Sunday, November 24, 2019

Kipling Sahib: India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling.

There are two ways to immortality.  One of them is earn the kind of achievement that people will talk about forever.  Mahatma Gandhi provides a good example of this first type.  The other is create such a scandal that your name has no choice except to survive forever as an example to be avoided.  Rudyard Kipling is a rare and exotic breed.  He seems to managed both tricks in the space of a single lifetime.  At least, I think that's what he did.  Part of the hesitation stems from a number of interlinking factors.  Part of it is that all you have to do is mention The Jungle Book to call up whole film reels of childhood memories.  The catch is that just because most viewers are familiar with Walt Disney's last animated feature film, that's still no guarantee the majority of them will ever know that the film's author even existed.  Fewer may even realize that The Jungle Book was, in fact, an actual text.

The result is I can't say I know just what kind of reputation Kipling has in this day and age.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he's a fossil relegated to the darkest corner of a nursery that's escaped our memories.  I'm willing to go far enough in believing maybe handful of book types might remember who he is.  Even if that's the case, there's still a problem of having a notorious reputation.  The closest thing to a basic consensus I can find is that Kipling is regarded in much the same light as H.P. Lovecraft.  He's a great talent lodged inside a troubled and troubling personality.  Like his Providence counterpart, Kipling is seen as the great Imperial Apologist.  He's a man with a blind loyalty to Queen and Country, right or wrong.  Even his best works are alleged to be thinly disguised propaganda.  If he isn't cheering young British boys to throw their lives away for an unjust cause, then he's urging them to keep the "others" in their proper place.

At the same time, he's something of a childhood favorite.  Aside from the Mowgli stories, Kipling is responsible for filling our world with the likes of a mongoose christened "Rikki Tikki Tavi", a street urchin named Kim, and a "Man Who Would Be King".  Each one of these tales, taken together or separate, have since won recognition as genuine classics of both fantasy and adventure.  Still, there is the nonsense drivel known as "The White Man's Burden".  "And so it goes".  You can't admire Kipling.  You can't just bring yourself to throw him away either.  The worst part is the odd, almost schizoid quality that seems to live in his work.  The "Burden" doggerel is some of the most shallow and insensitive waste of good ink ever committed to paper.  Then, if you go from there and read about "The Man Who Would Be King", the strangest result happens.  It's as if the author of that tale were another man who, after reading the poem, got inspired to dash off, as in a white heat, a story with a clear anti-imperialist message at it's core.  The message in that short story is not just true, it's almost downright prophetic in the way it narrates the slow decay and downfall of British rule in India.  An ending that was written by none other than Gandhi himself.

How does one reconcile such a dichotomy?  How can two men live in the same head?  Are we dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde personality?  Does the right hand truly have no idea of what the left is doing?  What gives with this Kipling guy, anyway?  Is he some sort of elaborate fool, or just plain crazy?  Charles Allen is one who author who has at least made a valiant attempt to find an answer.  The question is what kind of writer does historical examinations turn up?  That' the question at the heart of Kipling Sahib, which details RK's exploits in the land of his birth, and how it shaped the writer he became.  It sounds like a standard enough approach, yet the writer uncovered by Allen is not the one I was expecting.

 Early Life as a Black Sheep.

There are two important factors in the growth of a writer's mind.  The first is the question of character.  The second is the more complex question of the influence of culture.  These are two factors that have never received enough attention when it comes to knowing the basic nature of another person.  The personal and cultural history can be of particular use if the question is whether or not the author really is guilty of holding anti-social ideas.  Both elements can come in handy when examining the life of Kipling, and how it influenced the content of his work.

He was born on December 30th, 1865 to Lockwood and Alice Kipling (nee MacDonald).  His place of birth is now known as Mumbai, yet in his day it carried a different title.  ""Rudyard Kipling came to look back on his Bombay childhood as a time of untrammeled happiness (36)".  "Not that ruddy was having an easy time of it (41)".  Sometimes the young boy's rambunctious nature meant that on occasion he was "taken out of the house as often as possible, and on these enforced walks he would march down the main streets...shouting 'Ruddy is coming! Ruddy is coming!' - and on one occasion, when his feathers had been particularly ruffled, 'An angry Ruddy is coming (42)"!

