Monday, December 14, 2015

Rudyard Kipling

From an appreciation of, and an appeal to reconsider Kipling:
Kipling is not at all like his image, which is a good thing, since he is widely regarded as jingoistic, narrow and racist. It is a pity if, for this reason, some never read him.

Kipling was always an outsider, and never a member of the Establishment. He received the Nobel Prize, but refused any honour, including the Order of Merit, that would identify him with a single country. ....

Beerbohm...puts his finger on a more important feature of Kipling’s world: its rejection of Christianity. Kipling lost all that in the Southsea boarding house.

It didn’t seem to trouble late Victorian readers who had seen their tide of faith ebb on Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (1867). Kipling did often refer to the Law, almost as if it were the Law of Moses, but his version is the Law of the Jungle, or of schoolboys, or soldiers, or hunters.

The Law may be unjust to an individual caught up in its workings, but it is ineluctable. In his poem Recessional (marking the diamond jubilee of the Queen and Empress Victoria in 1897), the “lesser breeds without the Law” are not the natives on whose behalf the White Man takes up his burden; they are rival empire-builders such as Russia and Germany. ....

It is not for political theory that Kipling is read, but for his astonishing prose (notably in short stories) and his poetry. ....

“His touch is uncanny,” says Daniel Karlin, whose edition of Kipling’s stories and poems has just been reissued. “He can evoke a taste, a smell, a look, a human expression with immediate and infallible conviction, so that reading him is often a series of delighted assentings.”

Yes, the female labourers walking north along Grand Trunk Road in Kim, for example, are overpoweringly real. “A solid line of blue, rising and falling like the back of a caterpillar in haste, would swing up through the quivering dust,” overtaking the boy and his companion.

But I find that a response as frequent as delight to Kipling’s convincing reality is tears. Indeed he himself sees tears, not rationality, as the distinguishing mark of humanity..... [more]