Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Rudyard Kipling’s literary career began in journalism, but his prose sketches and verse brought him early fame. He wrote several novels, most lastingly Kim (1901), and he also wrote works of history, including a study of his son’s military regiment from World War I. In his lifetime as well as posthumously, however, his fame depended upon his poetry and short stories, both of which he wrote for adult audiences and for children. Kipling’s autobiography, Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown (1937), was published after his death.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
By his early twenties, Rudyard Kipling had become one of the best-known writers in the English language. His first poems and stories were written and published in India, but his popularity quickly spread throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. Although he published several novels, the short-story form proved to be his most successful métier. Drawing upon his experiences in India, many of his early stories featured the adventures of ordinary soldiers, junior officers, and civil officials, and his use of dialect was a recognized feature of his literary technique. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907, he also received honorary degrees from many universities.
Kipling wrote extensively about the benefits of the United Kingdom’s paramount position in the world, and over time his public persona was perceived to be that of a political reactionary. Although some of his finest short stories were written in the last two decades of his life, by that time, to many of his contemporaries, he had become yesterday’s man, irrevocably associated with political imperialism, a dying creed even before his death in 1936. After his death, however, his stories received much critical study and acclaim, and Kipling is considered to be one of the major practitioners of the short-story art ever to write in English.
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Best known for his short fiction, Rudyard Kipling wrote more than 250 stories. His style of leaving a story open-ended with the tantalizing phrase “But that’s another story” established his reputation for unlimited storytelling. Although the stories are uneven in quality, W. Somerset Maugham considered Kipling to be the only British writer to equal France’s Guy de Maupassant and Russia’s Anton Chekhov in the art of short fiction.
Kipling’s early stories both satisfied and glorified the Englishman in India. The empire builder, the man who devotes his life to “civilize the sullen race,” comes off in glowing colors, as in the story “The Bridge Builders.” Some of his best stories skillfully blend the exotic and the bizarre; the early “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888), which is about two drifters and their fantastic dream to carve out a kingdom for themselves in Central Asia, is an excellent example of such a story. Some stories reflect the pain, suffering, and dark melancholy of Kipling’s later life: “A Madonna of the Trenches,” with its strange, occult atmosphere; “The Children of the Zodiac,” about a young poet who dreads death by cancer of the throat; and “The Gardener,” with its unrelieved sadness and autobiographical reflections on the death of a son.
The stories that make up The Jungle Book...
(The entire section is 546 words.)
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Rudyard Kipling’s first book of fiction appeared in 1888. Since then, his works have undergone several editions, and several of his short stories and poems have found a permanent place in anthologies. Although England and India have both changed enormously since the beginning of the twentieth century, Kipling’s stories continue to attract and fascinate new readers. He was a best-selling author during his lifetime—one of his animal stories, Thy Servant a Dog (1930), sold 100,000 copies in six months in 1932—and his works continue to be extremely popular in the English-speaking countries of the world. Several of his works, notably Captains Courageous, Kim, The Jungle Book, and some short stories, have been made into motion pictures.
Throughout his lifetime, and soon after his death, Kipling was associated with the British Empire. He had become the laureate of England’s vast imperial power, his first book was praised by the viceroy in 1888, and the king used Kipling’s own words to address the Empire on Christmas Day in 1932. The day Kipling’s ashes were interred at Westminster Abbey—January 23, 1936—King George V’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall, and the comment that “the King has gone and taken his trumpeteer with him” appropriately described the image Kipling had projected.
Kipling wanted to serve the Empire through the army or the civil service. Because he had neither family connections with...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Rudyard Kipling is best known for his short stories. His Just So Stories (1902), The Jungle Book (1894), and The Second Jungle Book (1895) are favorites with children and are among the most widely read collections of stories in the world. His novel Kim (1901) also ranks among the world’s most popular books. Kipling’s fiction, however, presents a critic with most of the problems that his verse presents, making it difficult to discuss one without the other. The fiction is often thought to be barbaric in content and representative of a discredited imperialistic point of view; too often, critics discuss Kipling’s political views (which are often misrepresented) rather than his literary merits. Kipling’s contempt for intellectualism makes him unfashionable in most critical circles, and those who admit to having admired him seem to be ashamed of their affection. Not all critics, however, have been ambiguous in their admiration of Kipling’s work; especially since the 1960’s, critics have made the short stories objects of serious study. In any case, Kipling’s fiction has remained immensely popular from the late Victorian era to the present. It has been made into no fewer than thirteen motion pictures, including Captains Courageous (1937) and The Jungle Book (1942, 1967, and 1998). Kipling’s fiction has the vigor and passion that appeal to the popular imagination, and a subtlety and brilliant prose style that are worthy of careful study.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Henry James called Rudyard Kipling a genius; T. S. Eliot called him a writer of verse who sometimes ascended to poetry. His Departmental Ditties brought him extravagant praise and fame. Some scholars assert that he was the world’s best-known author from the 1890’s to his death. However, even his admirers have been uncertain of his achievement, particularly in poetry. Kipling often sang his poems while he composed them; they are often ballads or hymns, and all feature clear rhythms that urge a reader to read them aloud. Their surface themes are usually easy to understand; the language is clear and accessible to even casual readers.
Perhaps the accessibility of Kipling’s verse is the source of the confusion; twentieth century critics have all too often regarded poetry that is popular among the common people as automatically bad; obscurity has been the hallmark of much of the best of twentieth century poetry. Kipling’s verse is informed by the Victorian masters, such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Algernon Charles Swinburne. It is out of step with the modernist school, which may be why many readers think of Kipling as Victorian, even though he actively wrote and published into the 1930’s; his autobiography appeared in 1937, the year after his death. His harsh views of ordinary people; his angry polemics, political conservatism, and lack of faith in so-called utopian societies; and the Cassandra-like prophecies of war that fill much of his verse repel many aesthetes and political liberals. Kipling has been portrayed as a philistine. The truth is that he did not understand much of the social change of his lifetime, but he understood people, and in his verse, he preserves the thoughts, emotions, hopes, and despairs of people usually ignored by poets. If one approaches his verse with an open mind, one will likely find brilliant prosody, excellent phrasing, surprising metaphors, and a poetic ethos that transcends literary and political fashion.
Kipling won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907. The award was, in part, a recognition of Kipling’s worldwide appeal to readers; he touched more hearts and minds than anyone else of his generation. His work added phrases to the English language; few today realize that they paraphrase Kipling when they assert that “the female is deadlier than the male” or that “East is East and West is West.”
Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Has Rudyard Kipling’s reputation as a “British Empire” man damaged his literary reputation?
Was Kipling too concerned with technique in his fiction?
Does it make sense to criticize “The Man Who Would Be King” because it lacks elements of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899, serial; 1902, book)?
Does Kipling’s verse deserve more attention than it now gets?
Does Kipling have unusual insight into India and its people?
(The entire section is 69 words.)
Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Battles, Pau. “‘The Mark of the Beast’: Rudyard Kipling’s Apocalyptic Vision of Empire.” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (Summer, 1996): 333-344. A reading of Kipling’s story as his most powerful critique of the Empire; argues that “The Mark of the Beast” is an allegory of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized.
Bauer, Helen Pike. Rudyard Kipling: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1994. Discusses the themes of isolation, work, the Empire, childhood, the supernatural, and art in Kipling’s short stories. Includes Kipling’s comments on writing and excerpts from a formalist and a postcolonial analysis of Kipling.
Birkenhead, Lord. Rudyard...
(The entire section is 938 words.)