The initial impression is that of a pampered child.  This can sometimes be a problem.  If the child is given too much pampering, then it is just possible that his mental horizon and outlook will be that of an unreal world in which he expects his every personal wish to be met and granted, without any regard for common sense.  The trouble with the pampered child is he is always asking more than reality can ever have or give.  If this happens, what you can say of such an individual is that his growth has been stunted.  Behind the adult exterior can sometimes lie the mind of an immature little boy.

Because of this, it's interesting to see how young Rudyard's first years of development played out.  "The infant grew into a plump, bumptious child: a 'sturdy little boy', according to his sister who had joined him when he was two and a half years old...He was thoroughly happy and genial - indeed rather too noisy and spoilt.  Mother used to say that, like Kim, he was "little friend of all the world" and that's what the Indian servants in Bombay called him."  This icon of young Ruddy as "little friend of all the world" is perfectly preserved in a story related by Alice Kipling to her son's first biographer, of the four year old walking hand in hand with a Maratha ryot or peasant cultivator over a ploughed field and calling back to his parents in the vernacular, 'Goodbye, this is my brother (35)".

Here we see the question of a character and culture brought together in an intriguing union.  The first impressions of the young Kipling are one of brotherhood.  It's all the more surprising as it is not the sort of result we may have been expecting.  "These and other stories show two small children learning to move effortlessly between two worlds: one formal and exclusive, the other informal and all-embracing and, moreover, one in which they exercised a remarkable degree of authority, despite their ages.  In their Indian world, as Trix put it, she and her brother were 'king and queen in their own country - none daring to make them afraid' (48)".  The curious part is how it all sounds at complete odds with what came later.  It begs the question of whether anything went wrong, and if so, what was it?

Perhaps the first part of an answer is provided for by Allen when the biographer senses a false note that acts as a counterpoint to an otherwise idyllic scene.  This serves an ominous undercurrent pointing to a sense of looming crisis.  Allen cites Kipling's "short story 'His Majesty the King', which tells of (Rudyard's) alter ego Punch growing up in India as ruler of the nursery, spoiled by the servants but always wishing that his distant parents - 'two very terrible people who had no time to waste upon His Majesty the King' - would show him more affection.

"One can read too much into a work of fiction, but the signalling of parental neglect by both siblings is too marked for it to have been entirely the product of Rudyard Kipling's imagination.  How else can one explain why, in an era when the three R's were part and parcel of the nursery furniture, no effort was made to teach this highly intelligent child to read and write (ibid)"?

For Allen, the ultimate culprit of the this neglect has to do less with the nature of Alice and Lockwood Kipling as parents, and is instead centered more in the deficient cultural influences that dictated the almost artificial way they treated their children.  "A recurrent theme of Anglo-Indian literature of this period is the degree to which British children were left in the care of the servants - and the dangers this represented in the misshaping of their characters.  'In the reeking atmosphere of the servants' huts,' wrote the unnamed author of an article...on the European child in India, 'he soaks in Asiatic vices and meanness through every pore of his little white skin'.  It was accepted as an inescapable fact that European children in India must first be spoiled by servants - and then sent home to England in order to counteract this damage.  In this respect Alice and Lockwood Kipling appear to have been content to follow custom (ibid)".  It also could be this unfortunate willingness to go along with Victorian mores that was responsible for the biggest blow Kipling ever suffered.

On the 1st of October, 1871, Kipling and his sister were sent to a place called Lorne Lodge, in Southsea, England.  The only reason for sending either of them to such a place was for the convenience of giving both children a proper English education.  Instead, young Rudyard found himself cast as the lead role in a drama of tortured childhood that involved living under the roof of a Mrs. Sarah Holloway.  She was stern, patrician, and perhaps puritanical in the way she treated Kipling during his crucial childhood years.  He was the least liked favorite of the household, subject to beatings if it was felt he'd done something wrong or incorrect.  When his mother returned later, she woke Rudyard from his nap, and his instinctive reaction was to raise both hands in anticipation of a blow from a whipping switch.

