PM Stanley Baldwin, Kipling considered himself Anglo-Indian, which was common among the British born in India, and he returned to Bombay at 16. Starting work in a newspaper, he set a frenetic pace of writing, producing six volumes of short stories before heading to London, then the US, where he wrote the two Jungle Books. Although he loved Vermont, he made his home in Devon, and later in Sussex, after the growing anti-British sentiment in the US forced his hand.
Even before Queen Victoria had gone, Kipling was being seen as an arch-imperialist with such poems as "The White Man's Burden", although his writings contained ironies, particularly in Stalky & Co, about arrogantly cynical schoolboys.
The patriotic new century saw a leap in popularity. A reflection of his time, Kipling's admiration of India was undeniable. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first and youngest English language winner, but there was a troubling side to his work. Staunchly anti-Home Rule for Ireland and anti-Bolshevik, he supported the coming world war and secured a position for his son John in the Irish Guards. But the boy was killed in action, after which Kipling wrote: "If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied."
He repeatedly turned down a knighthood, was lauded by Henry James and beloved by millions (his poem "If ..." still tops the charts) but times had changed. In later years Kipling's reputation shifted from innovator to old guard, partly because the gold swastika adorning his early books had become stigmatised; Kipling ordered the ancient symbol's removal and condemned the Nazis as early as 1935.
Now, both in England and India, reformation is under way. What cannot be denied is a facility for language that frequently surprises and dazzles, ripe for rediscovery.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 2 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 3 Tunisian builder has been hailed a hero after knocking gunman to the ground with roof tiles
- 4 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 5 Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
Kanye West at Glastonbury 2015: 'He raps' - BBC subtitles team upstages Yeezy with hilarious description of lyrics
Orange Is The New Black season 3 episode 1, review: The Ross and Rachel-ness of Piper and Alex is starting to grate
Glastonbury 2015: Lionel Richie attracts festival's biggest crowds for Sunday's 'dad slot'
Top Gear last episode review: A momentous occasion for Clarkson, Hammond and May fans
Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato