Kipling was writing at a time of transition from the Victorians to modernism. His diverse and many-sided oeuvre over some fifty years reflects that transition, and the many innovations he brought to English literature—notably his advancement of the short story, his treatment of technology in fiction, and his introduction of urban popular song into the realm of ‘poetry’. It has also made it difficult for us to position him in relation to literary periods, and this uncertainty about Kipling’s place in the English canon, combined with his role as the unofficial laureate of Empire, has led to longstanding questions about how he should fit in to school and university curricula.
Recent developments have highlighted the need to be more aware of the colonial past and to understand its ramifications in the present. Kipling’s works, as with other writers of his day, include derogatory stereotypes of Indians, particularly those who claimed a greater share in the governance of their country. He also often shows much imaginative sympathy in his portrayal of non-Europeans. In the context of current debates, his work offers valuable evidence of the prevailing opinions of his day and of aspects of British imperial rule which he regularly criticised. The Society is active in seeking to reframe his work in the light of post-colonial thinking, encouraging diverse voices and different perspectives.
In 2016 a conference sponsored by the Kipling Society was held in India at Shimla, on Kipling in India and India in Kipling. A further conference at City University London—Kipling in the News: Journalism, Empire and Decolonisation—is to be held on 9/10 September 2021. It will include discussion on ‘Kipling and Decolonising the Curriculum’ .
Some suggested reading
The connection between Kipling’s writing and empire is not a new subject. The Nobel Prize committee, awarding the prize in 1907, commented that Kipling had, ‘undoubtedly done more than any other writer of pure literature to draw tighter the bonds of union between England and her colonies’ (quoted in Kim ed. Sullivan, p.292).
Renewed interest in the representation of empire in Kipling’s work can be traced to Edward Said’s introduction to Kim (1987) which appeared in a slightly different form in Culture and Imperialism (1993). Said’s arguments focussed on Kipling’s use of stereotypes as well as the apparent absence of resistance to British rule, which is historically inaccurate. Many critics built on Said’s approach, including Patrick Williams (1989) and Zohreh Sullivan (1993 and 2002). More recently, there have been criticisms of Said’s approach, for instance in Harish Trivedi, ‘Arguing with the Himalayas’ (2010).
Bart Moore-Gilbert took criticism of Kipling’s fiction in a new direction by drawing on the theories of Homi Bhabha to examine hybridity in Kipling’s work (1996). Later he examined postcolonial novels which ‘wrote back’ to Kim, including Timeri Murari’s Imperial Agent (1987) and Jamyang Norbu’s The Mandela of Sherlock Holmes (1999).
Much post-colonial criticism has focussed on India and Kim , but Kipling’s engagement with empire is much wider, both in terms of genre and geography. Responses to empire are found in his short stories for adults and children, as well as in his verse and journalism. They encompass South Africa as well as India, while Kaori Nagai has studied the relationship between India and Ireland (2007) in Kipling’s works.
Since the mid-2000s, there has been an increased interest in Kipling’s artistry. Many scholars work from a position which accepts the damage done by colonialism and examine in detail the literary techniques Kipling invented and used. For an accessible introduction to Kipling, including his relationship with empire, Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ presented by Melvyn Bragg (2014) is a good place to start, while Montefiore (2007) provides a more detailed overview of critical debate about the multi-faceted subject of Kipling and empire.
Allen, Charles, Kipling Sahib: India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling (London: Abacus, 2007). (A biography of Kipling in this key period of his life)
Bragg, Melvyn, ‘Rudyard Kipling’:In Our Time, Radio 4 (London: BBC, 16th October 2014).
Chemmachery, Jaine, ‘Lies and Self-Censorship in Kipling’s “Indian” Stories’, Kipling Journal 353, March 2014 (On ‘Thrown Away’ and ‘Beyond the Pale’)
Hai, Ambreen, Making Words Matter: The Agency of Colonial and Postcolonial Literature (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009).
Havholm, Peter, Politics and Awe in Rudyard Kipling’s Fiction (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008)
Kipling, Rudyard, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling Vol.1, ed. Thomas Pinney (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2004).
