KIM

Kim

Author: Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics (2009 Edition)
Bought from: NoQ Store

Introduction

Joseph Rudyard Kipling is one of England’s most famous poet and author. He was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. He was sent to England for formal education at the tender age of 5 years but not before, apparently, he formed a deep affection for India and its people and culture. He hated those early years in England. When he was 17 years old, Kipling returned to India as his parents could not afford to send him to university. Kipling worked as a newspaper journalist in Lahore and later Allahabad (in present day Pakistan), rekindled his love affair with the sub-continent and started writing poetry and fiction. In 1889, he returned to England to pursue his writing career. He published a number of well-received poems and short stories with a military theme, some of which were later collected in Barrack-Room Ballads (1892).

He married Caroline Starr Balestier, an American, and moved to her hometown Brattleboro, Vermont in 1892. Kipling’s 2 older children, Josephine (b 1893) and Elsie (b 1896) were born during this period as were his most famous children stories The Jungle Book (1894) and its sequel The Second Jungle Book (1895). In 1896, the Kiplings returned to England and their son John was born the following year. Kipling continued his writing career and his prolific output included the poem The White Man’s Burden (1899), the novel Kim (1901) and a collection of short stories for children Just So Stories (1902) originally written for his daughter Josephine who had died of pneumonia 3 years earlier. In 1907, Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first English author to receive this honour and as of 2014 still the youngest winner at 42. In 1910, the poem If– was published in a collection of poetry and short stories. This paean to a stiff upper lip and stoicism is regularly voted as England’s favourite poem even today. Kipling wrote the poem in honour of an imperialist British leader in the Boer War and as advice for his son John. As WWI approached, Kipling zealously supported Britain’s involvement and pushed his son John to enlist. Tragically, John died in the Battle of Loos (1915) in France. He was only 18. Kipling was devasted by the early death of a second child and his writings would never again achieve the heights of his earlier works. Rudyard Kipling died in 1936 and his ashes were buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey next to the graves of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.

Kipling grew up and wrote his major works during the late Victorian Era, a period marked by differing views about the British Empire which was then at its apogee. These views are embodied in the foreign policies of the 2 rival titans of late 19th century British politics: Benjamin Disraeli (Conservative Prime Minister 1868 and 1874–80) and William Gladstone (Liberal Prime Minister 1868–74, 1880-85, 1886, 1892–4). Disraeli stood for militarised colonialism while Gladstone was more ambivalent about Britain’s aggressive expansionism abroad. The imperialist and even racist veins in many of Kipling’s works resonated with the Victorians in Disraeli’s camp. With the waning of the Empire after 1914–1915, however, suspicions about the Empire began to surface and Kipling’s legacy underwent a revaluation. In an essay (1942), George Orwell wrote “Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting.”

What is the story about?

The novel is set against the backdrop of The Great Game, a term used to describe the struggle between the British and Russian Empires for territory and influence in Central Asia from 1813 to around 1907. Kim was an orphan of Irish origin left to fend for his own in Lahore. He grew up balancing two starkly different quests: firstly, accompanying an old Tibetan lama searching for a River of The Arrow and secondly spying for the British government.

Themes

Kipling is the first English language writer and as of 2015 still the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the presentation ceremony on December 10, 1907, C.D. af Wirsén, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy paid the following homage to Kim in his speech:

Among the large number of Kipling’s creations, Kim (1901) deserves special notice, for in the delineation of the Buddhist priest, who goes on a pilgrimage along the banks of the stream that purifies from sin, there is an elevated diction as well as a tenderness and charm which are otherwise unusual traits in this dashing writer’s style. There is, too, in the figure of the little rascal Kim, the priest’s chela, a thorough type of good-humoured roguishness.

Kim is an example of a picaresque novel, a sub-genre which is traditionally considered to have originated in mid-16th century Spain. Picaresque novels are characterised by the adventures of a low-born but appealing hero (picaro in Spanish) told in humorous episodes and in plain/realistic language.

How is the book?

This is a complete and unabridged edition from Wordsworth Classics. It comes with an introduction by Cedric Watts of University of Sussex. Kipling’s works are in the public domain. But this Wordsworth Classics edition, costing only S$3.58 bought during a free-delivery promotion, is attractively priced.

Finally …

Not much happens in the book.  Very wordy.