The one solace Kipling found during this time at Lorne Lodge was the discovery of books.  Literature seems to have been the one salvation and bright spot in an otherwise gloomy stretch of Kipling's life.  "Once the breakthrough had been made the boy read voraciously and at every opportunity, and punished by being forbidden to read, 'read by stealth and the more earnest' (69)  The whole thing sounds like it could have stepped right out of the pages of Dickens.  The difference was that his time at Lorne Lodge was all too real.  "Like Dickens's David Copperfield, for whom books provided his 'only' and 'constant comfort', Ruddy found solace in his reading - along with the satisfaction and sense of power that came from outwitting his tormentor (ibid)".

If pampering a child is the first mistake a parent can make, then the second and most severe is to abuse him.  I don't think (at least I hope) that much has to be said about the negative effects and cost of an abusive childhood.  Jails and asylums throughout the world are a pretty good silent testament in themselves.  The worst outcome is when the trauma of abuse inflicted on the child leads to the adult becoming the same type of person who victimizes others just like his original abuser.  This is a fate that Kipling appears to have escaped.  However, there does appear to have been some lingering negative effects.  (For) both as a child and as an adult Rudyard Kipling displayed" occasional signs of behavior that remained a kind of testament to those years at Lorne Lodge (67-8).

The biggest impact of those trials can still be seen in the traces of Kipling' fiction.  "It comes as no surprise to find that the heroes of Kim and The Jungle Book tales are little boys abandoned by their birth parents - and that the most caring parents in Kipling's fiction are foster parents: in The Jungle Book the wolves who succor baby Mowgli, supported by the bear Baloo and the panther Bagheera; in Kim the widowed Sahiba who looks after Kim when he has a breakdown (46-7)".  Allen's point here and elsewhere in these early chapters is that this sense of perceived abandonment is at least an important component of the engine powering Kipling's imaginative genius.  Aside from this, Allen also holds that this parental estrangement also had one good side effect.  It gave him a capacity to identify with societies outsiders.  In Rudyard's case, this also seems to have extended to the native population of India.

If there's anything to add, it might be that a secondary effect is that it caused Kipling to join in a much larger fraternity of Victorian authors whose shared theme might be described as the search for a lost idyll.  It's an idea that crops up over and again in such disparate works as Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows, the same author's aptly titled Golden Age, J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and even a short story by a writer as hard headed as H.G. Wells, entitled "The Door in the Wall".  Kipling seems to fit a shared profile with each of these men in that in that a half of their life was somehow left out of their makeup.  Ever since then, Kipling, like Barrie and Wells has devoted a lot of his energies to recapturing as much of it as possible.  The interesting note is Allen's claim that this same loss instilled an open-minded sympathy in the young Anglo-Indian.

Westward Ho!

Kipling didn't have endure the trial of Lorne Lodge for too long before his parents removed their son and daughter from that establishment.  From there, not much seems to happen until Rudyard was sent to the United Services College.  From a literary perspective, this establishment is important for two reasons.  It is the place where Kipling first discovered his own voice as a writer.  In addition, he also made his first important contacts in the publishing world.

Kipling seems to have found his calling almost by accident.  He kept a journal of his time at the USC, and a lot of it is  a chronicle of his exploits in the world of college hi-jinks.  This was thanks to the college being the place where Kipling made the first real friends in his life.  This journal, Kipling's friends, and their exploits together would later provide the raw material for Stalky and Co., a fictionalized account of the writer's graduate days.  It was his ability to take the ordinary material of real life and transfigure it into an entertaining caricature of fiction that serves as just one example of Kipling's talents.  Besides this, he also wrote and published his first poem.  "The USC was the first of many institutions that Kipling came to revere and whose approbation he always sought, and it was there that he discovered that a means of gaining this much-desired acceptance was to give the public expression to what might be described as the group psyche or mood (104)".

This ability to capture the spirit of a group was a skill that would serve him well in later years.  For the time being, the most important result was that his initial creative efforts soon caught the attention of George Allen.  "The George Allen that Rudyard Kipling knew was a somewhat Olympian figure, presiding over an extensive business empire of which his newspaper interests formed only a part, a man with strong political views, used to getting his way and prepared to spend large sums of money to buy the best, whether it was influence, news or journalists (xi)".  It turns out Kipling was the most important journalist that Allen would ever wind up hiring.  "Why Allen chose to overlook a sixteen-year-old schoolboy's lack of professional experience is a mystery, but the presumption must be that he thought him worth the risk.  Both in Stalky and Co. and in Something of Myself Kipling asserts the the appointment was made entirely without his knowledge.  'There came a day,' he wrote in his autobiography," when he was told "that a fortnight after the close of the summer holidays of 82, I would go to India to work on a paper in Lahore (117)".

