Books & Autographs

Rudyard Kipling: Story Teller

NEW YORK, NY -- There are comparatively few authors of the late 19th and early 20th century whose qualities have endeared them to a modern readership as widely as Rudyard Kipling. Joseph Conrad and Henry James still have their followers, but they are both slightly recherché, at least in terms of mainstream culture. One cannot readily imagine a Disney cartoon based on The Portrait of a Lady. That the two Jungle Books and Just So Stories remain widely read to the present time, and Kim and Puck of Pook’s Hill still attract enthusiastic readers is a testimony to their enduring qualities, the more so as Kipling has been labeled (with some, though by no means complete justice) as an apostle of colonialism, with all that is entailed in that.

He has, in fact, been a controversial figure since his death, though during his lifetime he was afforded an extraordinary degree of acceptance and celebrity; indeed, he was the first Englishman to be awarded a Nobel Prize for literature, in 1907. He refused knighthoods twice, in part because he had no desire to be seen as aligned with any political party. Kipling’s verse, which is a major part of his literary output, must have seemed hopelessly outdated by the standards of the 1930s, yet no less a figure than T.S. Eliot produced an anthology: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse…

This, published in 1941, has a critical essay on the author by Eliot that is largely laudatory, and it remains interesting reading. Eliot indicates that Kipling wrote was “verse” and not “poetry” (a distinction perhaps less arbitrary than it might first appear) but it is clear that he felt that that in this sphere, he excelled. He also underscored that both the prose and poetry sprung from a common source, and had to be considered jointly. In short, Eliot confirmed the canonical status of this part of Kipling’s oeuvre. The selection that Eliot made was extensive. It included If—, Recessional, Ave Imperatrix, Mandalay; but it also found room for Kipling’s later historical verse, such as The Runes on Weland’s Sword, from Puck of Pook’s Hill.

The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book were both written during Kipling’s first stint in America, between 1892 and 1896, during which time he lived in Brattleboro, Vermont, He had just married Carrie Balestier, the sister of his literary agent and close friend Wolcott Balestier (with whom he had written The Naulahka, the only novel with joint authorship to which he ever set his pen). He seems to have felt warmly towards Carrie since 1890, and they may have had a mutual understanding, but Wolcott’s sudden death from typhoid fever in 1891 unquestionably precipitated matters. Kipling and Carrie Balestier married by special license on the 18th of January 1892 (Henry James gave away the bride).

In Vermont, Kipling built a house named after the novel he had written with Wolcott—Naulakha, a variant spelling. In this house (which still stands) he spent a period that was, for Kipling, remarkably happy and productive. He enjoyed America, though not without a certain amount of distaste for some aspects of American life. He met Mark Twain (who was impressed); he was friendly with Theodore Roosevelt; he even had William James as a houseguest. All of this while he was writing fruitfully, and in 1894 The Jungle Book appeared, with illustrations by his father, J. Lockwood Kipling. This was followed by The Second Jungle Book in 1895 and by his one American tale, Captains Courageous, issued in 1897. He was working on the first draft of Kim when his American idyll was interrupted by a growing quarrel with his brother-in-law, Beatty Balestier. After a threat of violence, Kipling had Balestier arrested, but the publicity attendant to the trial left Kipling with a sense of slight, and he and Carrie moved back to England.

He returned briefly to America in 1899, but this trip ended in tragedy, with the death of Kipling’s six-year-old daughter Josephine from pneumonia and Kipling’s near-death from the same illness, and he was not to repeat the exercise. Just So Stories had begun as stories for Josephine, and were published in 1901. (He lost a second child, John, during World War I, at the battle of Loos.)

Kipling’s later years were dogged by ill health. He worked primarily on anthologies and collected editions, including the great Sussex edition of his works, though two fine collections of short stories appeared. He died of a perforated ulcer in January of 1936.

Fine Literature, Featuring a Collection of Rudyard Kipling

The online-only auction of Fine Literature closing on April 15 features a private collection of works by Rudyard Kipling.  Read More

Portrait of specialist Edward Ripley-Duggan
VP/Director, Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs
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