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Kipling, Rudyard

indian stories kim india

(British, 1865–1936)

Kipling, in his lifetime one of the best known and most popular writers in the world, was born in Bombay into an Anglo-Indian family. He was educated in England and spent most of his life in the west, but his work is generally associated with the assumptions of the British Raj. Some critics believe this association to be misleading, pointing out that he energetically and often respectfully supports Indian characters in his writing, and that he satirizes Anglo-Indian pomposity. None the less, the beliefs and established hierarchy of the Raj do form the background to much of his fiction.

Many of Kipling's early stories were autobiographical, influenced by his experiences in India and in Southsea, where he was sent at the age of 6. He began to write when he returned to India in 1882. His first publication was a collection of poems, and his second was Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), a wide-ranging depiction of everyday life in British India. He was a prolific short-story writer and some of his strongest work occurs in this genre; his stories are direct, economical, and realistic, with intensely visual, physical descriptions. The short-story form allowed him to write with striking empathy about a variety of characters of differing racial and social status, often capturing them at moments of crisis or strong emotion. In particular, his portrayal of common soldiers is good. He wrote extensively about war and bereavement following the death of his teenage son John in the First World War.

Begin with stories originally published in A Diversity of Creatures (1917); ‘Mary Postgate’ is the disturbing story of a reticent and unbalanced middle-aged ‘companion’, who, brutalized by war and death, refuses to help a fatally wounded airman when he lands in her employer's garden. ‘The Gardener’ gives an account of Helen Turrell's grief at the death of her adopted son, Michael. Also try ‘They’ (1904), a story about the relationship of the living to the dead. All three, along with other well-known stories, have recently been collected in Mrs Bathurst and Other Stories (1991).

Kim (1901) is the more successful of Kipling's two novels. Centring on the picaresque adventures of Kim O'Hara, an orphaned Irish boy brought up by an opium-addict friend of his father's, the narrative depicts India in vivid detail, following the self-sufficient and attractive Kim as he befriends a Tibetan lama and guides him across the country. Kim passes through many different sections of society, unwittingly becoming embroiled in ‘Government Service’ as he searches for the destiny his father prophesied for him. There is a continual tension between the claims of Indian and Anglo-Indian societies on Kim, and his difficulties in resolving his ties to each when he is eventually forced to choose between them are intensely and persuasively portrayed in this accessible, often witty novel.

During his own lifetime, Kipling was known for his poetry as much as for his prose. He was also a popular children's writer (The Jungle Book, 1894), and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

Saki, Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster.


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