Rudyard Kipling Extended Criticism - Essay


(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 British soldiers during peacetime are light-hearted and diverting, but also realistic and without illusions. Kipling's best-known military tales are those that focus on three British soldiers: Mulvaney, Ortheris, and Learoyd. The “soldiers three” are jauntily portrayed in their manic lives of romancing, drinking, mischief-making, and occasional fighting in such stories as “The Madness of Private Ortheris” and “Private Learoyd's Story.” Kipling's later military tales depict the horrors of World War I with tragic insight and exactitude. His grim yet lyrical delineation of agony and irrecoverable loss is starkly revealed in “Mary Postgate” and “The Gardener,” two stories that reflect both the hate and undying love inspired by the war. Kipling achieved perhaps his greatest literary success with the stories he wrote for children, most of which contain elements of humor intended for adults as well. Kipling fashioned these tales to be read aloud, and critics agree that the oral beauty of his writing makes these stories particularly memorable. The Just So Stories for Little Children, written in a nonsensical secretive language, are intended for very young children and comically consider such timeless mysteries as why camels have humps or how writing was developed. Kipling's most famous collections, the two Jungle Books, chronicle the life of Mowgli, a boy who is abandoned by his parents and raised by wolves to become the master of the jungle. Commentators often note Kipling's gift for anthropomorphism in his fiction, and the animal characters in the Jungle Books are presented with simplicity, humor, and dignity.

Critical Reception

Kipling began writing short stories in the mid-1880s; by the turn of the century he was one of the most widely read authors in England. Prestigious newspapers including the Times of London and the Scots Observer published his stories regularly, and by 1896, his works had been collected in a uniform edition—a rare honor for so young a writer. Kipling was not without detractors, however, and some commentators rejected his stories as imperialist, vulgar, simple-minded, and unnecessarily brutal. Critics concur that Kipling's early success stemmed, in part, from his ability to inspire deep emotions in his audiences. Few readers reacted with indifference to his writing. The imperialist views Kipling expressed in his Indian stories also contributed to his initial success; however, later in his career after political tides in England had shifted, his stories were considered outdated and his popularity waned. Critical attention concentrated upon the jingoist and racist aspects of Kipling's writing almost to the exclusion of his literary accomplishments. Following his death, a major reassessment of his talents led to his recognition as an astute storyteller who possessed profound insights and a rare gift for entertaining. Although his stories are not uniformly praised, he is nonetheless regarded as one of the masters of the short story form. His exotic tales of India and entertaining children's stories are enjoyed by readers of all ages. Indeed, at the time of his death in 1936, Kipling's collected stories—roughly 250 of them—had sold over fifteen million volumes.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

In Black and White 1888

The Phantom 'Rickshaw, and Other Tales 1888

Plain Tales from the Hills 1888

Soldiers Three 1888

The Story of the Gadsbys 1888

Under the Deodars 1888

Wee Willie Winkie, and Other Child Stories 1888

The Courting of Dinah Shadd, and Other Stories 1890

Life's Handicap 1891

Many Inventions 1893

The Jungle Book (short stories and poetry) 1894

The Second Jungle Book (short stories and poetry) 1895

The Day's Work 1898

Stalky & Co. 1899

Just So Stories for Little Children (short stories and poetry) 1902

Traffics and Discoveries (short stories and poetry) 1904

Puck of Pook's Hill (short stories and poetry) 1906

Abaft the Funnel 1909

Actions and Reactions (short stories and poetry) 1909

Rewards and Fairies (short stories and poetry) 1910

A Diversity of Creatures 1917

Land and Sea Tales for Boys and Girls (short stories and poetry) 1923

Debits and Credits (short stories and poetry) 1926

Thy Servant a Dog 1930

Limits and Renewals (short stories and poetry) 1932

Complete Works in Prose and Verse. 35 vols. (short stories, poetry, novels, essays, sketches, speeches, and unfinished autobiography) 1937-39

