Rudyard Kipling

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Introduction

(Short Story Criticism)

Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936

(Full name Joseph Rudyard Kipling) English short story writer, poet, novelist, essayist, and autobiographer.

The following entry provides an overview of Kipling's short fiction works.

Creator of many of the world's most cherished short stories, Kipling is considered one of the finest writers of short fiction in international literature. Credited with popularizing the short story genre in England, Kipling is perhaps most famous for his insightful stories of Indian culture and Anglo-Indian society. Kipling is equally renowned for his masterful, widely read stories for children, which are collected in Just So Stories for Little Children (1902), the two Jungle Books (1894; 1895, respectively), Puck of Pook's Hill (1906), and Reward and Fairies (1910). Many critics consider Mowgli, the central figure in the Jungle Books, one of the most memorable characters in children's literature.

Biographical Information

Kipling was born in Bombay, India, to English parents. At the age of six he was sent to school in southern England, an unhappy experience that he wrote about in the story “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” For five years he lived with unsympathetic guardians in a foster home Kipling called the “House of Desolation,” and at the age of twelve he was sent to boarding school in Devon. Despite being bullied and ostracized by his schoolmates during his first years there, Kipling wrote fondly of his public school experiences in the short fiction collection Stalky & Co. (1899). Just before his seventeenth birthday, Kipling returned to India to work as a journalist on the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette and the Allahabad Pioneer. The stories he wrote for these two newspapers, published in 1888 as the collection Plain Tales from the Hills, earned him widespread recognition in India. Kipling returned to England in 1889 in order to pursue a literary career. Soon after arriving in London, he began collaborating with Wolcott Balestier, an American literary agent. In 1892 Kipling married Balestier's sister Caroline, and the couple lived on her family's estate in Vermont for four years. During this time Kipling produced the two Jungle Books and began writing Kim (1901), considered by many his finest novel. Disenchanted with American society in general and devastated by the death of his daughter Josephine in 1899, Kipling returned to Europe, eventually settling in Sussex, England, a locale that figures prominently in the stories from Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies. In 1907 Kipling received the Nobel Prize in Literature for both his short fiction and novels, the first English author to be so honored. He died in 1936 after several years of illness and was buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Kipling's fame as a short fiction writer is based predominantly on three types of stories: his exotic tales of India, his narratives about the military, and his children's books. As a journalist in India, Kipling had the opportunity to explore many facets of Anglo-Indian culture, and the East provided the setting for much of his early fiction. His portrayal of India and its culture occupies many dimensions; he wrote stories about virtually every sector of society. These tales are imitative of the French conte and are considered remarkable for their innovative plots and deceptively simple structures. In general, critics concur that his best stories of India are those in which he reveals an underlying chaos and lack of control amidst a seemingly well-ordered society. “The Bridge Builders,” for instance, dwells on the exotic appearances of Indian laborers, the arcane Indian pantheon, and the catastrophic flooding of the Ganges to show, in contrast, the pathetically limited imagination of British architecture and its ineptitude in controlling nature. Kipling was fascinated by the military—the lives of British soldiers in India, the Far East, and during World War I inspired many of his stories. His early portraits of...

(The entire section is 68,498 words.)