Arguably one of the great 19th Century British authors is Rudyard Kipling. He was born in 1865 in Bombay, India to British parents. After an education at the United Services College, Bideford, England he returned to India pursue a career in writing. Kipling was an avid writer producing his first book, Schoolboy Lyrics, at the age of 16. This was followed by the book of verses, Echos, published in 1884 whilst he was a journalist at the Anglo-Indian newspaper, The Lahore Civil and Military Gazette. Kipling’s career was launched after the publication of Departmental Ditties in 1886, which became successful with the British in India. He then achieved his own fictional column at a larger newspaper. His stories were taken and published in an inexpensive paperback production called The Railway Series Library. Kipling drew inspiration from the Indian and colonial influences in his writings, and many of his tales draw on the experiences of the British soldier. His short stories, Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), and Soldiers Three (1888) are particularly careful reflections on the life of the military and the common soldier.
To further his career as an author Kipling moved to England where he wrote an astounding number of poems, stories and essays. He married Carrie Balestier in 1892 and moved to Vermont. Over a span of four years, he produced many literary works which have remained popular today. These include The Barrack Room Ballards (1892) containing the now famous poems of Gunga Din and Mandelay. The Jungle Books were written a few years later (1894, 95) to international success. The Seven Seas (1896) and Captains Courageous (1897) followed shortly afterwards. After a family feud Kipling returned to England and went on to produce two more recognised works, Kim in 1901 and Just So Stories in 1902.
During the First World War Kipling released some propaganda material. Following his son’s death in combat he released a history of his son’s regiment, The Irish Guards in the Great War in 1923. Kipling continued to write up until his death in 1936. His final work was a collected edition of his works, The Sussex Edition. His publisher, Macmillan, limited the production to only 525 pre-signed sets and it was published posthumously in 1939. Kipling’s ashes are buried in the Poet’s Corner in the south transept of Westminster Abbey next to the Graves of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens.
Rudyard Kipling was the recipient of many honorary degrees and other awards during his life. At the peak of his career in 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. This was followed in 1926 by the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Literature, which only Scott, Meredith, and Hardy had been awarded before him. Kipling is known as a romantic imperialist for which there has been criticism, yet his stories have endured over time and they remain classic literature today. The American Poet Laureate and critic, Randall Jarrell, summaries Kipling’s success eloquently. “After you have read Kipling’s fifty or seventy-five best stories you realize that few men have written this many stories of this much merit, and that very few have written more and better stories.”
Take a look at a selection of First Edition books by Rudyard Kipling on our book site here.
Jarrell, Randall. “On Preparing to Read Kipling.” No Other Book: Selected Essays. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.