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Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865 at Bombay, India, where his father, John Lockwood Kipling, himself an artist, was principal of the Jeejeebyhoy Art School. His mother, Alice Macdonald Kipling, had three sisters who married well: among his uncles young Rudyard could number not only the famous painters Sir Edward Burne-Jones (one of the most important of the Pre-Raphaelites) and Sir Edward Poynter but Stanley Baldwin, a future Prime Minister, and all three family connections were to be of great importance in Kipling's life. His early years in India, until he reached the age of six, seem to have been idyllic, but in 1871 the Kipling family returned to England. After six months John and Alice Kipling returned to India, leaving six-year old Rudyard and his three-year-old sister as boarders with the Holloway family in Southsea. During his five years in this foster home he was bullied and physically mistreated, and the experience left him with deep psychological scars and a sense of betrayal.

Between 1878 and 1882 he attended the United Services College at Westward Ho in north Devon. The College was a new and very rough boarding school where, nearsighted and physically frail, he was once again teased and bullied, but where, nevertheless, he developed fierce loyalties and a love of literature.

In 1882 Kipling returned to India, where he spent the next seven years working in various capacities as a journalist and editor and where he began to write about India itself and the Anglo-Indian society which presided over it. His first volume of poetry, Departmental Ditties, was published in 1886, and between 1887 and 1889 he published six volumes of short stories (the first was Plain Tales from the Hills, the first of the "Indian Railway Series") set in and concerned with the India he had come to know and love so well: when he returned to England in 1889 via the United States he found himself already acclaimed as a brilliant young writer. The reissue in London of his "Indian Railway Series" titles, including Soldiers Three, In Black and White, and The Phantom Rickshaw, brought him even greater fame, and in 1890 The Light That Failed, his first novel (which was only modestly successful) also appeared. By the time Barrack-Room Ballads had appeared in 1892, the year Tennyson died, Kipling was an enormous popular and critical success.

In 1891 he planned a round-the-world voyage, but travelled only to South Africa, not in print version Australia, not in print version New Zealand, and not in print version India, which he would never visit again. In 1892 Kipling married Caroline Balestier, an American. Their honeymoon took them as far as Japan, but they returned, not altogether to Kipling's satisfaction, to live at his wife's home in Vermont, where they remained until 1899, when Kipling, alone, returned to England. During the American years, however, Kipling wrote Captain's Courageous, Many Inventions, the famous poem "Recessional," and most of Kim, as well as the greater portion of the two Jungle Books, all of which were very successful.

Stalky & Co., which drew heavily upon his experiences at the United Services College, was published in 1899. During the same year Kipling made his last visit to the United States, and was deeply affected by the death of his eldest child, Josephine. Frequently in poor health himself, Kipling would winter in South Africa every year between 1900 and 1908.

In 1902 he bought the house ("Bateman's") in Sussex which would remain his home in England until his death: Sussex itself lies at the center of books like Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies, which, though they are ostensibly for children, concern themselves with the ambiguous sense of historical, national, and racial identity which lay beneath Kipling's Imperialism.

In 1907 Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but his Imperialist sentiments, which grew stronger as he grew older, put him more and more out of touch with political, social, and moral realities.

In 1915 his son John was killed in action during World War I, and in 1917 he published A Diversity of Creatures, a collection of short stories which included "Mary Postgate."

Between 1919 and 1932 Kipling travelled intermittently, and continued to publish stories, poems, sketches, and historical works. He died in London on January 18, 1936, just after his seventieth birthday, and was buried (beside T. S. Eliot, oddly enough) in Westminster Abbey. His pallbearers included a prime minister, an admiral, a general, and the head of a Cambridge college. The following year saw the posthumous publication of the autobiographical Something of Myself.


Victorian England Rudyard Kipling

Last modified 11 June 2012