Homecoming and the Vital Influences.

Allen's biography begins its main focus once Kipling returns to India.  It was there that all the major forces began to shape the contours of his imagination, and the material that emerged from it.  Kipling is known today for a small handful of works, most of which tend to fit in the category of Children's Literature.  He never set to work on any of them until long after he'd left the country of his birth behind him.  Allen contends, however, that without the time he spent in India, none of those accomplishments would have been possible.  It's an idea that has some merit in it.  It was during his brief return to India that Kipling's voice began to mature.  It was also here that a lot of the ideas and themes that inform his major works began to take shape. This also means that Allen's text has to enter the uncertain territory of Kipling's writing to discover just what those ideas were, and whether or not they present a problem.

The final site of Kipling's literary apprenticeship was the newspaper offices of the Civil and Military Gazette (or CMG).  It was the business where George Allen saw fit to stick the young artist as a correspondent reporter.  His first few years of employment were the unremarkable beat of covering various social fetes and and banquets.  As far as it's possible to tell, the biggest incentive to literary inspiration was a mixture of boredom and paranoia over fears of death by heatstroke during the intolerable summer season.  So on a night when there was nothing to do, and not even the rains could help, Kipling went for a walk in order to get away from his own mind.

At first there was nowhere to go, and his travels were limited to the surrounding city blocks.  Sooner or later his routes began to expand and branch off.  Part of it was again the same desire to escape a lingering boredom.  Another part of it was a growing sense of awareness about his surroundings.  Kipling began to notice things.  He became aware of the sounds and smells of the nightlife around him.  This is where sometimes having nothing to do can be a benefit, as Kipling himself observed.  "Often the night got into my head...and I would wander till dawn in all manner of odd places - liquor shops, gambling-and opium-dens, which are not a bit mysterious, wayside entertainments  such as puppet-shows, native dances, or in and about the narrow gullies under the Mosque of Wazir Khan.'

"What Ruddy discovered on these night prowls was that 'much of real Indian life goes on in the hot-weather nights', and that as a newspaperman he was invested with a kind of invisibility denied other sahibs: 'Having no position to consider, and my trade enforcing it, I could move at will in the fourth dimension...Sometimes, the Police would challenge, but I knew most of their officers, and many folk in some quarters knew me as the son of my Father, which in the East more than anywhere else is useful.  Otherwise, the word "Newspaper" sufficed, though I did not supply my paper with many accounts of these prowls (165)".  It was his first step into a kind of new world.  It's one of those boundary crossings that was either not done, or else frowned upon by polite society.  Either way it was a foot in the door.  It was one of those initial steps that often lead to further discoveries.

For instance, when Kipling was suffering from a bad stomach infection, one of his servants offered him a pipe to smoke as a way of easing things.  "Believing he had nothing to lose, Ruddy took the pipe and began to smoke it: 'Presently I felt the cramps in my legs dying out and my tummy more settled and a minute or two later it seemed to me that I fell through the floor.  When I woke up I found my man waiting at the bed side where he had put me, with a glass of warm milk and a stupendous grin (169)".  It was another boundary crossed.  "This was Ruddy's only publicly acknowledged experience of opium-taking...There is convincing evidence that this double dose hit him with the force of a revelation.  In modern parlance, it 'blew his mind', opening the doors of his unconscious hitherto kept tight shut (169-70)". 

All these discoveries engaged his imagination.  So that soon his midnight rambles began to morph into fact gathering expeditions in search of inspiration.  There was plenty for the young Kipling to discover.  In time, "his taste for night explorations...further developed, with the city of Lahore providing rich material for copy.  'Dug up a couple of opium dens in this city,' runs one telling diary entry.  'Queer night altogether.  Suddhu is his name.'  Suddhu duly became 'Suddhoo', the tale of the white-haired old man who owns a two story house near the Taksali Gate and rents out rooms to two Kashmiri courtesans, Azizun and Janoo.  All three are characters in a tale of grand guignol in which they and the English sahib who narrates it witness a terrifying act of magic in a darkened room (179)".  This is just one example of where Kipling's stories came from.  There were others.

