Rudyard Kipling (full name: Joseph Rudyard Kipling) was an English writer and poet who is best known for his novels and short stories set in colonial India, such as “The Jungle Book,” “Kim,” and “Plain Tales from the Hills.” He was also a prolific poet and essayist and was the first English-language writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907.
Kipling was born to English parents in Bombay, India, on 30th December 1865. He spent the first six years of his life in India, later influencing his writing. In 1871, he was sent to England to be educated and attended school in Southsea, a coastal town in southern England. He later attended school in Devon, and in 1882, he returned to India to work as a journalist.
Kipling’s writing career began in earnest in the 1880s when he began publishing his stories and poems in magazines and newspapers. In 1888, he published his first collection of stories, “Plain Tales from the Hills,” which was set in colonial India and received well by critics. In 1894, he published “The Jungle Book,” a collection of stories about a young boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle.
Kipling married his wife, Caroline Balestier, an American, in 1892, and they had three children together. They lived in Vermont in the United States for several years, where Kipling wrote “The Jungle Book” and “Captains Courageous,” before returning to England in 1896.
Throughout his career, Kipling continued to write novels, short stories, and poetry, including “Kim” (1901), a novel set in colonial India; “Puck of Pook’s Hill” (1906), a children’s book set in England; and “If—” (1910), a famous poem that has become a classic of English literature.
Kipling’s writing was often criticised for its imperialist and racist undertones, and his reputation suffered after World War I. However, his work has been re-evaluated in recent years, and he is now seen as an important literary figure who captured the complexities and contradictions of his time.
Kipling died on 18th January 1936 in London and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His legacy includes his contributions to English literature and his influence on popular culture, including the many adaptations of “The Jungle Book” for film and television.
Kipling’s father sent him to England to be educated at the United Services College, but he returned to India in 1882, where his journalism career started with a job at the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore. He began as a sub-editor and eventually became the editor of the newspaper’s “Supplement,” which featured literary and cultural commentary. Articles and poems that first appeared in the newspaper were later collected and published as Departmental Ditties (1886), Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), Soldiers Three (1890) and Wee Willie Winkie (1890). He quickly became popular, and his works were financially successful. This encouraged him to see if he could achieve the same success in England. Spartacus Educational notes what happened:
“His first novel published in England, The Light That Failed (1890), did badly, but Barrack-Room Ballads (1892) and Jungle Book (1894) established Kipling’s reputation. However, some people in Britain found his poetry distasteful, and Kipling was accused of jingoism by those hostile to imperialism.’
While at the Civil and Military Gazette, Kipling developed a distinctive writing style marked by its vivid descriptions and attention to detail. He also developed a deep understanding of the social and political issues of the time, including the tensions between the British colonial rulers and the Indian people.
In 1887, Kipling moved to Allahabad, India, where he worked for another newspaper called the Pioneer. At the Pioneer, he continued to hone his writing skills and became known for his colourful descriptions of life in India, as well as his biting commentary on the political situation.
Leaving India, bound for England
Picture Credit: [Recoloured] Kipling in 1895.
Attribution: Elliott & Fry, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rudyard_Kipling_(portrait).jpg
Rudyard Kipling left India in 1889 at age 24 to pursue a writing career in England. He had already gained some recognition as a writer during his time in India and had published a collection of short stories called Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888. This work, which drew on his experiences as a journalist in India, was well received and helped to establish Kipling as a promising young writer. He returned to India in 1891 after a brief visit to England, and he did not leave the country for good until 1896.
Kipling’s decision to leave India was partly motivated by a desire to establish himself as a writer in England, where he believed he would have more opportunities to pursue his career. He had also recently married Caroline Balestier, an American woman he had met in India, and the couple decided to settle in England.
Upon arriving in England, Kipling continued to write and publish, and he quickly gained a reputation as one of the leading literary figures of his time. His works, which included novels, short stories, and poems, often drew on his experiences in India and explored themes of imperialism, nationalism, and the complexities of cultural exchange.
His experiences as a journalist in India profoundly influenced his writing, and many of his most famous works, such as The Jungle Book and Kim, were inspired by his time in the country. His writing was also influenced by the various languages and cultures he encountered in India, which he incorporated into his work through his use of dialects and colloquialisms.
Rudyard Kipling’s early career as a journalist influenced his literary style and worldview and played a critical role in shaping his literary style and subject matter. Undeniably, his experiences in India left a lasting impression on his work.
