In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rudyard Kipling

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Autobiography
  • Biographies and Memoirs
  • Manuscript Archives, Collections, and Libraries
  • Newspaper Archives
  • Kipling’s Houses
  • Journals
  • Correspondence

Victorian Literature Rudyard Kipling
John Lee
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0120


Rudyard Kipling (b. 1865–d. 1936), author and poet, is one of the most interesting and significant literary figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was not English but, in the terms of the time, Anglo-Indian, being born in Bombay to English parents. He was taken to England to be educated when almost six, returning to India ten years later. He worked as a newspaper editor and journalist for the next seven years, during which time he began publishing short stories and poems. In 1889 he returned to England to pursue a literary career. The size and speed of his success was an event in itself. He enjoyed a profound popularity with the English-speaking public through the 1890s, and a cultural stature that may have been unequalled, then or since. By 1892 he had created a remarkably wide-ranging literary landscape of British India. Over the next ten years, the first half of which was spent in Vermont with his American wife, he would create some of the classic works of children’s literature, such as The Jungle Books (1894 and 1895) and the Just So Stories (1902). During this period he also wrote Kim (1901), often described as the best book about India in English. In 1897 Kipling returned to England, and much of his writing in the 1900s was devoted to exploring the idea of England and Englishness, in part by reimagining the lived history of place. His use of the short story form, always technically sophisticated, showed sustained formal innovation during this period. The later prose style that grew out of this reached its climax in Debits and Credits (1926) and Limits and Renewals (1932), collections that include some of the most affecting “home front” Great War literature of their time. His Great War poetry had been similarly impressive. By the time of his death, however, his critical stature was much reduced. Kipling’s early vision of British India had offered Victorian England an affirmative picture of itself as an imperial nation. The analysis, and the political commitment it represented, was not immediately understood. Kipling made both increasingly clear through the 1890s in a topical poetry of remarkable power. His poems became national, and sometimes international, events, and he became a genuinely frightening figure to his political opponents. By the early years of the new century, he had more than lost the ear of Liberal England; his voice had become for them that of the jingoist, demotic politics Liberal England both set itself against and held responsible for the South African War. Kipling’s public popularity would remain, but his literary prestige was under constant attack. Internationally, the picture is more complex, as indicated by his receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

General Overviews

Montefiore 2007 and Mallet 2002 offer balanced and concise introductions to Kipling. Tompkins 1959 remains a remarkably detailed and broad introduction to the thematic concerns and technical art of Kipling’s prose. Parry 1992 gives the most detailed account of Kipling the poet as he was seen by his age. Wilson 1977 is in large part a longer, if more dated, version of Mallet 2002, but it also gives one of the finest of the many biographically driven accounts of Kipling’s work and career. Annan 1960 is an essay influential for making the case for an intellectual Kipling. Sullivan 1993 provides a good sense of the importance Kipling has assumed within postcolonial criticism. Green 1984 offers a stimulating if idiosyncratic picture of a Kipling attempting to change the literary values and forms of his day, and placing himself well outside “the great tradition” of English literature as he did so.

  • Annan, Noel. “Kipling’s Place in the History of Ideas.” Victorian Studies 3.4 (1960): 323–348.

    The nature of Kipling’s interest in the interrelation between individual and society marks him out as the first English author with a claim to be considered as a sociologist in the mold of Durkheim and Weber.

  • Green, Martin. “Rudyard Kipling: The Empire Strikes Back.” In The English Novel in the Twentieth Century: The Doom of Empire. By Martin Green, 16–45. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.

    Short and suggestive chapter on the importance of a Kipling who tried to lead a revolution in English literature by breaking its alliance with its middle-class and female audience.

  • Mallet, Phillip. Rudyard Kipling: A Literary Life. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

    A literary biography that gives a balanced overview of the movements of Kipling’s career, and a sense of some of the larger critical questions that have been asked of his work. Useful detail given concerning sales and earnings.

  • Montefiore, Jan. Rudyard Kipling. Horndon, UK: Northcote House, 2007.

    An introduction arranged by theme and period, which presents Kipling as a protomodernist. Irreconcilable ideological contradictions between and within stories and poems are taken to be a characteristic feature of his work.

  • Parry, Ann. The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling: Rousing the Nation. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 1992.

    Gives the best sense of Kipling’s stature as a national poet, and of the nature of his political influence. Groundbreaking in its treatment of the details of the political and social context of his poems.

  • Sullivan, Zohreh T. Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511519246

    Offers a psychoanalytic approach to the colonial discourses of Kipling’s early Indian fiction. Argues that Kipling is less the bard of empire than the explorer of the animating contradictions of the imperial project.

  • Tompkins, J. M. S. The Art of Rudyard Kipling. London: Methuen, 1959.

    The most substantial study of Kipling’s prose. Argues that a developing complexity of technique and maturity of thought can be seen throughout Kipling’s career. Largely focused on the stories, and organized on thematic principles.

  • Wilson, Angus. The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling. London: Secker and Warburg, 1977.

    A literary biography full of sharp readings of Kipling’s works. Argues for a Kipling whose fear of self-knowledge held him back from true greatness. Less impressed by Kipling’s later work than most.

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