Rudyard Kipling was an English author who wrote some of the most famous short stories, novels and poems ever written in the English language. He is also considered one of the leading writers in the genre of children’s literature with works like The Jungle Book. Kipling had his share of troubles in his life with difficult experiences in his childhood and later, the death of his daughter and son to unfortunate incidents. Kipling remains a controversial figure due to his support of British imperialism in his works like The White Man’s Burden, which has become emblematic of Eurocentric racism. Know more about the family, life, career, works, achievements and death of Rudyard Kipling, who remains the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

 

#1 He was named after the Rudyard Lake in England

Born on 30th December 1865 in Bombay in British India, Rudyard Kipling was the first child of John Lockwood Kipling and his wife Alice. His father John was an art teacher, illustrator and museum curator who spent most of his career in India. His mother Alice was one of the four MacDonald sisters who are famous for their marriages to well-known people of the Victorian era. John and Alice had courted at Rudyard Lake in Rudyard, Staffordshire, England and they were so moved by the beauty of the area that they named their son after it. Rudyard had a younger sister named Trix Kipling. His first cousin Stanley Baldwin, son of one of his aunts, was Prime Minister of U.K. three times during the 1920s and 1930s.

Rudyard Kipling & John Lockwood Kipling
Rudyard Kipling with his father John Lockwood Kipling

 

#2 He described dreadful years of his childhood in his short story Baa Baa, Black Sheep

Stalky & Co. Cover
Title page of Stalky & Co. – Novel by Rudyard Kipling

After spending his early years in Bombay, 6 year old Rudyard was sent to England along with his sister Trix to live at a foster home at Southsea with a couple who boarded children of British nationals who were serving in India. Kipling’s stay with Captain Pryse Agar Holloway and Mrs Sarah Holloway was a nightmare for him due to the combination of cruelty and neglect he experienced during the period. He later described the horror of his five year stay at the foster home in his semi-autobiographical 1888 short story Baa Baa, Black Sheep.

#3 He captured his adolescent years in his novel Stalky & Co.

In January 1878, at the age of 12, Rudyard Kipling was admitted to the United Services College, a private boys’ public boarding school at Westward Ho, north Devon. His years at the school were tough initially but improved with time. He captured them in his novel about adolescent boys titled Stalky & Co. which touches themes of revenge, the macabre, bullying and violence. As his parents lacked money to provide him with college education, Kipling returned to India in 1882 and worked for seven years for local newspapers such as the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore and The Pioneer in Allahabad.

 

#4 His first published collection of verse was Departmental Ditties

While working as a journalist in India, Kipling started writing poetry and fiction. In 1886, he published his first collection of verse, Departmental Ditties and in 1888, his first collection of short stories Plain Tales from the Hills was published. He was enormously prolific during his time in India and in 1888 he published six collections of short stories containing 41 stories. He used to frequently visit Shimla, the summer capital of British India, and the famous hill station featured prominently in many of his stories. In 1889, Kipling left India and went to live in London.

Rudyard Kipling young
Rudyard Kipling in his early years

 

#5 Kipling married Caroline Starr Balestier and had three children with her

In London, Rudyard Kipling met and befriended Wolcott Balestier, an American writer and publishing agent. Kipling came to know his family and became involved in a romantic relationship with Wolcott’s sister Caroline Starr Balestier. On 18 January 1892, Caroline Balestier (aged 29) and Rudyard Kipling (aged 26) were married in London. The same year the couple moved to the United States and settled on Caroline’s property in Vermont. The Kiplings had three children, two daughters named Josephine (1893) and Elsie (1896); and a son named John, born in 1897, after they had left America and returned to England.

Josephine, John and Elsie Kipling
Rudyard Kipling’s children Josephine, John and Elsie

 

#6 Rudyard Kipling was the highest paid writer in the world

By 1890, Rudyard Kipling was already acclaimed as one of the most brilliant writers of his time and his reputation continued to grow with publication of works like The Jungle Book (1894), considered a masterpiece of imaginative writing and among the most famous works in children’s literature; and Kim (1901), considered Kipling’s masterpiece and ranked 78 on the list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library. By 1897, Rudyard Kipling was not only among the most acclaimed authors but also the highest paid writer in the world.

The Jungle Book Cover
Title Page of The Jungle Book

 

#7 Two of his three children died at an early age due to sickness and war

In the winter of 1899, while the Kiplings travelled to Caroline’s home in New York, Rudyard and his daughter Josephine fell gravely ill with pneumonia. While Rudyard was able to recover, his young daughter lost her life. Kipling was devastated by the tragedy. During World War I, Kipling’s son John wanted to join the British military but was rejected due to poor eyesight. However Rudyard used his connections to get him enlisted with the Irish Guard as second lieutenant. John Kipling was killed in action in the First World War at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 at the age of 18 and Rudyard was left mourning the loss of another child.

John Kipling in 1915
Rudyard’s son John Kipling in 1915 in the uniform of the Irish Guards

 

#8 Rudyard Kipling remains the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature

In 1907, Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was the first English-language writer to receive the award. Receiving the award at the age of 42, Kipling remains the youngest person to get the Nobel Prize in Literature, as of 2016. He was also sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, both of which he declined. In 1910, Kipling’s historical fantasy book Rewards and Fairies was published which contained the poem If, which in a 1995 BBC opinion poll was voted UK’s favourite poem.

IF by Rudyard Kipling
IF by Rudyard Kipling

 

#9 Rudyard Kipling is considered a major innovator in short story writing

Rudyard Kipling with his wife Caroline
Rudyard Kipling with his wife Caroline Starr Balestier

In 1902, Kipling bought a 17th century house called Bateman’s in East Sussex where he lived for the rest of his life. Bateman’s is now a public museum dedicated to the author. Kipling kept writing until the early 1930s. He suffered from a painful peptic ulcer in the last years of his life. Rudyard Kipling died on 18 January 1936 at the age of 70 due to the ulcer. He is regarded as a major innovator in the art of the short story, his poems remain popular and are taught in numerous schools and several of his novels are considered classics of English literature.

#10 George Orwell called Kipling a prophet of British imperialism

Apart from his literary contribution, Rudyard Kipling is remembered for his celebration of British imperialism due to which he remains a controversial figure. His poem The White Man’s Burden is interpreted as justifying imperialism as a noble enterprise and has become emblematic of Eurocentric racism. Many of his other works also celebrate British imperialism. Kipling was also against Irish nationalism and wrote that before the English arrived in 1169, the Irish were a gang of cattle thieves living in savagery and killing each other. Famous English writer George Orwell called Kipling a “prophet of British imperialism”.

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