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Rudyard Kipling | Biography

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Childhood, Education, and Early Career

Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, to John Lockwood Kipling and Alice Macdonald Kipling. His father was a scholar of art as well as an artist, serving as the head of the architectural sculpture department at an art school. The experience of living in India filled Kipling's early childhood with sights, sounds, and events that later enriched his stories. He became fluent in the local language and culture, bringing much of this knowledge into his writing.

Kipling's parents sent him to private school in England when he was six, as was typical for English children living in India. In stark contrast with his happy early childhood in India, the shock of living in Southsea, England, without his parents, along with the abusive behavior of his foster parent, Mrs. Holloway, led him to become a nervous, unhappy loner. He was publicly humiliated and frequently beaten by Mrs. Holloway, unbeknownst to his parents. Kipling escaped into literature in secret because Mrs. Holloway took away any books she found. Luckily, Kipling's parents were informed by a visiting aunt who witnessed Mrs. Holloway's abuses that their son was being so badly mistreated that he was on the verge of a total collapse.

Kipling's mother pulled him out of his school and foster home, sending him instead to a school in Devon, where he got his start as a writer and a journalist. When Kipling returned to India in 1882, he worked for a newspaper. He used his intimate knowledge of Indian culture and his facility with the language and his bouts of insomnia to do his research in the underworld of nighttime Lahore, which was usually off-limits to English journalists. He also wrote short stories, 40 of which were collected in his first published volume, Plain Tales From the Hills (1888). His stories range from the realistic to the macabre and show the depth of his extraordinary imagination.

Marriage, Family Life, and Later Career

Kipling went back to England to try to promote himself as a writer, given that he was receiving some recognition for his first book of stories. He became close friends with an American publisher living in London, Wolcott Balestier. Kipling and Balestier's sister, Carrie, also became good friends, and they formed a relationship, which became more serious a few years later when Wolcott died of typhoid fever. Carrie asked Kipling to come back from India, where he was visiting his family, to England to support her. They were quickly married in 1892, and the next several years of their lives were filled with travel, more publications of stories, essays, and poems from Kipling, and the births of three children.

Kipling and his family, who had moved to Vermont to be near Carrie's family, tended to avoid the public, which allowed Kipling the solitude to write some of his most famous stories in The Jungle Book and other works. However, this desire to be left alone didn't go over well with their American neighbors. In addition, Carrie's brother-in-law had an argument with Kipling that led to his making threats against Kipling's life. Kipling sued, and the resulting attention from the press was so negative that he and Carrie retreated back to England to continue to raise their family away from the drama and embarrassment.

Kipling's life back in England was marked by tragedy. On a visit to New York, he and all of his children caught pneumonia, and his eldest child, Josephine, died in 1899. The Jungle Book was written for Kipling's daughter Josephine during a family trip to New York. Losing Josephine deeply affected Kipling, and he vowed never to go back to America again. On his return to England, he wrote another of his most famous novels, Captains Courageous (1897). After feeling weighed down by depression in the first house they stayed in, Kipling settled the family in a house called Bateman's in Sussex, England, and bought several acres of land around it to preserve the family's solitude. Their move came just after Kipling finished his last book that would focus on India, Kim (1901), which Kipling wrote with his father's input.

The move to Bateman's gave Kipling a break from the public attention he received as the highest-paid writer in the world at the time. The solitude allowed him some comfort and healing through the grieving process, as did having his other children around him. Kipling was a modest man who valued his privacy and independence, refusing very public honors like the British Order of Merit, the title of poet laureate, and a knighthood, which was offered to him twice by the Queen of England. However, in 1907 Kipling accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature because it was given as recognition of his literary merits, rather than as a title that might take away his independence as a writer.

Tragedy struck again in 1915 when Kipling's son John was presumably killed in his first battle in World War I. John's death was a particularly terrible blow to the Kiplings because John, who had poor eyesight, was not allowed into the military until Kipling used his influence to get John in. Kipling searched for years, but John's body was never found.

Kipling's guilt over his son's death gave his work a more serious tone and direction. His popularity waned as a result, and it was not helped by his increasingly conservative attitudes regarding British imperialism. His work encompassed opposing views held within the same person: his unwillingness to tolerate class and caste divisions on one end of the spectrum and his support of the "civilizing" effects of British rule on the other. His imperialistic ideas, summed up in his poem "The White Man's Burden," turn a great many readers away, but much of his other work champions respect between human beings, regardless of background, race, or creed. Even his animal stories are based on the existence or lack of respect. Kipling died on January 18, 1936, having made his mark as one of the most memorable writers in the English language.

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