John Collier: Rudyard Kipling (1891)
"There are nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays
and - every - single - one - of - them - is - right!"
- Rudyard Kipling, 'In the Neolithic Age' (1892)
Of course Kipling wrote far more than eleven books. According to the editor of his online Collected Works, he was responsible (depending on how you count) for at least 4 novels, 351 stories, 553 poems, and 12 volumes of non-fiction.
It is, however, the eleven major books of short stories (excluding the seven collections written - at least ostensibly - for children) that I'd like to discuss here. The list below is arranged in order of publication:
Rudyard Kipling: Plain Tales from the Hills (1888)
- Plain Tales from the Hills (1888)
- Soldiers Three / The Story of the Gadsbys / In Black and White (1888)
- Wee Willie Winkie / Under the Deodars / The Phantom 'Rickshaw (1888)
- Life's Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People (1891)
[28 stories / 1 poem]
- Many Inventions (1893)
[14 stories / 2 poems]
- The Day's Work (1898)
- Traffics and Discoveries (1904)
[11 stories / 11 poems]
- Actions and Reactions (1909)
[8 stories / 8 poems]
- A Diversity of Creatures (1917)
[14 stories / 14 poems]
- Debits and Credits (1926)
[14 stories / 21 poems]
- Limits and Renewals (1932)
[14 stories / 19 poems]
= 193 stories / 76 poems
The Folio Society put out a very handsome edition of all eleven in one giant boxset a few years ago:
Rudyard Kipling: The Collected Short Stories (2005)
This set is broken up as follows:
- Vol.1, Plain Tales from the Hills and Soldiers Three and other stories
- Vol.2, Wee Willie Winkie and other stories and Life's Handicap
- Vol.3, Many Inventions and The Day's Work
- Vol.4, Traffics and Discoveries, Actions and Reactions and A Diversity of Creatures
- Vol.5, A Diversity of Creatures (continued), Debits and Credits and Limits and Renewals
Mind you, one should probably add to this tally of published collections the volume of Uncollected Stories included in the posthumous, authorially sanctioned Sussex edition of Kipling's works. There are also a few other miscellaneous collections such as Abaft the Funnel (1909) and The Eyes of Asia (1917) to one side of his official tally of works.
Full details on the contents of all of these can be found in the supremely useful New Reader's Guide, maintained by the Kipling Society, which includes a complete list of stories, indexed alphabetically, by order of date, and by collection. This indispensable site also includes the full text of many of the stories, including such otherwise unobtainable gems as the classic "Proofs of Holy Writ" (1934), which has never been separately reprinted.
Rudyard Kipling: Sussex Edition (35 volumes: 1937-39)
The stories divide fairly readily into a few well-defined groups. "Kipling," as we know him, started with the remarkable spurt of stories created and published in India, then collected in a set of seven small Indian Railway paperbacks there in 1888:
- Plain Tales from the Hills
- Soldiers Three
- The Story of the Gadsbys
- In Black and White
- Wee Willie Winkie
- Under the Deodars
- The Phantom 'Rickshaw
Next we come to the later Indian and transitional stories, published throughout the 1890s, though with a gradually increasing admixture of American and British settings, dictated by his various places of residence during that decade.
- Life's Handicap
- Many Inventions
- The Day's Work
After this we move to (so-called) "late Kipling":
- Traffics and Discoveries
- Actions and Reactions
- A Diversity of Creatures
- Debits and Credits
- Limits and Renewals
Just what is the point of "Mrs Bathurst," from Traffics and Discoveries, for instance? Jorge Luis Borges and Paul Theroux debated it during the latter's visit to the former in Buenos Aires (according to Theroux's 1979 travel book The Old Patagonian Express, at any rate). It's a story of particular interest to New Zealanders, given the fact that the bar Mrs Bathurst keeps is in "Hauraki," a (fictional) small town just outside Auckland. The story's other settings include Cape Town and a London train station, in keeping with its themes of human loyalty versus cosmopolitan, machine-made division and alienation.
These later stories are probably now Kipling's main claim to fame as a writer - as anything but an historical curiosity, that is. The extreme obliquity of their technique, the obsessive use of the recondite jargon of trades, and of multiple levels of narration, certainly place him among the more technically accomplished - not to mention tirelessly innovative - masters of the short story in English.
The last three of these collections constitute a kind of sub-group, dominated by the shadow of the Great War, which added the final ingredient of horror and despair at the waste of a civilisation which we tend to associate with modernists such as Eliot and Woolf. Kipling's late work does not really resemble theirs either in tone or content, but it certainly rivals it in depth and seriousness.
Many other points could be made about Kipling, but the variety and accomplishment on display in these eleven books certainly negate any facile attempts to denigrate him as some kind of also-ran writer, inferior in subtlety to contemporaries such as Conrad or James. They took him seriously, and so should we.
