A prolific writer, Rudyard Kipling quickly gained acclaim for his poems and stories set in India during the period of British imperial rule. His work includes “Gunga Din” and “The Jungle Book.” Although his imperialistic views may not be popular today, his literary influence remains. Kipling was the first English writer, and to date, the youngest person, to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Rudyard Kipling's Early Days
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, where his father taught at the Jeejeebhoy School of Art and Industry. “Ruddy,” as Kipling was called, was brought up by an ayah, or Indian nurse, who taught him Hindustani. Kipling’s parents considered themselves “Anglo-Indians,” and so too would their son, though he spent the most of his life elsewhere.
At age six, his parents sent him to England for his education. The short story “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (1888) and his novel “The Light That Failed” (1890), were inspired by memories of the cruel treatment he received in his English foster home. When he was 13, he began attending an exclusive boarding school in North Devon that prepared students to enter the military; however, his bad eyesight and indifferent grades made that career path impossible.
He began writing as a teenager, and was heavily influenced by his unique connection with the Pre-Raphaelites, a brotherhood of English painters and poets; two of his mother’s sisters were married to them.
In 1882, he returned to India to work for five years as a journalist for Civil and Military Gazette. During this period, he wrote poems and short stories, and began publishing volumes of his work in 1886.
Sources in this Story
- PoemHunter.com: Biography of Rudyard Kipling
- Read book online: Gunga Din
- Poet Seers: Rudyard Kipling
- Assumption College: The White Man’s Burden and the Person Sitting in Darkness
- YouTube: Dennis Hopper Recites “If” by Rudyard Kipling
- British Library Online Gallery: Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’
- The Daily Mail: Novelist’s Kipling grief over tragic son made into £15 million ITV drama
- The Literature Network: Rudyard Kipling
- The New York Times: How the Writer (Kipling) Got His (Literary) Stripes
Kipling's Notable Accomplishments
Between the years 1889 and 1892, Kipling lived in London, publishing “Life’s Handicap” (1891), a collection of Indian stories, and “Barrack Room Ballads,” a series of poems that included “Gunga Din,” an ode to a Hindu water-carrier for a British Indian regiment.
Kipling married Caroline Starr Balestier in 1892 after collaborating with her brother on a novel, “The Naulahka.” The couple moved to the United States but Kipling became disenchanted with life in Vermont after his daughter Josephine died from pneumonia. They returned to England, settling in Sussex.
For many years following, Kipling’s marriage was on the rocks and he became restless; however, during this period, he wrote some of his most famous stories, as well as the poem “White Man’s Burden” (1899) , which argued that Western imperialism was a benevolent act; the colonized benefited from the “civilization” brought by the colonizers. The poem was intended to support the United States’ invasion of the Philippines.
In 1901, Kipling produced his famous novel “Kim,” the story of an Irish orphan who becomes a spy during the British Raj.
Kipling became the first English writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. He was the youngest recipient of the award, and still retains that distinction today. After receiving the prestigious award, Kipling continued to write poetry and stories, although less prolifically; the collection “Rewards and Fairies” (1910) included Kipling’s best-known poem “If.”
In addition to his works for adults, Kipling also produced some highly popular children’s books, based on the stories he used to tell his own children; “Just So Stories” and “The Jungle Book” are considered classics and are still beloved today. Unfortunately, years after losing his daughter Josephine, Kipling faced tragedy again when his son John died in battle during World War I at the age of 18.
The Man & His Work
- “Collected Stories”
- “The Portable Kipling”
- “Complete Verse”
- “Just So Stories”
- “The Jungle Book”
The Rest of the Story
Kipling was the recipient of many honorary degrees and other awards. In 1926, he received the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Literature. He died on January 18, 1936, leaving behind the incomplete story of his unhappy childhood in “Something of Myself” (1937).
Kipling’s life was devoted to defending the British Empire, The New York Times states, adding, “A conservative by instinct, a rebel at heart, his views were unpredictable: many echoed the mood of the street, some were stridently pugnacious, a few unapologetically eccentric.” Some of those views, particularly his racism and support of imperialism proved to be unpopular in later years, but his works continue to be read and appreciated today.