Today in Literary History – December 20, 1865 – Rudyard Kipling is born

The Nobel Prize-winning author and poet Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, where his father, a British sculptor, taught at a newly opened art college. (Kipling’s parents had spent their honeymoon on Lake Rudyard in the West Midlands of England and named their firstborn son in its honour.)

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Kipling and his father in India

As was the custom during the British Raj, Kipling was sent “home” to England for his education, living there from the ages of five to sixteen. After his return to India he stayed for the next seven years, working for English language newspapers and publishing short story collections, beginning with Plain Tales From the Hills in 1888.

Kipling returned to England in 1889 and found great success with the children’s stories that are his lasting legacy — The Jungle Book (1894), Just So Stories (1902) and the novels Captains Courageous (1897) and Kim (1901). Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, the peak of his popularity.

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Kipling also wrote stories and poems for adults, many of them on patriotic and military themes, revealing Kipling’s jingoistic and imperialist political views.

Kipling’s reactionary political opinions drew criticism during his lifetime, and after his death in 1936 there was a backlash against his literary works. Still, Kipling’s children’s books remain as popular as ever. As George Orwell wrote six years after Kipling’s death:

“Kipling sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.”

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I grew up with Kipling’s stories, which my mother read to us as children and which were ubiquitous in Disney animated adaptations.

Kipling also had strong ties to the Boy Scout movement. When I was a Cub Scout our world was wrapped up in Kipling’s world, with the leaders all taking names from his characters. My Dad was a Baloo in our cub pack, and I am proud of it to this day!

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