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Rudyard Kipling Biography

(1865–1936), Stalky and Co, Plain Tales from the Hills, Soldiers Three, Life's Handicap

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English novelist, poet, and short-story writer, born in Bombay, India, the son of John Lockwood Kipling, art teacher and illustrator, and Alice, sister-in-law of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite painter. As a young child, Kipling was left in England with foster-parents for several years, a traumatic experience of abandonment which was reworked notably in his important short story ‘Baa Baa, Black Sheep’. His secondary education was at the United Services College—an experience which forms the basis for Stalky and Co (1899). Returning to India at the age of 16, Kipling worked (18829) as a journalist on two leading Indian newspapers, and began to publish short fictions as a means of leavening their staple fare of official reports and home news. These were subsequently collected in a series of volumes for a local readership before being discovered by London publishers. Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), Soldiers Three (1889), and Life's Handicap (1891) are the most notable collections of Indian tales.

Kipling returned to London in 1889 to find himself a celebrity, though he soon experienced a severe mental breakdown—a central theme in his first published novel, The Light that Failed (1890). While in London, Kipling struck up a friendship with a young American, Wolcott Balestier, with whom he collaborated on another unremarkable novel, The Naulakha (1892). On Wolcott's sudden death, Kipling married his sister Carrie, with whom he had three children. The eldest daughter, Josephine, died in 1899 and Kipling's son John was killed in action in 1915. To these events are often attributed the growing melancholy of Kipling's writing after 1900, an almost pathological desire for privacy—his autobiography Something of Myself (1937) must be one of the most unrevealing specimens of the genre—and an increasing interest in the supernatural. For several years the Kiplings were unsettled, moving between Vermont, the west of England, and South Africa. This wandering lifestyle did not inhibit Kipling's creativity; in this period he produced novels such as Captains Courageous (1897) and Kim (1901), collections of short stories, including Many Inventions (1893) and The Day's Work (1898), and a considerable body of verse. In 1902 the Kiplings settled in Sussex, where Kipling enjoyed productive friendships with a number of neighbouring writers such as Conrad and Rider Haggard.

Because of the Indian short stories and Kim, generally considered to be his only successful novel, Kipling is generally identified as ‘the laureate of empire’, to use Orwell's phrase. However, there is an enormous range of subject matter, genre, styles, and tones in Kipling's prose work, including fables, science fiction, war stories, ghost stories, and a range of material written for children, such as The Jungle Books (18945), Just So Stories (1902), Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), and Rewards and Fairies (1910). Kipling is also an underrated travel writer, with From Sea to Sea (1899) his most notable work in this mode. Three major volumes of short stories appeared in the twentieth century, but these are considered less even in quality than earlier collections. Kipling was also a prolific writer of poetry throughout his career; this ranges from light-hearted early satires like Departmental Ditties (1886) to gravely prophetic, moralizing explorations of national and international problems, such as ‘Recessional’ and the notorious ‘White Man's Burden’. Stylistically, Kipling's verse is most notable for its experiments in popular forms and dramatic voice, particularly Barrack-Room Ballads (1892).

Kipling's reputation has fluctuated wildly. Early in his career, he was hailed as the greatest new talent since Dickens, and Henry James saw in him the potential to become ‘an English Balzac’. His reputation abroad was such that in 1907 he became the first English recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. However, his vigorous support for the British effort in the Great War, an increasing public distaste for empire, together with the advent of the experimental writing associated with Modernism, led to a rapid eclipse of his reputation by the time of his death. While Kipling began to receive sympathetic critical attention again after the publication of Charles Carrington's biography (1955), his reputation remains mixed. Many critics continue to upbraid Kipling for his allegedly supremacist views on race and empire. Others, however, suggest that attention to the complex forms of Kipling's narrative prove that his ideological positions are much more ambivalent than is often recognized. Kipling is undoubtedly one of the great short-story writers in English and the subtlety of his early narrative technique has led some to claim him as a proto-Modernist. Latterly Kipling's work has been republished in major new critical editions, and there has been a serious engagement with the enormous body of his poetry for the first time since T. S. Eliot's efforts in the 1940s—notably by Ann Parry, Peter Keating, and Andrew Rutherford. Biographies by Angus Wilson (1977) and Martin Seymour-Smith (1990) attest to the undiminished interest in Kipling's enigmatic and elusive personality and private life.

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