Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on 30th December 1865. His unusual middle name derived from Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, where his parents had become engaged. Kipling’s father, John, was an illustrator, museum curator, and principal of Jeejeebhoy School of Art. His mother, Alice (née MacDonald) was one of four sisters who married prominent figures of the period: the painters Edward Burne-Jones and Edward Poynter, and the politician Alfred Baldwin, father of the future British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin.
Although Kipling’s happy childhood in India was to later inspire his stories, poetry and novels, he was sent to live in England at the age of five. In common with many of their contemporaries, Kipling’s parents wanted him to be anglicised. The six miserable years he spent in Southsea are fictionalised in The Light that Failed.
It was in Southsea that Kipling met and fell in love with Florence Garrard (of the famous jewellery family). Their relationship was sporadic and ultimately floundered, an experience he portrays with great bitterness in The Light that Failed.
Kipling returned to India in 1882 and began writing. Departmental Ditties appeared in 1886, and Plain Tales from the Raj in 1888, both of which met with critical acclaim. After extensive travels through Southeast Asia and the United States, Kipling arrived in London in 1889 as an established author.
The following year was a turbulent one, which saw him suffer a nervous breakdown and the collapse of several relationships. A return to India was terminated by news that his friend Wolcott Balestier had died of typhoid. Kipling returned to London, later marrying Wolcott’s sister, Caroline Starr Balestier. The couple settled in the United States, close to Caroline’s family in Vermont.
During his years in America, Kipling published the two Jungle Books, the works for which he is perhaps most famous. They returned to England after a legal dispute with Caroline’s brother, and established themselves in Sussex. Kipling’s literary success was marred by tragedy in 1899 when his eldest child, Josephine, died of pneumonia.
Kipling’s involvement with the Boer War in the following year bolstered his belief in the importance of Empire. He used his writing to promote a sense of national identity, and toured the country giving pro-war speeches. His views captured the mood of the time and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. His commitment to military action was severely challenged when his only son John went missing, presumed dead, on his first day of action in the Battle of Loos. John, who suffered from poor eyesight, was able to enlist only after Kipling used his influence, thus compounding his sense of guilt.
Kipling died from a perforated duodenal ulcer in 1936, three years before the outbreak of World War Two. He had continued writing until the early 1930s but never recaptured his earlier successes. His ashes were buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Victorian Secrets will publish The Light that Failed in early 2011. This edition includes a biography and Kipling chronology.