Authors: Rudyard Kipling

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

English journalist, poet, novelist, and short-story writer.

December 30, 1865

Bombay, British India (now Mumbai, India)

January 18, 1936

London, England


Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born in what was then Bombay, British India, on December 30, 1865. Born far from what he once termed “the provincialism of London,” he became a major voice for a multicultural empire—or, in later years, an Anglo-French federation of homelands and former colonies. Sometimes he sought to win followers for these visions by compromising with the ethnocentrism of his age, as in his notorious 1899 poem “The White Man’s Burden.”

Kipling was the first child of John Lockwood Kipling, architectural sculptor at the Bombay School of Arts, and Alice Macdonald Kipling. Both of his parents were children of Methodist ministers, and this religious background contributed to the biblical accent in many of Kipling’s works. Like many other Anglo-Indian children, Kipling was sent to England for his education. As depicted in his story “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” first published in 1888, the contrast between his permissive Indian servants in Bombay and the first hellfire-threatening Britons with whom he was left at six years old was traumatic for him, especially because his eyesight then began to fail. Highly myopic thereafter, Kipling could take little part in athletics; instead he spent his spare time writing for and editing the school paper at the United Services College at Westward Ho!, North Devon, the school that is portrayed in Stalky and Co. (1899).

Rudyard Kipling.



(Library of Congress)

His school journalism led to professional journalism when Kipling returned to India at age seventeen and joined the staff of the Lahore Civil and Military Gazette. Various assignments for both this paper and the Allahabad Pioneer gave him the opportunity to travel and provided abundant material for his books. From the publication of Departmental Ditties in 1886, the young writer found a wide audience for his poetic and narrative impressions of the Indian subcontinent as viewed from a certain distance. It was a distance, some later critics have suggested, in which full knowledge and considerable condescension were mingled and in which sympathy and impatience were paradoxically mixed, except in Kipling's best work, particularly his masterpiece, Kim (1901).

In 1889 Kipling left India and spent three years traveling to every continent except Antarctica. During his travels, he met Caroline Starr Balestier, the sister of American author and editor Wolcott Balestier, with whom he collaborated on The Naulahka: A Story of East and West (1892). In 1891, upon hearing of Wolcott Balestier's death, he returned to London and reunited with Caroline; the two were married in January 1982. They lived together in Vermont, near the Balestier family estate, until 1896, when, following a disagreement with Caroline's brother, the Kiplings moved to England and settled in Torquay, Devon.

Kipling continued to win both great financial rewards and fame from his work as a writer, both literary and journalistic. He did not (and here he differed from many writers who are taken more seriously by contemporary criticism) turn aside from the chance to cover newsworthy events. Thus, he went as a newspaper correspondent on English naval cruises, made a second visit to the United States, and went to South Africa to report on the English forces in the Boer War. So great was the popular veneration of Kipling that his checks were preserved rather than cashed, his signature being worth more than the amount of the check. In his later years, Kipling continued to mingle writing and action while covering events in World War I.

Kipling’s greatest honor lay in the indefatigable public that responded to his vivid, decided insights into the role of beneficent imperialism and, more sensitively, into the differences between cultures brought into startling contact by conquest (as in Kim). He was the recipient of many specific honors, such as a doctor of laws degree from McGill University (1899) and doctorates of letters from Oxford (1907) and Cambridge (1908). In 1907 he became the first Englishman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, whereupon it became apparent that his special sort of greatness was recognized beyond the confines of the English-speaking world. He failed to become poet laureate on three possible occasions, at least two of which were the result of temporary difficulties rather than a reflection on his eminence; in 1892 he was in disfavor with Queen Victoria, to whom he had referred as “the widow of Windsor,” and in 1930 there was concern over Russia’s reaction to honors accorded a poet who had once referred to Russia as “the bear that walks as a man.”

Kipling died in London on January 18, 1936. He was buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, beside Charles Dickens, another storyteller and journalist who had managed to serve popular tastes while still achieving greatness. On the day after Kipling’s death, General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote in the London Observer, “His death seems to me to place a full stop to the period when war was a romance and the expansion of our Empire a duty.”

On the surface, Kipling’s whole literary output was a brilliant expression of an attitude later out of favor. Apparently, he urged action at the expense of refinement of perception and rigorous analysis of the presuppositions on which action rests. He prolonged Thomas Carlyle’s gospel of work and the hero. He seemed unsympathetic to democracy and many liberal causes, such as the emancipation of women, and his veneration for the signs and tools of material progress has seemed to some persons uncritical.

Consequently, by the 1940s, Kipling’s defenders consisted principally of conservatives, such as T. S. Eliot, who held that Kipling wrote transparently, “so that our attention is directed to the object and not to the medium.” Read thus, he might be praised for great economy of words and an “unsurpassed” ability with ballads. Kipling’s energy was poured out in a variety of forms in a way that few more recent writers can imitate. Though The Light That Failed (1890) was Kipling’s only attempt at the conventional novel, he wrote tales for adult readers, tales for children (The Jungle Book, 1894; Just So Stories, 1902; and Captains Courageous: A Story of the Grand Banks, 1897), and poetry stirring to people of all ages.

