Searching through the Jungle for Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling. We all know that he wrote The Jungle Book, one of the most famous pieces of children’s literary works from the Victorian era, spawning of number of big screen adaptations and a plethora of jungle-based adventure stories. We also know he spent time in India, but what else? I, for one, know very little else about the author apart from his celebrated poem ‘If’ and that he was loathed and loved in equal measure (George Orwell viewed him as a ‘jingo imperialist’ who was ‘morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting.’) But in celebration of my family’s recent visit to Pench Tiger Reserve, the park in central India that inspired the setting for The Jungle Book, I thought it would be interesting to find out a few lesser known facts about Kipling, the literary giant who created Mowgli and Shere Kahn.

✧ Kipling’s parents, John Lockwood Kipling and Alice MadDonald, met in 1863 and courted at Rudyard Lake in Rudyard, Staffordshire. They adored the beauty of the area so much that they named their first-born after it. When Rudyard was 2, the family moved to Bombay.

✧ At the tender age of 5, Ruyard and his 3 year old sister were shipped back to England to be educated. They boarded with a family who cared for children of British families in India. The experience was to leave an indelible mark on the young Rudyard who characterised the period as one of neglect and cruelty, leading him to suffer a breakdown.In 1877 Kipling’s mother returned to England and collected him from ‘The House of Desolation’ as he called it. He was not to return to Bombay until the age of 16.

✧ Kipling’s eldest, beloved daughter, Josephine died of pneumonia in 1899. He sought solace in his work and started to write Kim, a novel many critics believe to be his finest.

✧ Kipling’s son John was killed in action in the First World War in 1915, at the age 18. After his son’s death, Kipling wrote, ‘If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied.’

✧ Rudyard Kipling died in 1936 in London, and his ashes are interred in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, London, close to those of TS Eliot.

My first impression is of daybreak, light and colour and golden and purple fruits at the level of my shoulder.’

Kipling writing about India in his posthumously published autobiography Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown

I’ll leave you with Kipling’s poem If. It’s quite a ‘male’ poem, as you’ll read (thinking about it, in A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf had a few things to say about Kipling’s chauvinism as a writer). It does, nonetheless, have a special message.

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Thank you for reading this blog post. If you enjoyed it, complement it with Why we should all read historical fiction and Uncovering the life of Enid Blyton.

2 replies
  1. Shirley Read-Jahn
    Shirley Read-Jahn says:

    Fascinating. I’ve been intrigued by Rudyard Kipling ever since having an artist paint in golden italics and vines part of Kipling’s poem “The Glory of the Garden” around the top of my living room walls in San Francisco. Thank you for doing the research into his, it would seem, quite tragic life. I much admire his “If you can keep your head” poem. After reading your blog here, I was thinking how much I wish I had met Rudyard Kipling! I was sent off to boarding school in England at age 9; I cannot imagine how terrifying it must have been for him to be sent away from his parents at only age 5, and his sister at 3. How appalling. But, that’s how it often was in England back in those times. Thanks again, for enlightening me. Now I don’t have to look him up myself! Succinct blog-writing, too. Thanks, again.

    • Rebecca Stonehill
      Rebecca Stonehill says:

      Hi Shirley, thanks so much for the comment. I will have to look up The Glory of the Garden! Boarding school at 9 🙁 Yes, as you say it was very common back then. But age 5 and 3 certainly must have caused considerable damage, poor old Rudyard..


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