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The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling Paperback – June 11, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The events of September 11 and the war in Afghanistan have again brought attention to Kipling and the themes of imperialism, postcolonialism, and the role of the West in the Middle East. While essentially a Victorian in his values and art, Kipling died in 1936 on the eve of World War II, opposed to fascism and prophesying that the end of the British Empire would bring sectarian strife. During his life he witnessed the pinnacle and decline of the British Empire. While a spokesman for empire, Kipling was always cognizant of the complexity of the "white man's burden." Gilmour, who has written books on the politics of Spain and Lebanon, as well as a biography of Italian novelist Giuseppe di Lampedusa, offers a brief, sympathetic, well-informed, and highly readable account of Kipling. He focuses on Kipling's complex relation to empire, especially as expressed in his stories and poetry. His effort joins Harry Ricketts's recent popular, and more general, Rudyard Kipling. Highly recommended. Thomas L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* For 50 years, Rudyard Kipling projected his political and social views in prose fiction and, more pointedly, in verse. He was a British imperial propagandist but also an artist who took no orders. As Gilmour presents him in a biography focused on his political life, but that cites and evaluates numerous poems and stories, noting their aesthetic qualities as well as their messages, Kipling was the greatest, because he was the most humane, British imperialist and also the empire's great, pessimistic prophet. His early working years in India convinced him that British rule there had to be paternal: guiding but not dominating, helping but not exploiting native peoples. The British in South Africa had similar duties, he thought, and needed also to restrain the Boers, whom he warned would establish a racist regime: apartheid. He despised liberals and socialists because he believed they would dismantle the empire, leaving India to be torn asunder by contending Hindus and Muslims--another accurate forecast. He undermined his own effectiveness with his ideological purity and permanent grudges. Still, as Gilmour makes abundantly clear, he was a major player in the affairs of the mightiest power on Earth, which lost its potency in tandem with his loss of practical influence. A remarkable man, a remarkable book. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (June 11, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374528969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374528966
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The fact that Gilmour explores Kipling's writing in terms of these themes and how they reflected aspects of his character is a clear indication that this book is no hagiography. The focus here is on the subject of empire and as the subtitle says it is all about: "The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling". Gilmour quotes Kipling as saying that empire was "the fabric of my mental and physical existence." Kipling seemed to see empire as some divine right of England:
GOD of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
Lord god of Hosts be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!
(Recessional)
It's this thinking that Gilmour focuses on and thus Kipling's life and works can't be seen as anything but a study in THE LONG RECESSIONAL. That's one emphasis; another is what Gilmour identifies as the "two sides to [Kipling's] head". With this he's looking at writings that were chauvinistic, ultra-nationalistic and even racist. Poems such as "The Female of the Species" and "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" being cases in point. Gilmour then shows the other side of the man's head with writings depicting his compassion and humanity - "If" for instance. Kipling's life can't be completely studied outside the context of family and the sadness of losing children and an unhappy marriage. The times and circumstances through which he lived also influenced him. Being born in colonial India and living through the Boer war and WWI all served to paint the lens through which Kipling saw and wrote about life in a rosy imperial tint.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood on July 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
Rudyard Kipling, according to David Gilmour's authoritative 'The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling' was a first-class political hater and author of children's books, as well as the virtual embodiment of the British Empire. Kipling was considered the Imperial Laureate, although he would have refused the post had it existed as he did all government posts - not in his line at all.

Kipling lived much of the first half of his life in the Empire - he spent his early years in India, except for a horrid stretch when he was boarded back in England by his parents who stayed in British India, and later lived off-and-on in South Africa. Kipling loved the Empire and its civilizing mission (up to a point - he did not favor Christian religious proselytizing), but oddly was not that fond of England or the English.

Gilmour paints a portrait of Kipling as a thorough-going reactionary, a pessimist, a virulent opponent of women's suffrage, Irish Home Rule, nearly all politicians (he especially hated Liberals, but also accused Winston Churchill of `political whoring'), trade unions, and imperial wavering of any kind.

'The Long Recessional' (the title refers both to his poem written for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the decline of the Empire) is not so much a history of Kipling's literary works as it is his leading role in promoting the Empire through his literature. Readers seeking detailed literary analyses had best look elsewhere, but should read this book first to understand what it was that Kipling was so all-fired angry about most of the time.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 10, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At a time when the "politically correct" holds sway in much of the media for intellectuals and all too much of academia, Rudyard Kipling is persona non grata -- the author of charming Victorian children's tales, but irredeemably tainted as an advocate and apologist for the British Empire and its subjugation of so many blacks and browns in the world. This biography of Kipling shows that the popular image de jour of Kipling is oversimplified and, at bottom, unfair and wrong.

David Gilmour deliberately focuses on the "imperial" Kipling, or the political (as opposed to the literary) aspect of his life. Of course, it is impossible to cleave Kipling into two selves, one political and the other literary. No one can be so compartmentalized, but Kipling resists it more than most because he was so unabashedly a political writer. And Gilmour chooses to emphasize that fact by exploring Kipling's politics and his view of the British Empire, as well as his role in celebrating it and then mourning its imminent demise (Kipling died before World War II and the death throes of empire). As Gilmour puts it in his preface: "This is the first volume to chronicle Kipling's political life, his early role as apostle of the Empire, the embodiment of imperial aspiration, and his later one of the prophet of national decline."

Gilmour achives his objective quite well. His Kipling -- as I believe is true of the actual Kipling -- was NOT a jingoistic rascist (although, to be sure, certain lines of his taken as they say out of context could be stretched and cited for the opposite conclusion). Yes, Kipling was a Victorian Englishman who grew up amidst, and believed in, the glory of the British Empire.
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