The way Allen explains Kipling's technique for composing his tails is very much indebted to his time as a newspaper journalist.  It's where he picked up the defining traits that marked out his career.  "(Observers) of Kipling at work have left accounts of the way he worried at a subject like a terrier with a bone, not leaving off until the working of every nut, bolt, and flange of its machinery was understood, along with every technical term, nuance, phrase and piece of slang that went with it.

"This rigorous investigation and note-taking also supplied Ruddy with a natural framing device for many of the two hundred or so short stories he wrote in India: that of the reporter who purports to reproduce verbatim what has been told him, as copied down in his notebook.  There are early tales where it is impossible to tell if what appears on the printed page is fact or fiction, particularly when the story takes the form of a rambling monologue, seemingly reproduced as heard, word for word.  'When I comes to a gentleman and says, "Look here!  You give me a drink," and that gentleman says, "No, I won't neither, you've 'ad too much," am I angry?  No!  What I says is...'  So opens 'Mister Anthony Dawking', which deals with one of Ruddy's favorite low-life subjects: the European loafer, almost always an ex-soldier who has fallen on hard times and taken to drink, staggering from one Station to another, scrounging off the Native population until he dies alone and unlamented.  This and other tales may have been worked into fiction, but their credibility comes from scrupulously observed fact (160)".

If there's any regret to this strength, it was that it's also probably responsible for the stunted nature of his output.  The curious note for the great majority of Kipling's work is that he was the kind of writer whose pen could take him just so far before his inspiration ran out of fuel.  This made the short story an ideal form for his output.  It's when he turned his attention to novel writing that he began to have troubles.  Most his efforts in the book-length format were constant uphill struggles.  His first attempt even required the help of a co-author.   This can sometimes be a liability in those stories that clearly want to be a full-length book, and yet somehow never manage to arrive at such a finished product.
Most of Kipling's troubles with the novel stem from the way writing, editing, and having to put out a newspaper molded the nature of his creative thought.  Even in it's glory days, print journalism was a business that valued short and terse description over the novelists measured and expansive canvas.  This went double when your own writings had to share a limited amount of page space with other reporters in a bull pen.  The natural result is a case of brevity over wit.  In that sense, being a journalist helped spur Kipling's literary efforts.  The irony is that it was the sort of encouragement that results in a kind of stunted growth.

Conclusion: Who was Rudyard Kipling?

There are two key moments in Allen biography.  The first is when he brings up the author's poem, "East and West".  The other is when he discusses the novel Kim.  At the heart of "East and West" lies Kipling's growing curiosity about the local Indian culture he was surrounded by on a daily basis.  His nightly walks through the town served as a form exposure his that sheltered and narrowly defined Anglo culture would otherwise never have permitted.  "Gone was the suspicion and hostility that had characterized Ruddy's initial response to the local Punjabi culture, and in its place was an open-hearted infatuation that spoke volumes (208)".  It was this wandering curiosity, along with a number of other influences, including a long conversation with a Pathan magistrate (ibid), that inspired the ballad of "East and West".

According to Allen, "the poem contains perhaps the most quoted and least understood lines Kipling ever wrote: 'Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.'  The 'Ballad' drew on the true story of Harry Lumsden, founding father of the renowned Corps of Guides Cavalry and Infantry, and his dealings with one of his more difficult early recruits, Dilawar Khan.  It is a celebration of two strong men, one English and one Afghan, its message that mutual respect can overcome cultural differences. for 'there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,/When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth (208)".

If there's any core message at the heart of Allen's biography, then this one poem appears to be it.  The book's chief argument hinges on the idea that Kipling was of a more open mind than previous criticism has given him credit for.  It's to Allen's credit that his unraveling of Kipling's daily life on the Indian continent goes a long way to substantiating these claims.  If there is any element of the writer's life in this biography that could give one pause, it's when Allen turns his attention to Kipling's relation with Hinduism as a system of belief.

While Kipling seems to have got along well with the local Muslim population, Allen claims that Rudyard never quite got along, or was much influenced by the claims of India's native religion.  He cites a quote by the author to the effect that, in Hinduism: "The high thoughts, the noble sentiments, the outcomes of human genius...are few and far between (256)".  This is the last note we ever really here on the subject.  For whatever reason, Allen is content to leave things as they are or appear on the subject.  Perhaps this will sound like a minor matter to some, however it's one the great frustrations of the biography that it doesn't devote some much needed space to a topic that sounds very important.

