Childhood & Early Life
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born on 30 December 1865 in Bombay (Mumbai), then under British India. His parents named him after the Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, where they had met for the first time.
His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was a sculptor and pottery designer from North Yorkshire. After his marriage to Alice MacDonald, the daughter of Reverend George Browne MacDonald, they moved to India where he was appointed a professor of architectural sculpture in the Jeejeebhoy School of Art.
Rudyard had a sister, also named Alice, three years junior to him. Like most other British children in India, they spent the greater part of the day with Indian nannies and servants, listening to the unforgettable stories they told in their native tongue and exploring local markets with them.
As a result, Rudyard became more proficient in their language than in English. But all these changed abruptly in 1871, when both the siblings were sent to live in a foster home in England to be educated under the British system.
Arriving in England in October, they put up with Captain Pryse Agar Holloway and his wife Sarah, who boarded children of British nationals serving in India in their home at Southsea, Portsmouth. Here he was admitted to a school, but found it hard to adjust. Life at the foster home was not easy either.
He not only faced cruelty and neglect at the hands of Mrs. Holloway, but every night she cross-examined him on his day’s activities and to save himself, he started telling lies. Later, he jokingly said, “this, I presume, is the foundation of my literary effort".
His only break came, when each Christmas he traveled to London to spend the holidays with his maternal aunt. Besides, he tried to find solace in literature, an activity not encouraged by Mrs. Holloway. Therefore, to mislead her he moved the furniture along the floor as he continued reading.
By 1876, eleven-year-old Kipling was almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Fortunately his mother was informed about this and in April 1877, she arrived in England to take away her children from the foster home. Much later in 1888, he wrote about his ordeal in ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep.’
In January 1878, Kipling was admitted to the United Services College, a boarding school at Westward Ho in Devon. Here he had to endure harsh discipline as well as bullying, but later developed close friendship with other boys, sharing practical jokes and pranks.
He also developed a good relationship with the headmaster, who encouraged him to write and made him the editor of the school magazine. In 1881, the poems he wrote for the magazine was published by his father as ‘Schoolboy Lyrics.’
On the completion of his schooling, he returned to India sometime in October 1882. That was because he was neither academically bright enough to get scholarships, nor could his parents afford university education.
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Back to India
Immediately on his arrival to Bombay, Rudyard Kipling found his childhood memories rushing back. On moving around among the familiar sights and sounds, native words, whose meanings he did not know, began to tumble out of his mouth.
He now put up with his parents, then posted at Lahore and began his career as a copy editor for the ‘Civil and Military Gazette.’ His parents were not officially important, but still commanded certain respect. Therefore, he had access to the highest echelon of the British society.
Concurrently, he moved around in the native neighborhoods, absorbing the colorful life of the native Indians. Thus he had the opportunity to observe the whole spectrum of the social fabric. With an unstoppable urge to write, he now began to fill his notebook with light verses and prose sketches.
In the summer of 1883, he visited Shimla, a well-known hill station and the summer capital of India. He must have liked the place very much for from 1885 to 1888, he made yearly visit to the place. The town featured prominently in many stories he wrote for his newspaper.
In 1886, he had his first work, ‘Departmental Ditties’, a book of witty verses, published. Concurrently, he continued to write short stories, among which, at least thirty-nine were published in the Gazette between November 1886 and June 1887.
In November 1887, Kipling was transferred to Allahabad. Here he worked until early 1889 as an Assistant Editor at the Gazette’s sister paper, ‘The Pioneer.’ The period was literarily very productive.
In January 1888, he had his first book of short stories published from Calcutta (now Kolkata). Titled, ‘Plain Tales from the Hills’, it contained forty short stories, out of which twenty-eight were pre-published in the Gazette in 1886/1887.
Also in 1888, he had six other collections of short stories published. They were ‘Soldiers Three’, ‘The Story of the Gadsbys’, ‘In Black and White’, ‘Under the Deodars’, ‘The Phantom Rickshaw’, and ‘Wee Willie Winkie’. In all, they contained forty one stories, some of which were quite long.
