Charles Allen’s Kipling Sahib relates the story of Rudyard Kipling’s early life, his development as a writer, and his conquest of the reading public in India, Great Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. His poems “The White Man’s Burden” and “The Recessional” captured in different ways the glories and responsibilities of Western imperialism, while “Danny Deaver” caught the pathos of a condemned British soldier going to his death. Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses (1892) portrayed ordinary soldiers, rather than their officers, and in “Gunga Din” Kipling honored the humble Indian water carrier. His novel Kim (1901) is among the greatest novels about India, and for generations children have avidly read The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895), which tells the tales of the human child Mowgli being raised by a wolf named Raksha, as well as the ever-popular Just So Stories (1902).
Kipling’s parents were middle class. John Lockwood Kipling was trained as a modeler in clay and carving bas-reliefs. He worked on the Albert Memorial in London, among other projects. Alice Macdonald and her sisters made their mark through marriage and motherhood. Alice was the mother of Rudyard, Georgie married the prominent pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, and Louisa was the mother of Stanley Baldwin, British prime minister during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Bombay, India, was a boomtown rife with speculators in the early 1860’s, and Allen provides a vivid description of the city during those years. Lockwood Kipling was offered a position in Bombay’s newly established school of art and industry, and, with the prospect of financial independence, Alice and Lockwood left England for Bombay in early 1865. Lockwood also ventured into journalism, becoming the Bombay correspondent to the Allahabad Pioneer, the leading Anglo-Indian newspaper in northern India. Rudyard, the Kiplings’ first child, was born on December 30, 1865, and named after England’s Lake Rudyard. A second child, Alice, or Trixie, was born in 1868. Although the Kiplings lived in Bombay for only a few years, Rudyard, or Ruddy, later looked back on those years with great fondness. As was typical, his ayah, or nursemaid, was a major figure in his life: Most English parents turned much of the labor of child rearing over to a nursemaid. Both Kipling children had a gift for languages, and Kipling early learned to speak some Urdu and Hindi from the servants. The children’s upbringing spanned two cultures, encompassing both the Anglo-Indian population of about fifty thousand and the native Indian population of several hundred million.
It was customary for Anglo-Indian children to be schooled in England. As Allen points out, schooled might be too strong a word. In 1871, Rudyard and Trixie were placed with a family in Swansea that was overly strict. That strictness combined with what both children felt to be their parents’ betrayal to made his time in Swansea perhaps the unhappiest period of Kipling’s life. It would later be reflected in his short story “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” At the age of eleven, Kipling had what was apparently a nervous breakdown. In the interim, Lockwood had accepted a position in Lahore as a teacher at the Mayo School of Industrial Art, as well as the job of curator at the Lahore Museum. He had also become The Pioneer’s Lahore correspondent. Allen, as he did with Bombay, provides an extensive description of Lahore. In 1876, Lockwood’s professional career was advanced when the British viceroy, Lord Lytton, chose him to design dozens of coats of arms to commemorate the Delhi ceremony proclaiming Queen Victoria as empress of India.
Alice Kipling returned to England in 1877 to rescue Rudyard and Trixie. Rudyard was placed in a newly established “public school,” the United Services College (USC), which was founded primarily to educate boys for a career in the British military. Such a career was not likely for Rudyard, however, given his lack of physical dexterity, his poor vision, his dislike of games, and his preference for reading. In spite of these attributes, however, Rudyard thrived at USC, where he was given access to the headmaster’s personal library. He read voraciously and wrote verses, some of which were published in India in 1881 as Schoolboy Lyrics. While at USC, Kipling matured physically and fell in love for the first time, but his love remained unrequited. The years at USC were also the inspiration for Kipling’s later schoolboy stories, Stalky and Co. (1899).
In 1882, Kipling, aged sixteen, returned to Lahore, becoming the assistant editor of the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), the...
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