His fascination with the extreme edges of human psychology, ranging off into the paranormal (a subject of particular interest to him from his very first Poe-influenced stories - such as 'The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes' - to such late masterpieces as 'Wireless' or 'The House Surgeon') provided strange fuel for these last war-shadowed books. In stories like 'The Janeites' or 'The Gardener,' a sense of common humanity and compassion began to emerge, finally, from the man whose adoration of bullies and imperialists had earlier threatened to align him, almost, with Fascism.
Perhaps Kipling's popularity will, in future, be forced to rely on his almost equally ingenious - and rather more palatable - children's books: The Jungle Books, Puck of Pook's Hill, and The Just So Stories. These are by no means devoid of politics and his own strange brand of Manichaean extremism, but they need not be read with these things in mind. Who, having experienced them in childhood, can ever subsequently forget the adventures of Mowgli or Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?
It would be a shame to pass by these 11 superb collections of stories, however, without understanding that they do collectively constitute a kind of testament to posterity - a tour-de-force display of his sheer skill as a creative writer.
Rudyard Kipling: Traffics and Discoveries (1904)
One of the most interesting teaching experiences I've ever had came when I was discussing Kipling's story 'They' with an Honours English class at Edinburgh. They allowed some of us graduate students to acquire a bit of (unpaid) teaching practice, and I'd been allotted a class in Edwardian and pre-war fiction.
'They,' if you haven't read it (and who nowadays has?) is a story about a blind woman who lives in a house full of ghost children whom she is unable to see and therefore able to postulate as 'real' and 'alive.' The narrator can also see them - as it turns out - because he has lost a child himself, and is therefore attuned to their vibrations (or so one assumes). When he finally realises that the children are all ghosts, he self-exiles himself from the house, explaining to her that it is fine for her to live with them, but not for him: perhaps because, being childless, none of them are actually flesh of her flesh.
This theme of lost children is strong in Kipling, both before and after losing his only son in the trenches of the First World War. The circumstances were particularly unfortunate and tragic. Kipling had pulled strings with his influential friends to allow the short-sighted 'Jack' to enlist, and thus - not unreasonably - blamed himself (and was blamed by his wife) when John Kipling died in a particularly futile attack on the Western front.
Now, my fourth-year Honours class refused to believe that the children in the story were ghosts. They saw them as illegitimate children from the village. When I asked them why, in that case, the narrator thought it improper for him to spend more time there, they attributed this to snobbery and class consciousness on his part.
Given the elusive, allusive style of Kipling's late stories, it's hard to find direct textual authority for a particular reading of any passage. I nevertheless attempted to persuade them that they weren't reading carefully enough, and were eliding over any amount of evidence to maintain their own reading. They riposted that that was simply my opinion, and that they had just as much right to theirs.
I guess I've been conducting that thirty-year-old argument in my head ever since. It was the age of reader response and Stanley Fish's notoriously provocative book Is There a Text in This Class? Certainly, in their eyes, I represented the past of 'authoritative,' 'agreed-upon' textual opinions, maintained by force of hierarchy rather than by argument. To me, by contrast, they seemed addicts of simplistic under-reading, determined to take the line of least resistance in each case.
Late Kipling is like that, though, as I found again recently when arguing with another student about the true 'meaning' of his armistice story 'The Gardener.' Is the grave the protagonist is trying to find that of her own illegitimate son, or is the true tragedy of the story the fact that he may be her true son (through love and upbringing) but not actually in the physical sense? I've always leaned towards the latter reading, while most people assume that the former, more obvious reading is the one to go for.
Does this shadowy indeterminacy make his stories better or worse? The fact that they continued to hold the attention of Borges in his blind old age would imply the former. And yet it's hard to know if it isn't simply one's own obtuseness which withholds a 'final' reading of each one. 'Dayspring Mishandled,' 'The Woman in His Life,' 'My Son's Wife' - such stories constitute a precious legacy. Nobody ever really wrote like Kipling, early or late, and it's hard to foresee such a body of work ever being seen as obsolete - except, of course, by those most unanswerable of critics, those who haven't actually read him in depth.
Rudyard Kipling: Debits and Credits (1926)
Joseph Rudyard Kipling
- Kipling, Rudyard. The One Volume Kipling: Authorized. 1893 & 1928. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1930.
- Volume I: Ballads and Barrack-Room Ballads
- Volume II: The Light that Failed
- Volume III: City of Dreadful Night
- Volume IV: Plain Tales from the Hills
- Volume V: Soldiers Three
- Volume VI: Mine Own People
- Volume VII: In Black and White
- Volume VIII: The Phantom 'Rickshaw & Other Ghost Stories
- Volume IX: Under the Deodars
- Volume X: Wee Willie Winkie
- Volume XI: The Story of the Gadsbys
- Volume XII: Departmental Ditties and Other Verses
- Carrington, Charles, ed. The Complete Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. 1892. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1973.