Films from Kipling’s Works
Several of Kipling’s works were made into feature films, some more than once. Among them are:
- Captains Courageous (1937) and 1977 is based on Kipling’s 1897 novel of the same name, about a spoiled boy who learns life lessons from a fisherman. The 1937 film version was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer adventure film. It was produced by Louis D. Lighton and directed by Victor Fleming. Filmed in black and white, Captains Courageous was advertised by MGM as a coming-of-age classic with exciting action sequences.
- Elephant Boy (1937) is an adventure film based on Kipling’s Toomai of the Elephants (from the 1894 novel, The Jungle Book) that stars Sabu as Toomai, a young boy who helps his father with their elephant Kala Nag and joins a British hunter on an expedition. The film was made at the London Films studios at Denham and Mysore, India. Toomai longs to become a hunter. In the meantime, he helps his mahout (elephant driver) father with Kala Nag, a large elephant that has been in their family for four generations.
- Gunga Din (1939) is an adventure film based on Kipling’s poem about an Indian water carrier who sacrifices himself for British soldiers. On the Northwest Frontier of India, circa 1880, contact is lost with a British outpost at Tantrapur during a telegraph message. A detachment of 25 British Indian Army troops is sent to investigate, led by three sergeants of the Royal Engineers: MacChesney, Cutter, and Ballantine, long-time friends and veteran campaigners. Although they are a disciplinary headache for their colonel, they are the right men to send on a dangerous mission. Accompanying the detail are six Indian camp workers, including regimental bhisti (water carrier) Gunga Din, who longs to throw off his lowly status and become a soldier of the Queen. The film stars Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as three friends and comrades who fight against a cult of Thuggee rebels led by a mysterious guru. Gunga Din, played by Sam Jaffe, is their loyal servant who dreams of becoming a soldier himself. He proves his courage and loyalty by saving the lives of his masters several times, even at the cost of his own.
- Kim (1950 and 1984) is based on his novel about an orphan boy who becomes a spy in British India.
- The Cat Who Walked by Herself (1988) is based on his story from Just So Stories about how cats became domesticated.
- The Jungle Book (1967) is an animated musical film by Disney that tells the story of Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves who befriends a panther and a bear in the Indian jungle. The film features songs such as The Bare Necessities, and I Wanna Be Like You. The film begins with Bagheera, a black panther voiced by Sebastian Cabot, finding Mowgli as a baby in a basket in a wrecked boat. He takes him to a wolf pack led by Akela, who adopt him as their own cub. Mowgli grows up happy among the wolves until Shere Khan, a fearsome tiger voiced by George Sanders, returns to the jungle after hearing about Mowgli’s presence. Shere Khan hates humans and vows to kill Mowgli before he grows up into a hunter. Bagheera decides to take Mowgli back to the man village, where he will be safe from Shere Khan’s wrath. Along the way, they meet Baloo, a carefree brown bear voiced by Phil Harris, who teaches Mowgli how to enjoy life in the jungle with his song The Bare Necessities. They also encounter Kaa, a hypnotic python voiced by Sterling Holloway who tries to eat Mowgli; King Louie, an orangutan voiced by Louis Prima who wants Mowgli to teach him how to make fire with his song I Wanna Be Like You; Colonel Hathi, an elephant voiced by J.Pat O’Malley who leads his herd in military marches; and vultures voiced by The Beatles’ impersonators who offer friendship to Mowgli with their song That’s What Friends Are For. Eventually, Mowgli reaches the man village where he sees Shanti, a girl voiced by Darleen Carr, who lures him with her song My Own Home. Mowgli follows her into the village while Baloo and Bagheera watch proudly from afar.
- The Light That Failed (1916, 1923 and 1939) is based on his novel about a painter who goes blind.
- The Man Who Would Be King (1975) is an adventure film based on Kipling’s 1888 novella of the same name. It stars Sean Connery and Michael Caine as two British adventurers who become kings of a remote tribe in Afghanistan. The film begins with Kipling himself, played by Christopher Plummer, meeting Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, two former soldiers who plan to conquer Kafiristan with their rifles and cunning. They persuade Kipling to give them his Masonic charm as a token of friendship. They then embark on a perilous journey across mountains and deserts, encountering bandits, avalanches and hostile natives along the way. They eventually reach Kafiristan and manage to unite the warring tribes under their rule by pretending to be gods. Dravot is mistaken for the son of Alexander the Great by the locals because of his fair hair and beard. He marries a beautiful princess, but she bites him during their wedding night, drawing blood and revealing that he is mortal. The people turn against him, and he is killed by being thrown off a rope bridge into a gorge. Carnehan escapes with Dravot’s severed head but is captured by bandits who torture him and cut off his feet. He manages to return to India, where he tells his story to Kipling before dying.
