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Kipling, Rudyard (1865-1936)  
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Kipling's nature was so deeply homosocial that even after he married, he proved incapable of representing heterosexual love in anything other than a stilted, wooden way. In adulthood, he bonded closely with men like Henry James (who gave away the bride at the Kiplings' wedding), Edmund Gosse, and Cecil Rhodes who are now recognized to have been discreet or closeted homosexuals. Contemporaries questioned Kipling's orientation. For example, writer Enid Bagnold wondered--after she had become friendly with Kipling and his wife--if the older man was not a repressed homosexual.

As Martin Seymour-Smith interprets the facts of Kipling's life, Kipling feared expressing homosexual desire because he associated homosexual acts with "beastliness" and anarchy. His small size made him particularly vulnerable to other boys' advances in school, further coloring with anxiety any desire that he may have felt. Although in later life he publicly insisted that United Services College had been free of "uncleanness" while he was in residence there, he complained privately of the sexual activities that he had indeed regularly witnessed among his contemporaries, and in which he himself was accused of participating by one of his schoolmasters.

Kipling's tepid engagements to Florence Garrard and Caroline Taylor seem to have been attempts on his part to will himself into being in love with a woman and achieving the semblance of "normalcy." The great love of his life, Seymour-Smith posits, was Wolcott Balestier, the "dear boy" to whom Kipling addressed in manuscript the poem "The Long Trail," which is an invitation to join Kipling in a life of travel where "the trail is always new!" (Significantly, "dear boy" is the same address that Henry James used with his younger male intimates, including the same Wolcott Balestier.) Balestier collaborated with Kipling on The Naulahka (1891), a novel about life in places on the margins of Anglo-European civilization for which Kipling wrote the chapters on India and Balestier those on the American frontier.

According to Seymour-Smith, Kipling hastily married Balestier's sister when he was depressed, first, by Balestier's rejection of his travel plan, and then by the latter's sudden death from typhoid while Kipling was journeying solo abroad. An unappealing woman who seemed as uncomfortable with physical pleasure as he, Caroline proved a strong-willed helpmeet who ordered the writer's life and killed any urge that he might momentarily think to indulge. She proved a formidable dragon whom he might keep at the gate to police his errant desires.

With the destruction of the Kipling family's private papers--in particular the surviving daughter's destruction of Caroline's diary--Seymour-Smith's thesis can neither be confirmed nor firmly refuted. The serious reader should, thus, be careful to consult Harry Ricketts' and David Gilmour's alternative versions of Kipling's life against Seymour-Smith's summary of events or Leon Edel's conclusion that "Between Balestier and Kipling it was a case of camaraderie and of love, almost at first sight. Platonic, quite clearly. Both would have been terrified at any other suggestion."

Seymour-Smith is particularly persuasive, however, when he emphasizes that at the outset of his adult life Kipling clearly felt most comfortable living on the margins of respectability. An insomniac, he began to make nocturnal rambles as a teenager in London where, Kipling said of his younger self, "the night got into his head." Upon his return to India at age 16, he explored Lahore's opium dens, gambling rooms, and houses of prostitution, which figure in his first novel, The Light That Failed (1890).

As Robert Aldrich has demonstrated, the colonial world offered sexually conflicted men opportunities to act upon their desires by placing them in sultry, exotic locales where the rules of Anglo-European civilized behavior were relaxed or could be safely ignored. Kipling's authoritarian, imperialist impulse apparently evolved to check his growing fascination with the illicit. The strict adherence to Law and Duty, Kipling grew convinced, was the only way to keep civilization on a steady course. Tellingly, Kipling, late in life, described homosexual urges as an infectious bacteria that threatened the body politic. Little wonder that he, like so many of his fellow imperialists, was fascinated by flagellation, a sexually conflicted man's way of simultaneously indulging and punishing errant urges.


Kipling's appeal to the reader to concentrate on his work rather than the details of his life may prove more troublesome than he anticipated. For it encourages the reader to speculate upon the significance of some key texts.

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