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Monday, 1 March 2010

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Spotted on our last trip to London tucked behind Charing Cross station just by Villiers Street which gets a visit from us fairly regularly as theres a South African foods store just round the corner featuring all the familiar names from M's time in South Africa. Kipling was born in Bombay and I think as an Anglo-Indian has the clarity of vision that only tends to come with the eyes of an outsider.He returned to England after a stint in America in 1889. He wrote "meantime, I had found me quarters in Villiers Street, Strand, which forty-six years ago was primitive and passionate in its habits and population. My rooms were small, not over-clean or well-kept, but from my desk I could look out of my window through the fanlight of Gatti's Music-Hall entrance, across the street, almost on to the stage. The Charing Cross trains rumbled through my dreams on one side, the boom of the Strand on the other, while, before my windows, Father Thames under the Shot Tower walked up and down with his traffic"

Coincidentally Kipling's name has come up a couple of times of late firstly because I'm reading Billy Bragg's The Progressive Patriot - Our Bill was brought up with Kipling and also because he recently got a whole issue of Mike Carey and Peter Gross' The Unwritten. He carries baggage does our Rudyard in this post-imperial age. He was a contentious figure even during his lifetime, Orwell called him "a phophet of British imperialism" whether he was that or rather as Billy believes him to be more of a chronicaller of the Raj is a guess a matter of opinion, he was a great writer, maybe not in the modern sense but as a tale-teller and I think that thats what both the Braggmeister and Mike Carey have picked up on. And he does have a way with words, that I think is beyond doubt. He also shifted position fairly radically especially after the death of his son, John at the battle of Loos in 1915. He wrote My So Jack afterwards containing the klines "If any question why we died / Tell them because our fathers lied" which I think speaks volumes about the guilt that he felt about his earlier unquestioning support for the war. To my mind he was quite simply a man of his times, the sentiments expressed in poems like The White Mans burden
Take up the white man's burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go, bind your your sons to exile
To serve the captives need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught sullen peoples
Half devil and half child
were utterly unremarkable for the time. Personally I'll go with "what knows he of England / who only England knows.

Strangely I don't think I've ever read any of his work. Dad raised me on tales of derring-do from the Likes of H.Rider Haggard, John Buchan and Captain W.E. Johns but not Kipling.

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