It is this variety that seemed his distinguishing mark. It was possible to accuse him, as did Richard Le Gallienne, of honoring “everywhere the brute and the bully.” More recent literary studies, however, find in Kipling less an extrovert, optimist, and champion of bullies than an introvert, pessimist, and advocate for the oppressed. His writings seem not transparent sagas but subtle psychological allegories, rich in previously unsuspected allusions, ironies, and even feminist insights. Instead of being a British Theodore Roosevelt, he now seems more the little boy of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” who lied as defense against violent hypocrites and learned such fictionalizing so well that decades have been required to penetrate his protective coloring.

Author Works Short Fiction: Quartette, 1885 (with John Lockwood Kipling, Alice Macdonald Kipling, and Alice Kipling) In Black and White, 1888 The Phantom ’Rickshaw, and Other Tales, 1888 Plain Tales from the Hills, 1888 Soldiers Three: A Colllection of Stories, 1888 The Story of the Gadsbys, 1888 Under the Deodars, 1888 Wee Willie Winkie, and Other Child Stories, 1888 The City of Dreadful Night, and Other Places, 1890 The Courting of Dinah Shadd, and Other Stories, 1890 Life’s Handicap, 1891 Mine Own People, 1891 Many Inventions, 1893 The Jungle Book, 1894 The Second Jungle Book, 1895 Soldier Tales, 1896 The Day’s Work, 1898 Stalky and Co., 1899 Just So Stories, 1902 Traffics and Discoveries, 1904 Puck of Pook’s Hill, 1906 Actions and Reactions, 1909 Rewards and Fairies, 1910 A Diversity of Creatures, 1917 Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923 Debits and Credits, 1926 Thy Servant a Dog, 1930 Limits and Renewals, 1932 Collected Dog Stories, 1934 Long Fiction: The Light That Failed, 1890 The Naulahka: A Story of East and West, 1892 (with Wolcott Balestier) Captains Courageous: A Story of the Grand Banks, 1897 Kim, 1901 Poetry: Schoolboy Lyrics, 1881 Echoes, 1884 (with Alice Kipling) Departmental Ditties, 1886 Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses, 1892 The Seven Seas, 1896 An Almanac of Twelve Sports, 1898 Recessional, and Other Poems, 1899 The Five Nations, 1903 Collected Verse, 1907 A History of England, 1911 (with C. R. L. Fletcher) Songs from Books, 1912 Sea Warfare, 1916 Twenty Poems, 1918 The Years Between, 1919 Q. Horatii Flacci Carminum Librer Quintus, 1920 (with Charles L. Graves, A. D. Godley, A. B. Ramsay, and R. A. Knox) Songs for Youth, 1924 Sea and Sussex from Rudyard Kipling’s Verse, 1926 Songs of the Sea, 1927 Poems, 1886–1929, 1929 Selected Poems, 1931 Rudyard Kipling’s Verse, 1940 (definitive edition) Nonfiction: American Notes, 1891 Beast and Man in India, 1891 Letters of Marque, 1891 The Smith Administration, 1891 A Fleet in Being: Notes of Two Trips with the Channel Squadron, 1898 From Sea to Sea, 1899 Letters to the Family, 1908 The New Army in Training, 1914 France at War, 1915 The Fringes of the Fleet, 1915 Sea Warfare, 1916 Letters of Travel, 1892–1913, 1920 The Irish Guards in the Great War, 1923 A Book of Words, 1928 Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown, 1937 Uncollected Prose, 1938 (2 volumes) Rudyard Kipling to Rider Haggard: The Record of a Friendship, 1965 (Morton N. Cohen, editor) Miscellaneous: The Sussex Edition of the Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling, 1937–39 (35 volumes) Bibliography Adams, Jad. Kipling. Haus Books, 2005. A biography that sheds light on Kipling’s inspiration for his poetry and portrays sides of his character that are rarely seen. Allen, Charles. Kipling Sahib: India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling. Pegasus Books, 2009. An insightful look into Kipling’s life, focusing on his first thirty-five years. Allen discusses at length Kipling’s relationship with India and how the time he spent there helped shape his personality and his writing. Battles, Paul. “‘The Mark of the Beast’: Rudyard Kipling’s Apocalyptic Vision of Empire.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 33, no. 3, 1996, pp. 333–44. Academic Search Complete, Accessed 9 May 2017. A reading of Kipling’s story “The Mark of the Beast” as his most powerful critique of the Empire; argues that the story is an allegory of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Bauer, Helen Pike. Rudyard Kipling: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne, 1994. Discusses the themes of isolation, work, the Empire, childhood, the supernatural, and art in Kipling’s short stories. Includes Kipling’s comments on writing and excerpts from a formalist and a postcolonial analysis of Kipling. Bloom, Harold, editor. Rudyard Kipling. Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Essays on Kipling’s major work, his views on art and life, and his vision of empire. Includes introduction, chronology, and bibliography. Bloom, Harold, editor. Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. Contains nine essays ranging from general appreciation to detailed critical analysis, with an introduction, chronology, and bibliography. Carrington, Charles. Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work. 3rd ed., Macmillan, 1978. A standard biography with access to unique inside information. The appendices to the 1978 edition contain information previously suppressed by Kipling’s heirs. Includes a chronology of his life and work as well as a family tree. Much stronger on his adult life than his childhood and concentrates on his life and the influences on it rather than on literary critique. Coates, John. The Day’s Work: Kipling and the Idea of Sacrifice. