This page last revised 21 June 1999
1865 - Kipling is born in Bombay, India.
1871 - Kipling and his younger sister Alice are separated from their parents and sent to England to be educated.
Born in Bombay, British India, on December 30th 1865, Rudyard Kipling was the first born child of John Lockwood Kipling and Alice Kipling, who had settled in India earlier that year. His father was a professor of architectural sculpture; on his mothers side there was a brace of distinguished Aunts and Uncles for the boy. One Aunt was the mother of Stanley Baldwin, future Prime Minister; another was married to Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the distinguished Pre-Raphelite Painter. Kiplings parents considered themselves Anglo-Indians, and so too would their son, though he in fact spent the bulk of his life elsewhere. Complex issues of identity and national allegiance would become prominent features in his fiction.
Just before his sixth Birthday, Rudyard and his younger sister Alice were separated from their parents in line with the tradition of the English in India and sent back to England to receive their formal education. It was an experience that would haunt Kipling till the end of his life. Rudyard and Alice were sent to stay with a woman whom they had never even previously met for almost six years. By all accounts she and the young Rudyard did not get along. Elements of his protracted childhood ordeal appear in The Light that Failed and , more directly, in the story Baa Baa Black Sheep. Perhaps as a consequence of the unpleasant life he was forced to lead in England, the India of Kiplings early childhood became a space of edenic unity magically beyond all divisions of race, caste, and religion, a place different in very respect from the dark land that was England. Kiplings ambiguous position between his lost Eden and the larger colonial structure would become the subject of his lifes fictions (Sullivan 27).
In 1878, Kipling entered a public school which had been founded by Indian army Officers hoping to provide affordable education for their sons. Most of its pupils would later join the army, and even the majority of those who did not went to India anyway. At sixteen, Kipling returned to India to take up a post on a newspaper which his Father had procured for him. The paper, The Civil and Military Gazette, catered for the British establishment in the Punjab. As a consequence of his journalistic apprenticeship, Kipling would observe the processes of empire at work in very conceivable manner - he would encounter everyone from Viceroys to the lowest Civil Servants. He was especially interested in the enlisted men of the British Army, an interest that would soon become a prominent theme in his writings.
In 1886, Departmental Ditties was published and Kipling began to make a name for himself as an original and perceptive writer who represented the British in India better than anyone who had come before him.
1887 was another prolific year, during which Kipling wrote and published five books and a multitude of stories. In 1889, he returned to London in obscurity but within weeks had become a household name, and embarked upon a decade of almost ceaseless literary activity and mounting fame. To his previous story collections were added Lifes Handicap, Many Inventions, and especially renowned tomes such as Kim and the Jungle Book.
Following his marriage to Caroline Balestrier in 1891, Kipling settled in the U.S, and seemed content there until four years later, when a quarrel his wife had had with her brother resulted in a messy law suit and intense media interest. Kipling was horrified by the publicity and returned the family to England, thus continuing the restlessness that had remained with him since childhood. He would always be on the move, looking for somewhere to settle down. But he never quite succeeded in finding a country that lived up to his expectations.
After The U.S , South Africa became the next land he felt able to transfer his affections to. The Boer war had just begun, and Kipling, never a man to shirk his imperial responsibilities, threw himself whole heartedly into the fray. He enthusiastically supported the British claim to the territory, and proclaimed that the Dutch settlers must be subdued.
At this point in Kiplings career, the political enthusiasms/ obsessions that would contribute greatly to his falling out of favour with the British Public began to become prominent themes in his work.
Kipling lived outside Capetown from 1900-08, and during that period again produced a great deal of work, much of it far more Imperialist than anything he had written before. During this time the publics love affair with Kipling ended, a trend that was hastened by the increasing harshness of his views. He became a much caricatured figure in the press, whilst the public became tired of constant exhortations. Kipling left South Africa in disgust when the Liberals came to power in Britain, and, as he saw it, destroyed all that had been gained in the Boer war. Until the end of his life, Kiplings world view would be distorted by the paranoid belief that conspiracy and betrayal were everywhere in public life.
World War One proved a bracing diversion for the embittered Kipling, who had long predicted that Germanys rivalry with Britain would result in conflict, and who positively revelled in patriotic occasions. He urged his son John to join up, even using his influence to secure the boy a commission. Tragedy ensued when John Kipling disappeared in action only a month after his arrival.
Kipling saw the subsequent settlement at Versailles as another betrayal, mocking the sacrifices of the fallen allies.
For his remaining two decades, he endured constant pain and discomfort from a series of misdiagnosed stomach ailments. In his autobiography Something of Myself (1935) , Kipling makes no mention of his years of suffering, just as he also avoids mention of the other tragedies in his life. He continued to write, and to develop his art, right up until the end of his life. He died in January 1936.
Kipling, Rudyard. Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings, ed. Thomas Pinney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Sullivan, Zoreh T. Narratives of Empire : The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
This project was completed under the direction of Dr. Leon Litvack as a requirement for the MA degree in Modern Literary Studies in the School of English at the Queen's University of Belfast. The site is evolving and will include contributions from future generations of MA students on other writers and themes.
This page was written by Bernice M. Murphy. E-mail me with your suggestions.
The Imperial Archive Project is supervised by Leon Litvack. E-mail me with your suggestions.
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