Part of the reason why is that if this truly was Kipling's last word on the subject of Hindu thought and symbolism, then it does leave him open to the charge of blatant hypocrisy at best.  Because an attentive reading of some of his best work displays a much more open-ended approach to Hindus and their thought in general.  This can be seen in the various characters and ideas that populate the pages of his children's work.  There is the sympathetic figure of Purun Baghat from The Jungle Book, one of the spies in Kim, or his famous animal characters, many of which sometimes betray hints and gleamings of the Indian philosophy and way of thinking that helped bring them to life.  It's a topic that deserves a much closer, and nuanced look than the subject has been granted so far.  It's one of the few regrets of Allen's book that he doesn't take it a seriously as it needs to be.

Even if there are positives to be said in Kipling's favor, that still leaves the Great Elephant in the room.  Here is the context Allen provides for his subject's most infamous work.  It all happened some years after Kipling had left India for good.  He would never again see the land of his birth.  In the meantime, his popularity in England was starting to reach its peak.  "The big event of 1897 was the celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (241)".  At that time, one of Kipling's professional acquaintances had "published in his paper a number of poems of what Ruddy had taken to calling 'a national character', afterwards collected in The Seven Seas.  Offered gratis, these public verses elevated Kipling to the status of a national weathervane, a poet who spoke for as much as to the British people on national and international issues, even when his views were in conflict with those of the government of the day.  Inevitably" this same professional acquaintance "wanted something for The Times to mark the Jubilee, and after much grumbling Ruddy obliged.  On 15 June Carrie noted in her diary that he was working on a poem called 'White Man's Burden (ibid)".  It was published a bit later under the guidance of Cecil Rhodes.  It was greatest mistake of his life.  It remains so today.

The closest to a silver lining we get out of that is the claim that Kipling's own personal sentiments were at odds with the British government.  One can always hope.  Yet even if that's the case, it's still doesn't excuse either the profound naivete or just plain short-sighted idiocy in not being able to find it in himself to just say no.  Was Kipling under the kind of editorial pressure that he just couldn't refuse?  Again, it's a poor excuse even if I'm willing to entertain it.  By writing that bit of doggerel Kipling initiated the beginning of the slow decline of his career.  It was on its way out the door even before he breathed his last.  In the end it still leaves the reader and critic with a question.  Just what kind of man can declare a Hindu as his brother in one breath, while penning something like "Burden" in the next?

The closest answer Allen is able to give comes from a careful examination of the main character of the novel Kim.  Back in 1885, when Rudyard's exploration of the bazaar and nightlife of Lahore was still opening his mind, the young author took the romantic notion in his head to try and write "The Great Novel of India".  The first title he had for this project was "Mother Maturin" (179).  It's a testament to Kipling's commitment to this idea that he managed to get as far as a whopping 350 pages before stalling out (350).  Years later, after having left India behind for good, Kipling asked that the "Maturin" Manuscript be forwarded to his residence.  He took a look at what he'd written, threw most of it out, and what he was able to salvage became bits and pieces of the children's novel now known as Kim.

"What is so bizarre about this final stretch is that Kipling came straight from the front line of (the Boer War), his mind filled with images of soldiering, and immediately flung himself into the completion of a novel about a boy's search for identity.  Part of the explanation may lie in the two verses which Kipling wrote on completing the final proof corrections to the text - verses which he then used to head one of the chapters of Kim when published in book form"

"Something I owe to the soil that grew -
More to the life that fed -
But most to Allah Who gave me two
Separate sides to my head.

"I would go without shirts or shoes,
Friends, tobacco or bread
Sooner than for an instant lose
Either side of my head.

"A lot has been said about these verses and the way in which they sum up, in Christopher Hitchens's apt phrase, 'a man of permanent contradictions'.  It could be that this search for an identity is also the answer to these contradictions (352-3)".  It's the closest thing we have for an answer to the strange, erratic nature of Kipling's entire life and output.  The protagonist of Kim is torn between two worlds that mark out the nature of his identity.  All he's ever known is the life a street urchin eking out a living marketplaces and rooftops of Lahore.  It is this style of life and culture that has shaped his personal identity.  He knows how to conduct himself in this world.  He knows the language and, most important of all, the people who speak and therefore live it.  In that sense he's done the same, and therefore is just like every other native of India.

