Rudyard Kipling, Writings on Writing
Rudyard Kipling, Writings on Writing, edited by Sandra Kemp and Lisa Lewis, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009. p xxviii + 213
1This volume is a reissue of one first published in 1996. For anyone interested in Kipling and his place among late-Victorian, Edwardian, and Modernist British authors, it reveals a number of facets of his thinking and career. Nevertheless, he had surprisingly little to say about his contemporaries. His main literary allegiances were to writers of Empire like his friend, H. Rider Haggard, who however is mentioned by Kipling only once in this anthology (but see their correspondence, collected by Morton Cohen in a 1965 volume).
2Given Lockwood Kipling’s friendship with Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris and his involvement in the Indian version of the arts and crafts movement, Rudyard’s opinion, expressed in a 1934 letter to Sir Herbert Baker, that these individuals and their views, presumably both aesthetic and political, “helped to bring and to continue trouble” (133) suggests how removed he was from the central developments of British literature and the arts from Pre-Raphaelitism to modernism. In an earlier letter, addressed to W. C. Crofts in 1886, Kipling quite ungenerously accused Morris of “lying” when Morris, for an article in the Pall Mall Gazette, listed the Mahabarata among the hundred best books in the world: “I will wager everything I have that [Morris] hasn’t the ghost of a conception what he means when he recommends the study of that monstrous midden.” Morris, however, was a close student of ancient works like the Mahabarata, which Kipling proceeds to denounce as a mass of “hopeless, aimless, diffuse drivel.” He extends his ungenerosity, at least in this letter, by declaring that the Ramayana, the Rig Veda, and other works of ancient Indian literature amount to a “muck heap.” “I see every now and then at home some man who hasn’t touched ’em lifting up his voice in praise of “the golden mines of Oriental Literature” and I snort” (112). This is the same Kipling who praised and made use of Indian folk tales and legends in The Jungle Books and elsewhere, and who in Kim treats the Lama’s Buddhism with great respect if not reverence.
3If nothing else, this collection of letters, poems, essays, and stories shows that Kipling was often irascible, changeable, and opinionated. He obviously found himself out of tune with Pre-Raphaelitism and with the Aesthetic Movement of the 1880s and 1890s. He felt the need to express himself in terms of an assertive masculinity that ran counter to Aestheticism, and it was also the case that Morris’s political radicalism and anti-imperialism ran completely counter to his views. Concerning his time in London in the 1890s, Kipling wrote, in verses not included in this volume,
But I consort with long-haired things
In velvet collar-rolls,
Who talk about the Aims of Art,
And “theories” and “goals”,
And moo and coo with womenfolk
About their blessed souls.
4This bit of doggerel expresses not merely a rejection of 1890s Aestheticism, but a more general anti-intellectualism that helped produce the decline of Kipling’s literary reputation after 1900. Yet in the 1890s he befriended Edmund Gosse, Henry James, Mark Twain, and many other writers. James, who at first praised him, became one of his harshest critics, asserting that Kipling’s writings contained “almost nothing civilized save steam and partriotism.” And Twain, whose Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn influenced Kim, became one of the leaders of the American anti-imperialists. Twain condemned the American invasion of the Philippines. “The White Man’s Burden has been sung,” he declared, “Who will sing the Brown Man’s?”
5This anthology does not include everything that Kipling had to say about writing, whether his own or that of other authors. It is, however, a useful compilation. In their introduction, Sandra Kemp and Lisa Lewis write:
A complete edition of Kipling’s critical and metacritical writings would require, from the published work alone, a significant percentage of the 35 volumes of the Sussex Edition. It would need to include (for instance) the whole of Something of Myself, his own account of his working life, his novel of art and artists, The Light that Failed, and also [some] of Just So Stories . . . where he plays games with the relationships between thought, speech and the written word. (xxvii)
6Such an expansion, however, would still not present a Kipling who had anything significant to say about Conrad, Yeats, Joyce, or Virginia Woolf. Apart from the Dantesque fantasy “The Last of the Stories,” the few remarks in this volume that concern other writers are restricted to earlier novelists such as Mrs. Henry Wood and Sir Walter Besant. Most of the essays, letters, and stories or parts of stories collected here contain Kipling’s reflections on his own writing. In 1938, James Joyce remarked that Kipling “did not fulfill his promise. I believe the three writers of the nineteenth century who had the greatest natural talents were D’Annunzio, Kipling, and Tolstoy—it’s strange that all three had semi-fanatic ideas about religion or about patriotism” (quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, p. 673). Kipling’s “semi-fanatic ideas” were, of course, both patriotic and racist. Yet he was, as T. S. Eliot put it, “very nearly a great writer” who produced Kim, Soldiers Three, The Jungle Books, and many memorable poems and short stories.
Pour citer cet article
Patrick Brantlinger, « Rudyard Kipling, Writings on Writing », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, 74 Automne | 2011, 210-212.
Patrick Brantlinger, « Rudyard Kipling, Writings on Writing », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 74 Automne | 2011, mis en ligne le 18 novembre 2014, consulté le 29 avril 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/1388Haut de page
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