- The Naulahka (1923) is based on his novel, co-written with Wolcott Balestier, about a quest for a priceless necklace.
- The Vampire (1913) is based on his poem “The Vampire”, which inspired the painting by Philip Burne-Jones.
- They (1993) is based on his story about a man who encounters ghost children in a garden.
- Wee Willie Winkie (1937) is an American adventure drama film directed by John Ford and starring Shirley Temple, Victor McLaglen, and Cesar Romero. The screenplay by Julien Josephson and Ernest Pascal was based on a story by Rudyard Kipling. The film’s story concerns the British presence in 19th century India. The production was filmed largely at the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, where several elaborate sets were built for the film. The film is noteworthy for not having any elaborate song or dance routines which had become staples in Temple’s films for 20th Century Fox.
Other Adaptations and References
Kipling’s work has been referenced and adapted in various other works, including the film Apocalypse Now, the novel The English Patient, and the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
There are several lesser-known facts about Rudyard Kipling that many people may not know. Here are some of them:
- Kipling was a polyglot. In addition to English, he spoke several other languages fluently, including French, German, and Hindi. He also had a good understanding of other languages, such as Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.
- Kipling was the first English-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was awarded the prize 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.”
- Kipling was a contemporary and friend of Mark Twain, another famous writer of the time. The two men corresponded regularly, and Kipling visited Twain at his home in Connecticut.
- Kipling had a lifelong fascination with the occult and supernatural. He was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an esoteric organisation that explored various mystical and magical practices.
- Kipling’s son, John, was killed in action during World War I at age 18. This event profoundly impacted Kipling and influenced much of his later writing, including his poem Epitaphs of War. Kipling wrote a poem called My Boy Jack to commemorate his son.
- Kipling was a lifelong animal lover and owned several pets during his life, including several dogs and cats. Many of his stories and poems feature animals as central characters.
- Kipling was a Freemason and belonged to the Lodge of Hope and Perseverance in Lahore, where he was initiated into the craft in 1886.
- Kipling was a supporter of the British Empire and wrote several works that celebrated British imperialism, but he was also critical of some aspects of British rule in India, particularly the treatment of Indian subjects.
- Kipling was a prolific traveller and visited many countries throughout his life, including India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
- He was named after the Rudyard lake in England. Rudyard Lake is located in the county of Staffordshire in the West Midlands and is approximately seven miles north of the city of Stoke-on-Trent and two miles northeast of the town of Leek. The lake is named after Rudyard Kipling’s parents, who first met there in the 1860s. Kipling himself was born several years later, and he spent some time in the area as a child. Today, Rudyard Lake is a popular destination for boating, fishing, and hiking, and there are several parks and other recreational facilities in the surrounding area.
- Kipling’s birth was reportedly announced in The Times newspaper by his aunt, Georgiana Burne-Jones, who mistakenly referred to him as a girl.
- Kipling was fascinated by the number “three” and often incorporated it into his writing. For example, his collection of short stories The Day’s Work contains three novellas, and his poem If— consists of three stanzas.
- Kipling was friends with several members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, including Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He also had a close relationship with the artist and illustrator Beatrix Potter.
- Kipling was a collector of rare books and manuscripts, and he owned several valuable items, including a first edition of Shakespeare’s works.
- Kipling was an early adopter of the typewriter and used it to write much of his work. He reportedly preferred the Hammond typewriter and even wrote a poem in its honour.
- He was a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
- He supported British imperialism and wrote poems such as The White Man’s Burden
- Kipling invented the game of snow golf by painting golf balls red.
- Kipling suffered from poor health for much of his life and was prone to bouts of depression. He also struggled with chronic pain and underwent several surgical procedures throughout his life. He died from complications after the last operation for peritonitis.
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Criticism for Imperialist and Racial Themes
Here are a few examples of how Kipling’s writing has been criticised for imperialist and racist themes:
- The White Man’s Burden – This poem is perhaps Kipling’s most famous work and has become synonymous with imperialist attitudes. The poem argues that it is the duty of white, Western nations to civilise and “uplift” non-white, non-Western peoples and portrays colonisation as a benevolent mission.
- “The Jungle Book” – While this book is primarily a collection of stories about animals, it has been criticized for its portrayal of India and its people. For example, the character of Mowgli, a young boy raised by wolves in the jungle, is often seen as a symbol of Western colonialism and cultural imperialism. Additionally, the portrayal of the monkeys in the story has been seen as reinforcing negative stereotypes about Indian people.