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1997. Explores one of Kipling’s favorite themes. Daniel, Anne Margaret. “Kipling’s Use of Verse and Prose in ‘Baa Baa, Black Sheep.’” Studies in English Literature, vol. 37, no. 4, 1997, pp. 857–75. Academic Search Complete, Accessed 9 May 2017. Argues that the story relies on a literary self-consciousness to bring under artistic control the possible untruths and chaos of memory; claims that Kipling’s use of both prose and poetry creates a comfortable connection with his audience. Dillingham, William B. Being Kipling. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Looks at Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, Kipling’s 1923 collection of eleven prose articles, and asserts that it is a veiled of autobiography. Dillingham argues that Kipling’s articles reveal his character and his value system. Dillingham, William B. Rudyard Kipling: Hell and Heroism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. A biography that offers a close look at some of Kipling’s most noted works while exploring the complexities of his personality. Gilmour, David. The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002. An interesting account of Kipling’s life and his complex and changing views of the British Empire, written with an awareness of the rise of terrorism emanating from the postcolonial developing world. Hai, Ambreen. “On Truth and Lie in a Colonial Sense: Kipling’s Tales of Tale-Telling.” ELH, vol. 64, no. 2, 1997, pp. 599–625. Argues that construction of the lie (as fiction) became a specific, serious mode for Kipling to rethink and re-present relations between empire and his own fiction, between power and (self-)censorship, and a coded form to negotiate the boundaries of the unspeakable; suggests that for Kipling the lie is an alternative form of truth-telling. Laski, Marghanita. From Palm to Pine: Rudyard Kipling Abroad and at Home. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987. A lively, well-illustrated biography with a brief chronology, appendices on Kipling’s major travels and his important works, a brief bibliography, and notes. Lycett, Andrew. Rudyard Kipling. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999. An exhaustive biography that provides invaluable insight into the life and work of Kipling. Includes bibliographical references and index. Mallett, Phillip, editor. Kipling Considered. St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Contains essays on Plain Tales from the Hills, Stalky and Co., Kipling and Conrad, and “Mrs Bathurst.” The most helpful for readers interested in Kipling’s short stories is Clare Hanson’s discussion of the meaning of form in Kipling’s short stories; Hanson establishes a theoretical framework for the short story as a genre and discusses Kipling’s “Mary Postgate” to illustrate her concepts. Orel, Harold, editor. Critical Essays on Rudyard Kipling. G. K. Hall, 1989. Has sections on Kipling’s poetry, his writing on India, his work as a mature artist, his unfinished memoir, and his controversial reputation. Introduced by a distinguished critic. No bibliography. Paffard, Mark. Kipling’s Indian Fiction. St. Martin’s Press, 1989. A discussion of the influence of India on Kipling’s writing. Analyzes the development of Kipling’s style along with his treatment of India and the literary and historical context of this treatment. Pinney, Thomas. “In Praise of Kipling.” More Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain, edited by William Roger Louis, U of Texas P, 1998, pp. 99–113. An argument for viewing Kipling, not as an imperialist poet, but rather as “a tolerant and sympathetic poet of highest stature.” Ricketts, Harry. Rudyard Kipling: A Life. 1999. Carroll & Graf, 2000. A detailed and lively account of Kipling’s life that also analyzes the literary works that emerged from that popular but controversial career. Rutherford, Andrew, editor. Kipling’s Mind and Art: Selected Critical Essays. Stanford UP, 1964. Includes commentaries by Edmund Wilson, George Orwell, and Lionel Trilling, among others. Seymour-Smith, Martin. Rudyard Kipling. St. Martin’s Press, 1989. A provocative and controversial work that probes deeply into Kipling’s personality and sexuality and argues that they are the key to the understanding of Kipling’s writings. Smith, Frederick Winston Furneaux (Lord Birkenhead). Rudyard Kipling. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978. Initially completed in 1948 but not published until much later because of the opposition of Elsie Bambridge, Kipling’s daughter; contains some information from documents later destroyed. Tompkins, J. M. S. The Art of Rudyard Kipling. Methuen, 1959. A major critical study of Kipling’s literary work that should be consulted in any discussion of Kipling’s art. Wilson, Angus. The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works. Secker and Warburg, 1977. Views Kipling’s ability to remain in part a child as the key to his imagination. Wilson’s own background in fiction gives insight into Kipling’s works.

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