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Kipling, Rudyard (1865-1936)  
 
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"Seek not to question other than / The books I leave behind," counseled Kipling in "The Appeal," a two-line poem written shortly before his death that editor M. M. Kaye describes as "a plea to posterity to respect his private life." Such an appeal proves especially ironic having been made by a man who deliberately lived by far the greatest part of his life in the public eye.

In his late teens Kipling hurried onto the public stage as a newspaperman in India; the poems and prose vignettes of British colonial and native life in South Asia that he wrote for local publications proved wildly successful when collected and republished in book form in England. They established him as one of the most original voices of his generation. For the entire of his adult life Kipling fashioned himself as the conscience of the English-speaking world, refusing government honors in order to remain free to pontificate publicly on a host of social, political, and economic issues.

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Furthermore, Kipling was one of the first international literary celebrities. Thousands of people kept vigil in the streets outside his hotel in New York City when he struggled with near-fatal pneumonia in 1899, and entire communities in Canada waited at local stations to catch a glimpse of the great man as he traveled cross country in a private railway car in 1907.

Yet, as editor Kaye notes, Kipling's posthumously-published autobiography, titled Something of Myself (1937), "in fact tells us almost nothing and can be regarded as a smoke-screen, timed to go off after his death and designed to lead would-be biographers astray." The systematic destruction of his private papers (letters, diaries, and drafts of works), begun by Kipling while alive, was continued by his wife after his death, and completed by his daughter following Mrs. Kipling's own demise. Consequently, most of the evidence concerning Kipling's private life has been lost, while suspicion has been aroused of a secret that Kipling and his family hoped to suppress.

That secret, biographer Martin Seymour-Smith concluded in 1989, is that Kipling was in love with a charming, young, American literary agent, Wolcott Balestier, who died suddenly in 1891, and that a grief-stricken Kipling married the man's sister Caroline only six weeks later out of a sense of loyalty to his departed friend and/or guilt over his homosexual desire.

Biography

Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, on December 30, 1865 to a father who taught at the local crafts school and a mother who would become known as one of the wittiest women in India. He was taken to England at age 6, where his parents enrolled him in a school in Southsea, boarding him with a religiously fundamentalist woman whom Kipling later complained had been physically and emotionally abusive. On holidays, however, he enjoyed visits to his maternal relatives. One of his aunts had married the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and presided over one of the most artistic and socially liberal households of the time.

A sudden, serious weakening of the boy's eyesight recalled his mother from India to care for him, following which he was enrolled in United Services College, a public school intended to prepare boys for a military career. Kipling's small size (5' 6" in adulthood), weak eyesight, and bookish disposition excluded him from such a life, however. At age 16, having failed to win a scholarship, and his parents being unable to pay his way through university, Kipling returned to India to write for an English-language newspaper in Lahore and, later, in Allahabad. The seven years that he worked in India provided him with the material that he would spend the better part of his creative life turning into stories, poems, children's books, and novels, making him England's unofficial Laureate of Empire.

In 1889, ambitious to make his name in London, the twenty-four-year-old Kipling returned to England, where he quickly established himself as a dominant literary personality. Kipling was an indefatigable writer, producing in his lifetime some eight volumes of verse, sixteen volumes of short fiction, and six novels--including the superb Kim (1901), the rousing Captains Courageous (1897), and the children's favorites, The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895)--in addition to numerous other volumes of history, travel writing, and war pamphlets. In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first English author to be so honored.

Kipling suffered two broken marital engagements before he married Caroline Balestier, the sister of his friend Wolcott, in 1892. The Kiplings settled near her family in Brattleboro, Vermont, for several years, until a quarrel with her brother decided their permanent return to England. For nine years they would escape the dampness and chill of the English winter by staying in South Africa, where Kipling's friend Cecil Rhodes provided them a house. Following the death of Rhodes and the British losses in the Boer War, however, the Kiplings wintered most years in the south of France.

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