Who Was Rudyard Kipling?
Rudyard Kipling was born in India in 1865 and educated in England but returned to India in 1882. A decade later, Kipling married Caroline Balestier and settled in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he wrote The Jungle Book (1894), among a host of other works that made him hugely successful. Kipling was the recipient of the 1907 Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in 1936.
Background and Early Years
Considered one of the great English writers, Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay (now called Mumbai), India. At the time of his birth, his parents, John and Alice, were recent arrivals in India as part of the British Empire. The family lived well, and Kipling was especially close to his mother. His father, an artist, was the head of the Department of Architectural Sculpture at the Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay.
For Kipling, India was a wondrous place. Along with his younger sister, Alice, he reveled in exploring the local markets with his nanny. He learned the language and, in this bustling city of Anglos, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews, connected with the country and its culture.
However, at the age of six, Kipling's life was torn apart when his mother, wanting her son to receive a formal British education, sent him to Southsea, England, where he attended school and lived with a foster family named the Holloways.
These were hard years for Kipling. Mrs. Holloway was a brutal woman who quickly grew to despise her foster son. She beat and bullied the youngster, who also struggled to fit in at school. His only break from the Holloways came in December, when Kipling, who told nobody of his problems at school or with his foster parents, traveled to London to stay with relatives for the month.
Kipling's solace came in books and stories. With few friends, he devoted himself to reading. He particularly adored the work of Daniel Defoe, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Wilkie Collins. When Mrs. Holloway took away his books, Kipling snuck in literature time, pretending to play in his room by moving furniture along the floor while he read.
By the age of 11, Kipling was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A visitor to his home saw his condition and immediately contacted his mother, who rushed back to England and rescued her son from the Holloways. To help relax his mind, Alice took her son on an extended vacation and then placed him in a new school in Devon. There, Kipling flourished and discovered his talent for writing, eventually becoming editor of the school newspaper.
The Young Writer
In 1882, Kipling returned to India. It was a powerful time in the young writer's life. The sights and sounds, even the language, which he'd believed he'd forgotten, rushed back to him upon his arrival.
Kipling made his home with his parents in Lahore and, with his father's help, found a job with a local newspaper. The job offered Kipling a good excuse to discover his surroundings. Nighttime, especially, proved to be valuable for the young writer. Kipling was a man of two worlds, somebody who was accepted by both his British counterparts and the native population. Suffering from insomnia, he roamed the city streets and gained access to the brothels and opium dens that rarely opened their doors to common Englishmen.
Kipling's experiences during this time formed the backbone for a series of stories he began to write and publish. They were eventually assembled into a collection of 40 short stories called Plain Tales From the Hills, which gained wide popularity in England.
In 1889, seven years after he had left England, Kipling returned to its shores in hopes of leveraging the modest amount of celebrity his book of short stories had earned him. In London, he met Wolcott Balestier, an American agent and publisher who quickly became one of Kipling's great friends and supporters. The two men grew close and even traveled together to the United States, where Balestier introduced his fellow writer to his childhood home of Brattleboro, Vermont.
Life in America
Around this time, Kipling's star power started to grow. In addition to Plain Tales From the Hills, Kipling published a second collection of short stories, Wee Willie Winkie (1888), and American Notes (1891), which chronicled his early impressions of America. In 1892, he also published the poetry work Barrack-Room Ballads.
Kipling's friendship with Balestier changed the young writer's life. He soon got to know Balestier's family, in particular, his sister, Carrie. The two appeared to be just friends, but during the Christmas holiday in 1891, Kipling, who had traveled back to India to see his family, received an urgent cable from Carrie. Wolcott had died suddenly of typhoid fever and Carrie needed Kipling to be with her.
Kipling rushed back to England, and within eight days of his return, the two married at a small ceremony attended by American writer Henry James.
Fame With 'Jungle Book' and 'Naulahka'
Following their wedding, the Kiplings set off on an adventurous honeymoon that took them to Canada and then Japan. But as was often the case in Kipling's life, good fortune was accompanied by hard luck. During the Japanese leg of the journey, Kipling learned that his bank, the New Oriental Banking Corporation, had failed. The Kiplings were broke.
Left only with what they had with them, the young couple decided to travel to Brattleboro, where much of Carrie's family still resided. Kipling fell in love with life in the states, and the two decided to settle there. In the spring of 1891, the Kiplings purchased from Carrie's brother Beatty a piece of land just north of Brattleboro and had a large home constructed, which they called the Naulahka.