Rudyard Kipling: Selected Stories (edited and introduced by Sandra Kemp) 1987

Their Lawful Occasions 1987

John Brunner Presents Kipling's Fantasy: Stories 1992

John Brunner Presents Kipling's Science Fiction: Stories 1992

Collected Stories (edited by John Brunner) 1994

The Man Who Would Be King, and Other Stories 1994

The Science Fiction Stories of Rudyard Kipling 1994

The Works of Rudyard Kipling 1995

Schoolboy Lyrics (poetry) 1881

Departmental Ditties, and Other Verses (poetry) 1886

The Light That Failed (novel) 1890

Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses (poetry) 1892

The Naulahka: A Story of West and East [with Wolcott Balestier] (novel) 1892

The Seven Seas (poetry) 1896

Captains Courageous (novel) 1897

From Sea to Sea. Letters of Travel. 2 vols. (sketches) 1899

Kim (novel) 1901

The Five Nations (poetry) 1903

Songs from Books (poetry) 1903

The Years Between (poetry) 1919

Letters of Travel, 1892-1913 (sketches) 1920

A Book of Words (speeches) 1928

Souvenirs of France (essays) 1933

Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown (unfinished autobiography) 1937

Kipling's India: Uncollected Sketches, 1884-1888 (edited by Thomas Pinney; sketches) 1985

Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling 1879-1889: Unpublished, Uncollected, and Rarely Collected Poems (edited by Andrew Rutherford; poetry) 1986

Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings (edited by Thomas Pinney; autobiography) 1990

Writings of Literature by Rudyard Kipling (edited by Kemp and Lisa Lewis; criticism) 1995

Writings on Writing (edited by Kemp and Lewis; criticism) 1996

S. T. Sharma (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Sharma, S. T. “Kipling's India: A Study of Some Short Stories.” Literary Criterion 22, no. 4 (1987): 54-61.

[In the following essay, Sharma explores Kipling's identification with India as expressed in the four short stories collected in The Day's Work: “The Maltese Cat,” “William the Conqueror,” “The Tomb of His Ancestors,” and “The Bridge Builders.”]

The question of Kipling's identification with India becomes relevant in view of the fact that Kipling spent his apprentice years in India and emerged on the literary scene as a major Anglo-Indian writer. It is equally interesting because Kipling spent his early years in India accepting...

(The entire section is 2999 words.)

T. C. W. Stinton (essay date 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Stinton, T. C. W. “What Happened in ‘Mrs. Bathhurst’?” Essays in Criticism 38, no. 1 (January 1988): 55-74.

[In the following essay, Stinton finds thematic similarities between the story “Mrs. Bathurst” and several other Kipling tales and explores the story's discontinuous narrative.]

To use one work of an author to illuminate another is always hazardous. Each work starts from different premises to reach different conclusions. So it is an error to use Sophocles' Oedipus Coloneus to illuminate his Oedipus Tyrannus, and vice versa. With Kipling it is even more hazardous, since he said himself that it was his policy to avoid...

(The entire section is 7714 words.)

Zohreh T. Sullivan (review date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Sullivan, Zohreh T. Review of The Day's Work, The Jungle Book, The Second Jungle Book, Kim, Life's Handicap, ‘The Man Who Would be King’ and Other Stories, Plain Tales From the Hills, Stalky & Co., and Rudyard Kipling: Selected Stories, by Rudyard Kipling. Modern Language Review 84, no. 4 (October 1989): 951-53.

[In the following review of nine Kipling books that were reprinted in 1987, Sullivan explicates the reasons for Kipling's success and universal appeal.]

Now out of copyright, Kipling's works are finally accessible to the common reader for whom he wrote, and to a more specialized...

(The entire section is 994 words.)

John Murray (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Murray, John. “The Law of The Jungle Books.Children's Literature 20 (1992): 1-14.

[In the following essay, Murray analyzes the concept of law in Kipling's The Jungle Books.]

There is broad critical agreement that the concept of law is vital and pervasive in Kipling's work, and the concept has been the subject of at least one book, Shamsul Islam's Kipling's “Law”. Islam devotes considerable space to a discussion of the law in The Jungle Books, asserting that “an exposition of the nature of the Law is one of Kipling's main aims in The Jungle Books in general and the Mowgli stories in particular” (122). He highlights their...

(The entire section is 5341 words.)