- Kim – This novel, set in colonial India, has also been criticised for portraying Indian people and culture. Some readers have argued that Kipling’s descriptions of Indian characters are stereotypical and one-dimensional and that the novel presents a romanticised and idealised vision of British rule in India.
- The Man Who Would Be King – The story has been criticised for its portrayal of non-Western peoples as primitive and easily manipulated and for its celebration of British colonialism and cultural superiority.
These are a few examples of Kipling’s work that have been criticised for its imperialist and racist themes. It’s worth noting that not all readers or critics interpret Kipling’s work similarly and that there is an ongoing debate about the extent and nature of Kipling’s prejudices.
Personal Life and Family
Rudyard Kipling married his wife, Caroline Balestier, in 1892. Caroline was an American woman who Kipling had met through her brother, who was one of his close friends. The couple had three children together: Josephine, Elsie, and John. Josephine and Elsie were born in the United States, while John was born in England.
Tragically, Kipling’s son John was killed in action during World War I, which had a profound impact on Kipling and his writing. He wrote several poems and stories about the experience of losing a child in war, including Epitaphs of War and The Gardener.
Kipling was reportedly very devoted to his family, and his wife and children were a source of great inspiration for his writing. He often used his own experiences as a husband and father to inform his stories and poems, particularly those that dealt with themes of family, childhood, and growing up.
Living in Rottingdean
Rudyard Kipling and his family moved to the village of Rottingdean in East Sussex, first to North End House, then to The Elms, after which they moved to Burwash, also in East Sussex. The Elms, now a museum dedicated to Kipling’s life and work, is a large Victorian house with a distinctive turret and a large garden. Kipling reportedly enjoyed spending time in the garden, and he wrote some of his most famous works while living in Rottingdean. The house also played a significant role in the lives of Kipling’s children, who grew up there and had many adventures in the surrounding countryside.
Today, The Elms is open to the public and offers a fascinating glimpse into Kipling’s life and work. Visitors can explore the house and its gardens, view exhibits of Kipling’s personal belongings and manuscripts, and learn about the history of the Kipling family and their time in Rottingdean.
Living in Burwash
Rudyard Kipling and his family also lived in a house called Bateman’s in the village of Burwash, East Sussex, England from 1902 until Kipling died in 1936. Bateman’s is now a National Trust property open to the public. Bateman’s, built in 1634, is a traditional English country house with a thatched roof, oak panelling, and large gardens. The Kipling family lived in the house for many years and made several changes and additions, including a library, a conservatory, and a study where Kipling wrote many of his works.
Picture Credit: Bateman’s, Kipling’s beloved home in Burwash, East Sussex, is now a public museum dedicated to the author.
Attribution: DeFacto, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bateman%27s.jpg
The house and gardens have been preserved largely as they were during the Kiplings’ time there. Visitors can explore the various rooms of the house, including the study where Kipling wrote, and view exhibits of his personal belongings and manuscripts. The gardens are also a popular attraction, and visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the orchard, the wild garden, and the rose garden, among other features. Bateman’s is a fascinating place to visit for anyone interested in Kipling’s life and work or the history and architecture of traditional English country houses.
After Rudyard Kipling died in 1936, Caroline Kipling continued to work on publishing his work and was involved in establishing the Kipling Society. She passed away in 1939, just a few years after her husband’s death. Despite some ups and downs in their relationship over the years, they were reportedly very close and supportive of each other throughout their lives.
On a visit to the United States in 1899, Kipling and his daughter Josephine developed pneumonia, from which she eventually died. More sadness was heaped upon Kipling with the loss of his son in WWI, which profoundly impacted his writing. Kipling had encouraged his son to join the army and felt a great sense of guilt over his son’s death. His work reflected this experience, which became increasingly focused on themes of war, sacrifice, and loss in the following years.
However, Kipling’s reputation suffered greatly in the aftermath of WWI, largely due to the changing political climate and the growing anti-imperialist sentiment of the time. Kipling’s support for British imperialism and his jingoistic writing had made him a controversial figure even before the war, but his reputation was further tarnished by his vocal support for the war effort and his association with the British establishment.
In the years that followed WWI, Kipling’s work fell out of favour with many critics and readers, and he was often dismissed as a relic of a bygone era. However, in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Kipling’s work and a growing recognition of his contributions to literature and the cultural history of the British Empire.