The contradiction rests in the fact that his parents were Irish subjects of Great Britain.  Because of this, others try to make a gentleman of him.  It is this conflict between the Anglo and Indian sides of his nature that determines the Kim's ultimate struggle in the novel.  Perhaps it was also the over-arching conflict of Rudyard Kipling.  What it comes down to, as best I can figure, is that Kipling was a man in constant search of an anchor.  Behind this anchor was the constant presence or the notion of a home, or shelter, or perhaps it was the concept of Home itself, as just a general idea.  In this light, perhaps it makes sense to view Kipling as a man who was always looking for where he belonged.  He had plenty of options, and yet in the end he never seems to have found any resting place that was to his liking.  And all this time, the truest home he was ever likely to find was among the market places of Lahore.  I suppose the truest picture of Kipling is not as a man of the world, so much as one with no home, and hence a "Friend to all the world".

Perhaps the greatest downside of Kipling's "open strategy" is that he sometimes forgot to tell friend from foe.  If it's true that Kipling was ultimately goaded into the "White Man's Burden", then it still leaves unresolved the question of responsibility.  The simple truth is that the writer should have known better.  The fact that he published the poem at all seems to indicate that there is some sort of flaw in either his basic character, or else in his sense of personal judgment and ability to read a situation with the care and caution it deserves.  The figure that is revealed in the course of Allen's pages is a combination of a bland, faddish cynicism, masking an underlying wonder and inexperience of the world around him.  Perhaps it's best to approach Kipling in the same way most readers approach Lovecraft.  In each case we are dealing with genuine artistic talents housed in minds that are sometimes less than kosher.  It is just possible that what separates one from that other is that, unlike many of Lovecraft's statements, Kipling's stemmed more from an inborn credulity, rather than outright malice.  It's cold comfort, yet it's the best I can do.

In the end, it's possible to say that Charles Allen has done a service for both readers and fans with Kipling Sahib.  He's written what I'm forced to acknowledge as the best general biography of The Jungle Book author.  Part of what makes Allen's text work is that he made the smart decision of realizing that Kipling is an author grounded in a very concrete sense of place.  It is India that shaped and molded his imagination, and in turn he was able to take the raw material of the land and turn it into a secondary world every bit imaginative as Tolkien's Middle Earth.  It is a landscape that is both familiar and exotic by turns.  Inside the world of this imaginary map, some fundamental connection between man and animal remains intact, and there are always hints of greater mysteries hidden just out of sight.  Allen's biography is able to give readers a sense of where the stories come from and how both the land and the man helped create one another.

8 comments:

  1. This was a very interesting post to read. I can't comment on certain aspects of it as I really only know 2 Kipling books well enough: his Collected Short Stories (one of those hardcovers with the glossy pages and illustrations here and there) all of which are excellent, although I've yet to read every story in there, and POOK OF PUCK'S HILL (ditto, minus the hardcover). I love those, and I like the whole end-of-Empire fiction and personae in general. It's a fascinating era, Britain's was a fascinating Empire, and it's just close enough to our own era (with considerable overlap) where it's all accessible. But i've never seen or read THE JUNGLE BOOK or LORD KIM, and those seem to be the ones people talk about. One of these days!

    (1) On one hand, it saddens me to hear Kipling would be lumped in with someone like Lovecraft. To a certain type of 21st century reader, this is undoubtedly a hard line in the wokescold world. But, outside of being white guys who lives in eras given to white supremacist views, governments, and actions, there's little in their respective fictions (or worldviews) to put them under the same umbrella. I don't expect reasonability from the wokescolds of now - they're in a constant state of working on their own "White Man's Burden" poems, just horses of a different color no pun intended - but I've known from an early age that I have interests in writers of different eras precisely because they're of different eras and it's fascinating to me. Too many these days treat anything written even before 2001 to be hopelessly antiquated, or worse, that exposure to it will cause them to either collapse in sadness for the world, or enrage them. Like everything prior to their own existence is simply fuel for wokescold rage or projection of 2019 ethos. What an absurd way to live. It is for these reasons I never pursued any kind of college professor/ educator / critic profession, even though at one point it seemed like the natural next stage for me. But I can't exist in that world. I like to read Waugh, Kipling, whomever, on their own terms, in their own context, and learn what they thought of the world/ their own lived existence. To view anything through the narrow view of now is as unappealing to me as viewing anything solely through the view of, say, "White Man's Burden." (Which for all its "horror," expresses a cynicism and world-weariness that any ruling empire-builder has expressed in similar poems from Rome, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Islam, China, Japan, etc.) Not defending it, just making the point: it's more interesting to read the work itself and not the lamentations of 2019 people reading it.