Kipling seemed to adore his new life, which soon saw the Kiplings welcome their first child, a daughter named Josephine (born in 1893), and a second daughter, Elsie (born in 1896). A third child, John, was born in 1897, after the Kiplings had left America.
As a writer, too, Kipling flourished. His work during this time included The Jungle Book (1894), The Naulahka: A Story of West and East (1892) and The Second Jungle Book (1895), among others. Kipling was delighted to be around children—a characteristic that was apparent in his writing. His tales enchanted girls and boys all over the English-speaking world.
But life again took another dramatic turn for the family when Kipling had a major falling out with Beatty. The two men quarreled, and when Kipling made noise about taking his brother-in-law to court because of threats Beatty had made to his life, newspapers across America broadcast the spat on their front pages.
The gentle Kipling was embarrassed by the attention and regretful of how his celebrity had worked against him. As a result, in 1896, he and his family left Vermont for a new life back in England.
In the winter of 1899, Carrie, who was homesick, decided that the family needed to travel back to New York to see her mother. But the journey across the Atlantic was brutal, and New York was frigid. Both Kipling and young Josephine arrived in the states gravely ill with pneumonia. For days, the world kept careful watch on the state of Kipling's health as newspapers reported on his condition.
Kipling did recover, but his beloved Josephine did not. The family waited until Kipling was strong enough to hear the news, but even then, Carrie could not bear to break it to him, asking his publisher, Frank Doubleday, to do so instead. To those who knew him, it was clear that Kipling never recovered from Josephine's death. He vowed never to return to America.
Over time, Kipling would become known for harboring a sense of English imperialism and views on certain cultures that would draw much objection and be seen as disturbingly racist. Yet even as Kipling grew more rigid in his viewpoints as he got older, aspects of his earlier work would still be celebrated.
Life in England
The turn of the century saw the publication of another novel that would become quite popular, Kim (1901), which featured a youth's adventure on the Grand Trunk Road. In 1902, the Kiplings bought a large estate in Sussex known as Bateman's. The property had been erected in 1634, and for the private Kiplings, it offered the kind of isolation they now cherished. Kipling revered the new home, with its lush gardens and classic details. "Behold us," he wrote in a November 1902 letter, "lawful owners of a grey stone, lichened house—A.D. 1634 over the door—beamed, paneled, with old oak staircase and all untouched and unfaked."
At Bateman's, Kipling found some of the happiness he thought he had forever lost following the death of Josephine. He was dedicated as ever to his writing, something Carrie helped ensure. Adopting the role of the head of the household, she held reporters at bay when they came calling and issued directions to both staff and children.
Kipling's books during his years at Bateman's included Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), Actions and Reactions (1909), Debts and Credits (1926), Thy Servant a Dog (1930) and Limits and Renewals (1932).
The same year he purchased Bateman's, Kipling also published his Just So Stories, which were greeted with wide acclaim. The book itself was in part a tribute to his late daughter, for whom Kipling had originally crafted the stories as he put her to bed. The book's name had, in fact, come from Josephine, who told her father he had to repeat each tale as he always had, or "just so," as Josephine often said.
World War I
As much of Europe braced for war with Germany, Kipling proved to be an ardent supporter of the fight. In 1915, he even traveled to France to report on the war from the trenches. He also encouraged his son, John, to enlist. Since Josephine's death, Kipling and John had grown tremendously close.
Wanting to help his son enlist, Kipling drove John to several different military recruiters. But plagued with the same eyesight problems his father had, John was repeatedly turned down. Finally, Kipling made use of his connections and managed to get John enlisted with the Irish Guard as a second lieutenant.
In October 1915, the Kiplings received word that John had gone missing in France. The news devastated the couple. Kipling, perhaps feeling guilty about his push to make his son a soldier, set off for France to find John. But nothing ever came of the search, and John's body was never recovered. A distraught and drained Kipling returned to England to once again mourn the loss of a child.
While Kipling continued to write for the next two decades, he never again returned to the bright, cheery children's tales he had once so delighted in crafting. Health issues eventually caught up to both Kipling and Carrie, the result of age and grief.
Over his last few years, Kipling suffered from a painful ulcer that eventually took his life on January 18, 1936. Kipling's ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey in Poets' Corner next to the graves of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens.
Kipling's work entered the realm of mass popular entertainment in the Disney film adaptation of The Jungle Book, a 1967 animated musical loosely based on the original tale. A live-action/CGI version of the movie was later released in 2016, with direction by Jon Favreau and the vocal talents of Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o and Scarlett Johansson.
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