Rudyard Kipling and his Tales of India

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Portrait by John Collier

On December 30, 1865, English short-story writer, poet, and novelist Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born, remembered for his tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children, was born in Bombay, India.

Rudyard Kipling was born at Bombay, India, to John Lockwood Kipling, himself an artist and principal of the Jeejeebyhoy Art School, and Alice Kipling. Family ties from his mother’s side include the famous painters Sir Edward Burne-Jones (one of the most important of the Pre-Raphaelites) and Sir Edward Poynter, but also Stanley Baldwin, a future Prime Minister. His early years in India, until he reached the age of six, seem to have been rather idyllic, but in 1871 the Kipling family left India to return to England. While John and Alice Kipling left again for India after 6 months, Rudyard and his younger sister were left as boarders with the Holloway family in Southsea. During his five years in this foster home he was bullied and physically mistreated, and the experience left him with deep psychological scars and a sense of betrayal.

In 1877 Kipling’s mother returned to England and collected him from ‘The House of Desolation’ as he grimly refers to the Holloway’s later in his autobiography. Thus, he could attend the United Services College in Westward Ho, Bideford. He was wearing spectacles, for Kipling was nearly blind without them and his undiagnosed vision problems were the source of much grief from his schoolteachers. He learned to defend himself from bullies and settled into the life of a student.

In 1882 he returned to India, where he worked for Anglo-Indian newspapers. In 1886 he became a subeditor for the Civil and Military Gazette and in 1887 he moved to the Allahabad Pioneer, a better paper which gave him greater liberty in his writing. But, subsequently he became chiefly known as a writer of short stories. In style, the stories showed the influence of Edgar Allan Poe, Bret Harte, and Guy de Maupassant. But the subjects were Kipling’s own: Anglo-Indian society, which he readily criticized with an acid pen, and the life of the common British soldier and the Indian native, which he portrayed accurately and sympathetically. A prolific writer, he achieved fame quickly.

In 1892 Kipling married Caroline Balestier, an American. Their honeymoon took the couple as far as Japan, but they settled on the Balestier estate near Brattleboro, Vermont, where they remained until 1899 and began some of the happiest years of Kipling’s life, during which he wrote some of his best work. In 1894 appeared his Jungle Book, which became a children’s classic all over the world. Kim (1901), the story of Kimball O’Hara and his adventures in the Himalayas, is perhaps his most felicitous work. In 1902 he bought a house in Sussex which would remain his home in England until his death. In 1907 Kipling became the first English writer to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. In the following years Kipling travelled intermittently, and continued to publish stories, poems, sketches, and historical works. He died on January 18, 1936, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

At yovisto you can lern more about Rudyard kipling in Professor Elleke Boehmer’s lecture on ‘The Emergence of the Everyday: Kipling and Indian Regional Writing

References and Further Reading:

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