    (2) Which is not to say none of that serves a purpose (the lamentations of 2019) - it does, it's just not one I'm particularly interested in. it seems to be circular reasoning and reductive. All narcissism is, of course, just that's the follow-the-crowd-at-narratvie-chow-time world we live in. So it goes. Kipling had his own follow-the-narrative-crowd-at-chowtime, of course, as demonstrated in "WM'sB" and elsewhere.

    (3) "If pampering a child is the first mistake a parent can make, then the second and most severe is to abuse him." I might reverse those two, myself!

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    1. (1) (2) This was the one aspect of the review that proved the biggest headache (which is sort of natural seeing that the poem itself qualifies as one). I'm willing to go with the idea that what separates Kipling from Lovecraft is that in the end I can't find much in the way of actual malice in the "Jungle Book", whereas in Lovecraft...Yikes. Just yikes. The punchline is the latter guy still knew a thing or two about sending shivers up your spine. In the end, I have to admit this was like the best solution I could find to the whole mess.

      That said, I take a lot of your point.

      (3)Point taken again.

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    2. (3) I kinda misread what you wrote so I must apologize. Actually, the way you put it is quite right, I just thought you were ranking them, but that required my misreading the words you actually used.

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  2. (4) I love Kipling's nightly walks around town, learning the local color, smoking opium with assorted 19th century characters. I'd love to see this movie, just a recreation of this little period of his life.

    (5) "So opens 'Mister Anthony Dawking', which deals with one of Ruddy's favorite low-life subjects: the European loafer, almost always an ex-soldier who has fallen on hard times and taken to drink, staggering from one Station to another, scrounging off the Native population until he dies alone and unlamented. This and other tales may have been worked into fiction, but their credibility comes from scrupulously observed fact." Yes! Agreed. I've read this one.

    (6) What's interesting is at the end of his life seeing Kipling ruminate on Freud and what not. Brackish waters of then-and-now, sort of like Steinbeck writing the King Arthur book at the end of his own career. I love little details like that.

    (7) Nice post Chris!

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    1. (4) I agree, that really is the highlight of Allen's biography. I'd like to see if a movie could be made of this. The only trouble I can find with it is that when people think Kipling (in a positive frame of mind) they think "Jungle Book".

      I think most audiences would want to see a biopic centered around the writing of those stories. The trouble is he wrote all of it after he left India for good, so it's difficult to fit the two parts of his life into the same film. This is less of a problem for say, Charles Dickens in "The Man who Invented Christmas", which had the advantage of focusing on just a single action in a contained setting that helped keep things focused.

      I suppose on way to handle this scenario is to have the action split between Kipling in Vermont, and a series of flashbacks where he's remembering those night walk explorations. Who knows?

      (6) The collection I've been making my way through is "Rudyard Kipling's Tales of Horror and Fantasy" edited by Stephen Jones, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. It's the best gateway text I can find for those who want to start dipping their toes into that particular secondary world. Incidentally, Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book" is a riff on Kipling's Mowgli story.

      (7) Thanks.

      (8) I could be wrong, however you might be confusing Kipling's "Kim" with Conrad's "Lord Jim" there, partner. Just FYI.

      ChrisC

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    2. (8) Sorry, yes got the two confused. (Although incidentally have not read LORD JIM, either, but I was thinking of KIM when I wrote that, oops.)

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  3. Incidentally, the issue of BACK ISSUE I'm reading at present is an overview of MARVEL FANFARE, and the article I just opened to is about the P. Craig Russell/ Gil Kane adaptation of THE JUNGLE BOOK. Synchronicity!

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    1. Sounds interesting. May have to hunt down a copy.

      ChrisC

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