Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on December 30th, 1865 but received his education in England. His early childhood in India appears to have been quite happy but, at the age of five, was sent to England to live in a foster home where he was bullied and physically mistreated. These experiences color some of his later writings.

Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, was an artist and teacher of architectural sculpture. Alice, his mother, was a talented and vibrant woman. A Viceroy of India once said about her “Dullness and Mrs. Kipling cannot exist in the same room.” In 1882 Kipling returned to India, where he spent the next seven years working as a journalist and editor. He began his writing career as as assistant editor for the Anglo-Indian Civil and Military Gazette and later for The Pioneer. During his years of travel throughout India, he wrote dozens of essays, reviews and short stories including The Man Who Would Be King (1888) and Gunga Din (1890).

His first volume of poetry, Departmental Ditties, was published in 1886. Between 1887 and 1889 he published six volumes of short stories set in and concerned with his beloved India. At the end of this time, he returned to England and found himself already acclaimed as a brilliant young writer. He published a novel, The Light That Failed, and a collection of short stories concerning the British in India, Life’s Handicap.

In 1892, Kipling married Caroline Balestier, an American, and following their honeymoon the couple came to live at his wife’s home in Brattleboro, Vermont. During his years in the United States, Kipling wrote the majority of the Jungle Books, a collection of short stories entitled The Day’s Work, and the novel Captains Courageous. All of these works were highly successful.

Seven years later, after a quarrel with Rudyard’s brother-in-law, the couple returned to England and settled in Rottingdean in Sussex. Kipling was now a famous man and upon his return continued his prodigious output. He began to publish a number of solemn poems in the London Times. The most famous of these, Recessional (1897) warns his homeland of England to reign with humility and awe rather than pride and arrogance. In his later years, Kipling’s writing became increasingly political. Two of the poems written during these years, both Recessional and White Man’s Burden, created a great deal of controversy when published. They were equally regarded as either poems of enlightened empire-building or propaganda for brazen imperialism.

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Rudyard Kipling in 1907 “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”. At this point, Kipling had come to be known as the poet of the Empire but his imperialist sentiments, which grew stronger as he grew older, would later open him to increasing criticism due to a changing political and moral landscape. Kipling died in London on January 18, 1936, just after his seventieth birthday, and was buried beside T.S. Eliot in Westminster Abbey.

Rudyard Kipling is best known in two areas: his tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his children’s stories. His writings celebrated British imperialism at the height of its global expansion and he has received much criticism for this. But regardless of one’s political views, Kipling remains one of the world’s great storytellers and many of his writings have stood the test of time. His children’s stories remain popular and have been made into several movies. A number of his poems have been set to music. A series of short films based on some of his stories was broadcast by the BBC in 1964.

In his introductory essay to A Choice of Kipling’s Verse, published in 1941, T.S. Eliot recognized the political complaints against Kipling’s writings but counters these criticisms with great respect for Kipling as a wordsmith, a powerful observer, and an unequalled entertainer. Of his verse, Eliot writes that there are only “a number of poets who have written great poetry, only…a very few whom I should call great verse writers. And unless I am mistaken, Kipling’s position in this class is not only high, but unique.”

Kipling’s stories have garnered high praise from writers as different as Paul Anderson, Jorge Luis Borges, and Randall Jarrell who wrote that, “After you have read Kipling’s fifty or seventy-five best stories you realize that few men have written this many stories of this much merit.”

The city of Gloucester and its fishing industry were both primary resources in one of Kipling’s most famous stories, Captains Courageous. Kipling and his family visited Gloucester a total of four times. The first two visits occurred in August, 1894 and July, 1895—both prior to the beginning of the writing of Captains Courageous. By his third visit in in May, 1896, most of the story had been written. Both this visit and his final visit two months later in August, 1896, were for the purpose of acquiring detail in order to strengthen the story’s authenticity.

The most famous of his visits was his third. He sailed from Boston on the Venus, a Gloucester fishing sloop, and landed at Atlantic Wharf in Gloucester Harbor. Word spread concerning his arrival and the local press was out in force when he stepped onto the dock. Kipling’s disgust with reporters was well-known and he did little to change that impression on this visit. But the story of his visit was carried in most of the major newspapers the following day.

None of these four visits lasted more than a few days. During each stay, Kipling wandered the docks, interviewed fishermen, and boarded several vessels. In his autobiography, he claims most of the fishing details came from his old friend and family physician, Dr. James Conland, who had worked on the Gloucester fishing boats as a young boy. Kipling dedicated the story to Dr. Conland and gave him the original manuscript as well.

When Kipling made his final two visits to Gloucester, the town was at its zenith as the capital of the fishing industry. With over 400 fishing boats sailing out of Gloucester, the local newspaper carried daily stories of heroism and tragedy within the industry—drownings, disappearances, boat sinkings, storms, and historic catches. Gloucester granite was shipped all down the east coast. The prosperous town was laying plans for a new hospital and the Sawyer Free Library had been founded just a few years before. Fresh fish was transported by railroad to Boston and beyond and, therefore, ice harvesting became a major industry. But even at the height of its glory, Kipling wrote in his biography that this prosperous era already showed signs of it future demise.

Kipling’s story was revived by Hollywood in 1935, nearly forty years after Captains Courageouswas published. The movie was a major production starring Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Mickey Rooney and John Carradine. The movie premiered in Gloucester on July 10, 1937. Little of the filming was done in Gloucester but two Gloucester schooners, the Mary F. Curtis and the Imperator, were used in the filming. The schooner used for the television remake, the Adventure, is now berthed in Gloucester and is used as a living museum to teach the history of the great fishing schooners.

There are hundreds of items by or about Rudyard Kipling in the collections of the various public and academic libraries of NOBLE.

See what is available in the NOBLE collection:

Works by Kipling
Works about Kipling