Today, Rudyard Kipling is viewed as a complex and multifaceted figure whose work reflects his time’s complex and often contradictory attitudes. While his support for British imperialism and his sometimes problematic portrayals of non-Western cultures have been the subject of criticism, his insights into the human condition and his ability to capture the spirit of his age have also been widely acknowledged.
Overall, a nuanced understanding of Kipling’s legacy requires a careful consideration of both his personal experiences and the cultural and historical contexts in which he lived and wrote. By examining the complexities of Kipling’s work and how it has been received over time, a deeper understanding of literature and culture’s role in shaping our perceptions of the past and the present is gained.
Picture Credit: Kipling’s England: A map of England showing Kipling’s homes. Public Domain
Page URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kiplingsengland3.jpg
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 3.0
Sources and Further Reading
- The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 2018, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jungle-Book-Wordsworth-Collectors-Editions/dp/184022784X1
- Kim, by Rudyard Kipling, Penguin Classics, 2013, https://www.waterstones.com/book/kim/rudyard-kipling/edward-said/97801414423722
- Just So Stories: Eleganse Edition, by Rudyard Kipling, Independently published, 2020, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Just-So-Stories-Rudyard-Kipling/dp/B0BW2PVGBY3
- The Second Jungle Book: in large print, by Rudyard Kipling, Severus Verlag GmbH & Co. KG., 2022, https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-second-jungle-book/rudyard-kipling/97833683154124
- The Complete Works of Rudyard Kipling (Kindle Edition), by Rudyard Kipling, Pandora’s Box Classics; 1st edition (12 Sept. 2022), https://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Rudyard-Kipling-Illustrated-ebook/dp/B08HJQZ6L55
- Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work (Penguin Literary Biographies), by Charles Carrington, Penguin Books; New edition (26 Nov. 1970), https://www.waterstones.com/book/rudyard-kipling-his-life-and-work/penguin-books-ltd/97801405802806
- The City of Dreadful Night: And Other Places (Travel Library), by Rudyard Kipling and Jan Morris (Introduction), Penguin Books Ltd; New edition (30 Jun. 1988), https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-city-of-dreadful-night-and-other-places/rudyard-kipling/jan-morris/97801400950217
- Plain tales from the Hills: A Collection of Short Stories Set in India During British Rule (Alma Classics Evergreens), by Rudyard Kipling and Kaori Nagai (Introduction), Alma Books Ltd; Reprint edition (15 Feb. 2016), https://www.waterstones.com/book/plain-tales-from-the-hills/rudyard-kipling/kaori-nagai/97818474948447
- The Sayings of Rudyard Kipling – Duckworth Sayings Series (Paperback), by Rudyard Kipling and Brian Harris (Editor), Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd; UK ed. edition (25 Oct. 2007), https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-sayings-of-rudyard-kipling/rud-yard-kip-ing/brian-harris/97807156367437
- IF by Rudyard Kipling (A Life Changing Poem), at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SfPf-_OavY
- Rudyard Kipling | LIfe of Journalist | The Greats, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmhTzYrvLu4
- The Tragic Life of Rudyard Kipling, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd14NCctoBA
- Rudyard Kipling Documentary – Biography of the life of Rudyard Kipling, at: https://youtu.be/_HcHCHOq7ZY
- Rudyard Kipling – Biography Bringing Real People & Real History to Life, at: https://youtu.be/HIyXAGNNzhI
- The Life and Works of Rudyard Kipling, at: https://youtu.be/jebmwDKLoN0
- Rudyard Kipling’s Quotes you need to Know before 60, at: https://youtu.be/7KHF5aNORXY
- If by Rudyard Kipling – Read by Sir Michael Caine, at: https://youtu.be/sqOgyNfHl1U
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End Notes and Explanations
Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: bing.com [chat] and https://chat.openai.com ↑
Explanation: Following the success of the Pakistan Movement and the subsequent partition of British India in 1947, Lahore was declared the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province. In Kipling’s time, it was part of British india. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lahore ↑
Sources: Jungle Book IMBD Plot Summary, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jungle_Book_(1967_film) ↑
Explanation: A “polyglot” is someone who can speak or write several languages fluently. Rudyard Kipling was known for his exceptional command of the English language, but he was also proficient in several other languages, including Hindi, Urdu, and Sanskrit. In fact, Kipling spent the first six years of his life in India, where he was born, and grew up speaking Hindi and English. His knowledge of the Hindi language and Indian culture is evident in many of his works, which often feature Indian characters and settings. Later in life, Kipling also spent time in South Africa and became interested in Afrikaans, which he learned to speak and read. Source: Artificial intelligence from https://chat.openai.com/chat ↑