- Kipling, Rudyard. The Seven Seas. 1896. The Dominions Edition. London: Methuen & Co., Limited, 1914.
- Kipling, Rudyard. The Five Nations. 1903. The Dominions Edition. 1914. London: Methuen & Co., Limited, 1916.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Definitive Edition. 1912. Second Edition. 1919. Third Inclusive Edition. 1927. Fourth Inclusive Edition. 1933. Definitive Edition. 1940. London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1945.
- Kipling, Rudyard. A Choice of Kipling's Verse. Ed. T. S. Eliot. 1941. Faber Paper Covered Editions. London: Faber, 1963.
- Rutherford, Andrew, ed. Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling, 1879-1889: Unpublished, Uncollected, and Rarely Published Poems. 1986. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
- Pinney, Thomas, ed. The Cambridge Edition of the Poems of Rudyard Kipling. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
- Kipling, Rudyard. The Light that Failed. 1891. Macmillan’s Colonial Library. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1891.
- Kipling, Rudyard, & Wolcott Balestier. The Naulahka: A Story of West and East. 1892. 2 vols. The Service Edition of the Works of Rudyard Kipling. London: Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1915.
- Kipling, Rudyard. ‘Captains Courageous’: A Story of the Grand Banks. 1896. Melbourne & London: Macmillan & Company Ltd., 1942.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Kim. 1901. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1940.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Plain Tales from the Hills. 1888. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1913.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Soldiers Three / The Story of the Gadsbys / In Black and White. 1888 & 1895. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1913.
- Kipling, Rudyard. The Phantom 'Rickshaw and other Tales. 1888 & 1895. New York: American Publishers Corporation, n.d.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Wee Willie Winkie: Under the Deodars / The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales / Wee Willie Winkie and Other Child Stories. 1888 & 1895. Ed. Hugh Haughton. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Life's Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People. 1891. Ed. P. N. Furbank. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Many Inventions. 1893. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1913.
- Kipling, Rudyard. The Day's Work. 1898. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1913.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Traffics and Discoveries. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1904.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Abaft the Funnel: Authorized Edition. 1909. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Actions and Reactions. 1909. Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1920.
- Kipling, Rudyard. A Diversity of Creatures. 1917. The Medallion Edition. Dunedin: James Johnston, Limited / London: Macmillan and Co. Limited, n.d.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Debits and Credits. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1926.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Limits and Renewals. 1932. Ed. Phillip V. Mallett. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Ten Stories. London: Pan Books Ltd., 1947.
- Kipling, Rudyard. A Choice of Kipling's Prose. Ed. W. Somerset Maugham. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1952.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Short Stories. Volume 1: A Sahib’s War and Other Stories. Ed. Andrew Rutherford. 1971. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Short Stories. Volume 2: Friendly Brook and Other Stories. Ed. Andrew Rutherford. 1971. Penguin Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
- Kipling, Rudyard. The Jungle Books. 1894 & 1895. Illustrated by Stuart Tresilian. 1955. London: the Reprint Society, 1956.
- Kipling, Rudyard. The Brushwood Boy. 1895 & 1899. Illustrations by F. H. Townsend. 1907. London: Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1914.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Stalky & Co.: Complete. 1899. Ed. Isabel Quigley. The World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Just So Stories for Little Children: A Reprint of the First Edition. Illustrated by the Author. 1902. New York: Weathervane Books, 1978.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Puck of Pook's Hill. 1906. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1957.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Rewards and Fairies. 1910. Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1920.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Land & Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides. 1923. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1923.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Thy Servant a Dog, Told by Boots. Illustrated by G. L. Stampa. 1930. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1931.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Animal Stories from Rudyard Kipling. Illustrated by Stuart Tresilian. 1932. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1961.
- Kipling, Rudyard. All the Mowgli Stories. 1933. St. Martin’s Library. 1961. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1962.
- Kipling, Rudyard. 'Thy Servant a Dog' and Other Dog Stories. Illustrated by G. L. Stampa. 1938. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1960.
- Kipling, Rudyard. From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches: Letters of Travel. 1899. 2 vols. Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1914.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Sea Warfare. The Dominions Edition. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1916.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Letters of Travel (1892-1913). Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1920.
- Kipling, Rudyard. A Book of Words: Selections from Speeches and Addresses Delivered Between 1906 and 1927. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited, 1928.
- Kipling, Rudyard. Something of Myself: For My Friends Known and Unknown. 1937. Ed. Robert Hampson. Introduction by Richard Holmes. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.
- Gilbert, Elliot L., ed. “O Beloved Kids”: Rudyard Kipling’s Letters to his Children. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson., 1983.
- Green, Roger Lancelyn. Kipling and the Children. London: Elek Books Ltd., 1965.
