THE JUNE MEETING 2019
JOSEPH RUDYARD KIPLING
Our speaker Jonathan Jones is a semi-professional actor who is also the Town Crier for Farnham in Surrey. He took early retirement in 2010 and displays a remarkable memory, speaking without script for 40 minutes using Rudyard Kipling as the raconteur of his own biography with skilful characterisations from the works of Kipling. Kipling was an English journalist, short story writer, poet and novelist.
Kipling, who was British, was born in Bombay, India in 1865. His father was an artist and a teacher. He married his best friend's sister, Caroline Starr Balestier in 1892 and they were to suffer the early loss of his eldest daughter, Josephine through illness and his son John in the Great War.
Rudyard Kipling grew up from the age of five to the age of eleven at Lorne Lodge in Campbell Road, Southsea where he stayed with a foster-family until Alice Kipling arrived from India and took her son away. He was to become a pupil at the United Services College, Westward Ho, Devon, a cheap boarding school for the sons of army officers. In 1882 he returned to India and worked as a journalist.
He was initiated into Freemasonry before the age of 21, the normal age for entry, at Lahore and remained a Mason for the rest of his life and this is reflected in some of his works.
At the age of 41, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English language writer to receive the prize and its youngest recipient to date. He was one of the most popular writers in the United Kingdom, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Henry James said: "Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius, as distinct from fine intelligence, that I have ever known." He was put forward for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, both of which he declined
Kipling's works of fiction include The Jngle Book (1894), Kim (1901), and many short stories, including The Man Who Would Be King (1888). His poems include Mandalay (1890), Gunga Din (1890), The Gods of the Copybook Headings (1919), The White Man's Burden (1899), and If— (1910). He is regarded as a major innovator in the art of the short story and his children's books are classics of children's literature One critic described his work as exhibiting "a versatile and luminous narrative gift".
Our speaker enacted many examples of Kipling’s work and it is only possible to provide snatches here, such as from If ………… for their doubting too; If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance…
Gunga Din is well remembered for its final line ‘you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’ but must be read in full to bring out Kipling’s way with accent and words.
These are only excerpts from the presentation of Jonathan Jones and it is recommended that further examination will fully bring out Kipling’s undoubted mastery of his art.
Kipling's subsequent reputation has changed according to the political and social climate of the age and the resulting contrasting views about him continued for much of the 20th century. George Orwell saw Kipling as "a jingoimperialist", who was "morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting". Literary critic Douglas Kerr wrote: "[Kipling] is still an author who can inspire passionate disagreement and his place in literary and cultural history is far from settled. But as the age of the European empires recedes, he is recognised as an incomparable, if controversial, interpreter of how empire was experienced. That, and an increasing recognition of his extraordinary narrative gifts, make him a force to be reckoned with."
Kipling kept writing until the early 1930s, but at a slower pace and with much less success than before. On the night of 12 January 1936 he suffered a haemorrhage in his small intestine. He underwent surgery but died less than a week later on 18 January 1936, at the age of 70 of a perforated duodenal ulcer.
His death had previously been incorrectly announced in a magazine, to which he wrote, "I've just read that I am dead. Don't forget to delete me from your list of subscribers."
The pallbearers at the funeral included Kipling's cousin, the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and the marble casket was covered by a Union Jack. Kipling was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium in northwest London, and his ashes interred at Poets' Corner, part of the South Transept of Westminster Abbey, next to the graves of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.
His home, Batemans at Burwash in East Sussex, is now a National Trust property.
Report by David Richardson