Kipling, Rudyard, Kim, ed. and intro Edward Said (London: Penguin, 1987).
Kipling, Rudyard, Kim,, ed. Zohreh Sullivan (New York: Norton, 2002).
Kipling, Rudyard, Kim,, ed. and intro Harish Trivedi (London: Penguin, 2011).
Kipling, Rudyard, Kim: A Cultural Edition eds. by Paula Krebs and Tricia Lootens (Longman Cultural Editions, London: Pearson 2010). (Includes cancelled chapter from Kim MS of lynching on a railway train.)
Kipling, Rudyard, Stories and Poems ed. Daniel Karlin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, 2015) Very useful intro and notes to stories.
Lewis, Lisa, ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Indian History’ in Montefiore (ed.) In Time’s Eye (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013)
McBratney, John Imperial Subjects, Imperial Space: Rudyard Kipling’s Fiction of the Native-Born (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2002)
McLure, John, Kipling and Conrad: The Colonial Fiction (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press 1981)
Montefiore, Jan, Rudyard Kipling (Tavistock: Northcote House, 2007).
Montefiore, Jan (ed.), In Time’s Eye: Essays on Rudyard Kipling (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013)
Montefiore, Jan, ‘Kipling as a children’s writer and ‘The Jungle Books, in The Cambridge Companion to Rudyard Kipling, ed. H. Booth (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Moore-Gilbert, Bart,’The Bhabhal of Tongues: Reading Kipling, Reading Bhabha’ in Writing India (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996).
Moore-Gilbert, Bart, ‘I am going to rewrite Kipling’s Kim; Kipling and postcolonialism’, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature (2002, 37:39), 39-58.
Moore-Gilbert, Bart, ‘Kipling and Postcolonial Literature’, The Cambridge Companion to Rudyard Kipling, ed. Howard Booth (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
Moore-Gilbert, Bart, ‘ Cultural Transfer in Kipling’s Writing: A Conference Paper’, Kipling Journal 277, March 1996. (On ‘Beyond the Pale’)
Murari, Timeri, N, The Imperial Agent (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1987).
Nagai, Kaori, Empire of Analogies: Kipling, India and Ireland (Cork University Press, 2007).
Norbu, Jamyang, The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes (Delhi: Harper Collins, 1999).
Parry, Ann, The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1992)
Plotz, Judith, ‘How the “White Man’s Burden” Lost Its Scare Quotes’ in Rooney and Nagai (eds.) Kipling and Beyond (London: Macmillan, 2010).
Randall, Don, Kipling’s Imperial Boy. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000).
Rooney, Caroline and Nagai, Kaori (eds.), Kipling and Beyond: Patriotism, Globalization and Postcolonialism (London: Macmillan, 2010).
Rushdie, Salman, ‘Kipling’ in Imaginary Homelands (New York: Viking, 1991).
Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993).
Sergeant, David. Kipling’s Art of Fiction 1884-1901 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
Sullivan, Zohreh, Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
Tickell, Alex, ‘Kipling’s Famine-Romance: Masculinity, Gender and Colonial Biopolitics in “William the Conqueror”’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing(45.3 (September 2009. pp. 251-263.
Trivedi, Harish, ‘Arguing with the Himalayas: Edward Said on Kipling’, Caroline Rooney and Kaori Nagai (eds.), Kipling and Beyond: Patriotism, Globalization and Postcolonialism (London: Macmillan, 2010).
Trivedi, Harish, ‘Reading Kipling in India’ in The Cambridge Companion to Kipling, ed. H. Booth (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Trivedi, Harish, ‘Kipling’s “vernacular”: what he knew of it and what he made of it’, Montefiore (ed.) In Time’s Eye: Essays on Rudyard Kipling (Manchester University Press, 2013)
Williams, Patrick. ‘Kim and Orientalism’ in Kipling Reconsidered, ed. Philip Mallett, (Macmillan: Basingstoke, 1989).
NB: The editions of Kim by Sullivan (2002) and by Krebs & Lootens (2010) can be bought online via abebooks. Many students will have access to the Cambridge Companion to Kipling on-line through their university library.