- Carrington, Charles. Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work. 1955. London: Macmillan Limited, 1978.
The Works of Kipling: One Volume Edition (unauthorised: 1932)
Rudyard Kipling: Collected Verse (1912)
Rudyard Kipling: Abaft the Funnel (1909)
Rudyard Kipling: Animal Stories (1947)
Rudyard Kipling: Uncollected Speeches: A Second Book of Words (2008)
Rudyard Kipling: “O Beloved Kids” (1984)
Lord Birkenhead: Rudyard Kipling (1978)
Interesting Jack. I thought you had gone too far when you said you were reading Kipling! I thought you might be very very ill!
I have thought of reading him ever since my ex wife commented that he wrote very well. (She read some stories of his to my children). I saw that Eliot published a book of his poetry (by the way I don't think Eliot hardly noticed the war: for me The Wasteland is what it it is -- not something about the war). And re your interpretation of the story I think everyone needs to think for themselves. I don't know the story you discussed but it seems that an arbitrary analysis of a story is imposed by the students.
It interests me this as for years we had and still have 'Debits and Credits' given to my father in 1927 before leaving England. It has an elephant in a circle and a Swastika sign which puzzled me as a boy. (I know of course that it was used by Kipling first and the one the Nazis used has been 'rotated', that is it can't be mapped onto itself, it is a mirror image like a left and right hand. They destroyed that symbol.] I read all the Dickens novels on the shelf and things but I cant recall reading any Kipling. 'Debits and Credits' stayed there. Your post here moved me to get it down from the shelf my father had with his book of Shakespeare, one on specifications of materials, a physics book, a book about lettering techniques, a Thurber (I read the Thurber and the wonderful Edward Lear, the Wind in the Willows was read to me, we had as well as 'Texts and Pretexts' by Huxley)...but no Kipling. Kipling's 'Debits and Credits' remained untouched by me. I am not sure why. Later he just seemed too much of a jingoist.
I toyed with reading 'Kim' as it is supposed to be a classic. But I was diverted by other reading. So I can add him in with Austin as two writers I have not read. (I did read a poem by Kipling).
I am interested if he is compared to du Maupassant, who I did read as a teenager and still read...but some of the stories you mention are marked I presume by my father. He was twenty when he received it and read quite a lot.
I should also read that essay by Edmund Wilson (he is a good writer for sure).
And your points are good. The students were less in tune with Fish (not that I read anything by Fish either, just a Wiki bio and explic!) it seems to me as surely they opted for some kind of 'programmed' interpretation. I think Sontag's 'Against Interpretation' is significant. I read a critic re Cesar Vallejo that invokes her. If a story or poem is great it transcends time. For me it has little to do with the politics as such (o.k. we cant avoid politics in a general sense and of course we also always 'interpret') but for me Mallarme's view that poetry is primarily about words remains. In fact I want poems that are not about anything. I want magic and music. Great writing for me does that, even Joyce is pointless without his marvelous ability with words. Dicken's opening chapter in Bleak House is enough: the yellow smog is there, the marvelous descriptions, the language, the words, the real or imagined humans. The 'ghost' children I imagine are whatever the reader wants them to be. If the narrator calls them ghosts they are probably ghosts. We will forget all the lessons of poetry or literature, even art, but the magic mystery and beauty of it will remain regardless of context or style or mode. But it has to have that intensity. From what you have said Kipling had that.
However, as I write I still haven't read bother all Kipling so I will have to let the above remain as cobblers until I do!
A good post again. Of course, anything about books and the provenance of books etc etc fascinates me but your systematic biblionic (or bibliophilic?) journies, your fine madness is it? It is always inspiring...
Hi Jack. An interesting post. I made a long comment on here but it may not have 'stuck' or been apposite. I got interested and read more of the essay by Edmund Wilson which as you corrected me is 'The Kipling that Nobody Read' which is in Wilson's "The Wound and the Bow". Wilson's essay is so good I am reading it slowly. I did start it years ago. It had surprised me then. But slowly a more complex picture of Kipling has emerged just as we get fixed ideas about things. Indeed if you produce a writer that almost no one is interested in and are responsible for his or her revival (it has happened e.g. Larkin on Barbara Pym who was more neglected. (And it helped her posthumous sales, even while she was alive I think: I read one very good book she wrote). And indeed in this case Kipling as presented here is more interesting. And I intend, time permitting, to read some of his stories etc (I always knew he was a good childrens' writer as our children were read some of his books).
And I had that 1927 edition with the elephant and a swastika my father got from a friend in England.
I noticed looking at your other post on ghosts that, looking for Le Fanu (I only found one story), there were a number by Kipling. It seems many famous writers have written in that area or genre (although I think it widens its genre-ness): I did find a good ghost story by Muriel Spark.
I have quite a few interesting collections and some of Kipling's works.
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