During this period, he also traveled extensively in the western region of Rajputana as the special correspondent of ‘The Pioneer.’ The sketches he wrote during this period were later included in his 1889 publication ‘From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel’.
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Returning to the West
On 9 March, 1889, Rudyard Kipling set out for England. Traveling via Singapore and Japan, he first reached San Francisco and thereafter traveled throughout the United States, meeting among others, Mark Twain. Finally he reached Liverpool in October 1889.
On reaching England, he found that his reputation had preceded him and he was already accepted as a brilliant author. Shortly, his stories began to appear in different magazines.
For the next two years, he worked on his first novel, ‘The Light That Failed’. Published in January 1891, it was poorly received. Sometime soon after that, he met the American writer and publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier, with whom he began collaborating on a novel.
Sometime in 1891, Kipling also suffered a nervous breakdown and on the advice of his doctors he embarked on another voyage, reaching India via South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. But before long, the news of Balestier’s death brought him back to London.
In early 1892, Kipling married Balestier’s sister, Carrie, and traveled first to the USA and then to Japan for their honeymoon. Eventually they returned to the United States and set up their home in Vermont.
It was while living there, that he first got the inspiration of writing a story about a boy called Mowgli and his animal friends. Later he wrote a series of stories on the same theme, publishing them as ‘The Jungle Book’ in 1894.
Other major works of this period were ‘Many Inventions’ (1893), ‘The Second Jungle Book’ (1895), and ‘The Seven Seas’ (1896). Each of these books was very well-received and they not only made Kipling a rich man, but also brought him lasting fame.
Kipling enjoyed his life in Vermont, but because of a family dispute, they left USA in July 1896. On reaching England, he set up their home in Rottingdean, Sussex and continued to write.
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In 1897, he published ‘Captains Courageous’, in which he had drawn on his experiences in New England. This was also the year when he composed ‘Recessional’ on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
In the same year, he also wrote another of his famous poems, ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ but he published it two year later in 1899, modifying it a bit to glorify American expansion after the Spanish–American War. These two poems created great controversy as they were seen as harboring imperialism.
In 1899, he had ‘Stalky & Co.’, a collection of short stories born out of his experiences at the United Services College, published. Another important work of this period was ‘Kim’. It was first published serially in McClure's Magazine from December 1900 to October 1901, before being published in book form in October 1901.
By now, Kipling had reached the peak of his popularity. Other than ‘Kim’, ‘Just So Stories for Little Children’ (1902) and ‘Puck of Pook's Hill’ (1906) were two of his most famous works of the early 1900s.
At around the same time, Kipling became involved in politics, making appeals on various issues on both sides of the Atlantic. During the First World War, he enthusiastically wrote pamphlets and poems, supporting the UK’s war effort and made sure his son John was recruited in the army despite having short eye sight.
In 1915, John went missing, never to be found. Kipling expressed his grief in his poem ‘My Boy Jack’ (1916). After the war he joined the Imperial War Graves Commission and described his experience in a moving story called ‘Gardener’.
Kipling continued to write until the early 1930s, albeit at a slower pace. ‘Tales of India: the Windermere Series’ published in 1935, is probably the last publication during his lifetime. His autobiography, ‘Something of Myself‘, was published posthumously in 1937.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1892, Rudyard Kipling married Caroline Starr Balestier. They had three children; two daughters, Josephine and Elsie, and a son, John. Among them, only Elsie survived her parents. While Josephine died from influenza at the age of six, John went missing during WWI. It is presumed that he died in action.
Kipling had a hemorrhage in his small intestine on the night of 12 January 1936, which was operated upon. Subsequently, he died on 18 January 1936 from perforated duodenal ulcer. He was then seventy years old. His mortal remains were later cremated and his ashes were buried in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Camp Mowglis, a nonprofit, residential camp founded in 1903 in New Hampshire, USA bears his legacy till date.
From 1902 to 1936, Kipling in lived in Burwash, East Sussex. His home, Bateman's, had now been turned into a public museum and is dedicated to him.
In 2010, a crater on the planet Mercury was named after him.
Goniopholis kiplingi, an extinct species of crocodile was named after him in 2012.