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Rudyard Kipling: A Life Hardcover – March, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was not yet 25 when he burst onto the literary scene in London, where his stories of Anglo-Indian life made him an instant celebrity. He won the Nobel Prize in 1907, but by then his critical standing was already in decline, marred in part by popular poems like "The White Man's Burden," which stereotyped him as a tub-thumping jingoist, a reputation he cemented with the distasteful racism of his patriotic appeals during World War I. Poet Harry Ricketts rescues Kipling from cliché in perceptive critical exegeses that remind the reader just how fine a fiction writer he was, pointing out the nuanced appreciation of racial and cultural boundary crossing that informed such masterpieces as Kim. In this brisk narrative, Kipling emerges as a charming, genuinely warm man and a devoted, delightful father; it's no surprise that the children's books Just So Stories and The Jungle Book remain his most beloved works. Without scanting the nastiness of Kipling's reactionary politics, Ricketts suggests their source in personal sorrows that included his 18-year-old son's battlefield death in 1915 and the agonizing demise of his 6-year-old daughter, after which, said Kipling's sister, "he was a sadder and a harder man." --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

Kipling's biographers are still trying to find a balance between his reputation as an imperialist writer and his actual life. After Martin Seymour-Smith's psychologically speculative 1990 biography (also titled Rudyard Kipling), the more conservative approach of New Zealander Ricketts (editor of Kipling's Lost World) gives some redress to the fiction writer and poet--although in the process his account downplays many of Kipling's late reactionary opinions. Like many sons of the Empire, Kipling's childhood was divided unevenly between England and India (primarily Bombay), but he was effectively orphaned when he was sent at age six to live in an evangelical household in Southsea. Although that experience instilled a permanent sense of abandonment in Kipling, evident in his fiction, Ricketts points out that it also ingrained in him the indefatigable work ethic that sustained his long literary career. Ricketts's insights into the ironies of that career also challenge the assumptions of Kipling's posthumous reputation. Kipling became an ardently propagandizing imperialist only after he settled permanently in England and lost contact with his "native" India. The Nobel notwithstanding, Kipling, Ricketts recounts, precipitously lost critical standing as he gained international popularity. These points are enlivened by Ricketts's selection of letters by such rival authors as Henry James and Max Beerbohm, which provide amusing gossip as well as literary context. Much of Ricketts's portrait of Kipling as a man with many internal contradictions ("devoted son/damaged' orphan,'" "scholar gipsy/rule-bound conformist") seems astute, but his treatment of the author as a complicated colonial isn't as successful as his assessment of Kipling's personal affairs and poetry. Photos not seen by PW.(Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers; 1St Edition edition (March 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786707119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786707119
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,231,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Danny C. Johnson on September 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the only biography of Kipling I've read so I can't compare it to others. The author has laid out the facts of his life in detail. He comments with insight and sympathy on Kipling's work but strangely doesn't mention one of his most famous lines,"East is east and west is west, never the twain shall meet." Maybe he thought it was overanalyzed. The most interesting aspects for me were Kipling's influences and those he influenced and corresponded with and the impact of India and it's myriad cultures on his life and work. Mark Twain, H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, and many other great British and American writers are quoted. I would have liked a little more on the Kim and the Jungle Book and more about his views of Islamic culture and Afghanistan. Also would have liked to know about his Masonic membership and it's influence on the Man Who Would Be King. But maybe the author felt that would be too much minutia to include in what is not an exhaustive or long study of Kipling.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robert Onopa on November 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Clearly the best Kipling biography in many years. Mr. Ricketts has a fine touch, especially for Kipling's early years. If his later life wasn't as exotic and interesting, that's Kipling's affair. I think the mainstream reviewers had it right ('Splendid,' said The Atlantic Monthly, 'irresistibly readable,' said The New Yorker). Insightful and engaging.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Penny P. Hammack on May 26, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This biography tells it all from Kipling's birth in India to his death between the World Wars. It makes him seem like someone you want to know, without glossing over his failings. I'm not sure I want to even try to read everything he wrote but will definitely be reading several of his works.
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By Alaskan on March 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This deep-inside comprehensive biography made me want to run right out and buy every word of Kipling's that I don't already have. The open presentation of the family's loss of two of their children, plus the mental illness of another family member, is like swimming upstream through Class V rapids. There were times I had to just to put down the book for a day or two and go do something completely different. Kipling's poetry is absorbing; I love finding new material such as this. I found myself reminded of a couple of lines from my all-time favorite movie, "Clue": "Do you care for Kipling?" (as he passes a plate of food). She replies, "Sure, I'll eat anything." A really great book for all Kipling fans.
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