U. C. Knoepflmacher (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Knoepflmacher, U. C. “Female Power and Male Self-Assertion: Kipling and the Maternal.” Children's Literature 20 (1992): 15-35.

[In the following essay, Knoepflmacher links aspects of Kipling's life and his treatment of feminine power in short fiction, particularly through the story “Baa Baa, Black Sheep.”]

My first child and daughter was born in three foot of snow on the night of December 29th 1892. Her Mother's birthday being the 31st and mine the 30th of the same month, we congratulated her on her sense of the fitness of things, and she throve in her trunk-tray in the sunshine on the little plank verandah.


(The entire section is 8801 words.)

D. H. Stewart (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Stewart, D. H. “Stalky and the Language of Education.” Children's Literature 20 (1992): 36-51.

[In the following essay, Stewart asserts that Stalky & Co. “can be read as a celebration of language, boys' language—how they sift and assimilate both their cultural heritage and their immediate experiences through it, and how this prepares them to confront the challenges of adulthood.”]

When he wrote Stalky & Co. (1899),1 Rudyard Kipling had become a master stylist. The book retains its appeal nearly a century later but no longer as a manual for training administrators of the British Empire, which is how many early...

(The entire section is 6335 words.)

Carole Scott (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Scott, Carole. “Kipling's Combat Zones: Training Grounds in the Mowgli Stories, Captains Courageous, and Stalky & Co.Children's Literature 20 (1992): 52-68.

[In the following essay, Scott analyzes the role of warfare and rules of conduct in three of Kipling's short fiction works: the Mowgli stories, Captains Courageous, and Stalky & Co.]

Kipling's obsession with the mastery of rules, laws, and codes of behavior dominates his work as it did his life. He wrote a charter for his children that identified in detail their “rights” to the Dudwell River near Bateman's; he created a Jungle society with a code “as perfect as time...

(The entire section is 6958 words.)

Juliet McMaster (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: McMaster, Juliet. “The Trinity Archetype in The Jungle Books and The Wizard of Oz.Children's Literature 20 (1992): 90-110.

[In the following essay, McMaster establishes parallels between the adaptation of the Christian Trinity archetype in Kipling's The Jungle Books and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.]

The magical and mystical significance of the number three is common to myth, religion, and children's literature. But though the cluster of three is important, it is also expected that the units within the cluster be subtly differentiated, and in some sense opposed and complementary. The most familiar constellation of this...

(The entire section is 8701 words.)

John McBratney (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: McBratney, John. “Imperial Subjects, Imperial Space in Kipling's Jungle Books.Victorian Studies 35, no. 3 (spring 1992): 277-93.

[In the following essay, McBratney considers Kipling's concept of cultural identity as it relates to juvenile characters in the author's short fiction.]

The romantic image of the child held a special value for Victorian readers. In an age in which individual energies were increasingly disciplined, routinized, and regulated within an industrialized society, that Wordsworthian “Seer blest,” whose joyful amplitude of being was set against the encroaching “Shades of the prison-house,” represented both the vestige and...

(The entire section is 8542 words.)

Don Randall (essay date 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Randall, Don. “Post-Mutiny Allegories of Empire in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books.Texas Studies in Literature and Language 41, no. 1 (spring 1998): 97-120.

[In the following essay, Randall underscores how British imperial history, particularly the history of mutinies, informs Kipling's short fiction.]

In Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914 Patrick Brantlinger highlights the special status of the Indian Mutiny in the British empire's cultural legacy. Briefly documenting post-Mutiny literary production, he observes, “at least fifty [Mutiny novels] were written before 1900, and at least thirty more before World War...

(The entire section is 10288 words.)

Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Binyon, T. J. “Kipling, The Blush-Making Prophet.” Times Literary Supplement (5 June 1987): 608-09.

Provides a brief overview of Kipling's life and career.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Rudyard Kipling. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 159 p.

Collection of critical essays on Kipling's work.

Bratton, J. S. “Race, Dominion and Power.” Times Educational Supplement (20 February 1987): 25.

Mixed reviews of recent reissues of Kipling's short fiction.

Engen, Rodney. “Forever Children.” Times Educational Supplement (24 December...

(The entire section is 340 words.)