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.
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.
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.