Mowgli's Brothers

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Mowgli's Brothers

Rudyard Kipling

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading


"Mowgli's Brothers" was first published in May of 1894 as one of seven stories included in Rudyard Kipling's collection The Jungle Book. Several years after first outlining the traits and personality of his character Mowgli, Kipling published The Jungle Book, which was considered "the literary event" of 1894. Kipling is known for his colorful depictions of characters, both human and animal, and for setting, most often the jungles of India, and his predilection for delivering a moral or lesson. "Mowgli's Brothers" is no exception. It is the story of the orphaned boy, Mowgli, who is adopted by a pack of wolves and must learn how to live in the jungle with the pack. The tale is rich in self-exploration and the search for personal identity.

The story exemplifies the struggle between Mowgli's learned traits as a wolf and his innate traits as a man. The two mutually exclusive identities create great difficulty for Mowgli as he attempts to be both what he is by birth and what he has become in the jungle. Through his attention to the Law of the Jungle, Mowgli is proven a worthy member of the pack. Yet, through his innate human faculties, he possesses a power that is enviable among the jungle creatures. In the polar characteristics of Mowgli's complex identity as wolf and man, Kipling constructs a didactic framework from which he delivers lessons and morals.

Author Biography

Joseph Rudyard Kipling, a turn of the nineteenth-century author, was one of Britain's most distinguished writers of novels and short stories. A prolific writer, Kipling achieved recognition quickly, and his works left an impressive mark on the literary world of short fiction and children's literature.

Kipling was born December 30, 1865 in Bombay, India, the first child of John Lockwood Kipling and his wife Alice. Except for a short trip to England in 1868 for the birth of his sister, Kipling lived in India most of his first five years. Kipling's sister appeared to be stillborn, with a black eye and a broken arm, but was revived by the doctor. This event earned her the nickname Trixie, for her father's description of her as a "tricksy baby."

During the latter half of his stay in India, Rudyard was considered a tiny despot. He was a rowdy, vocal, and slightly unruly child. He spoke to the servants in their native tongue, loved his ayah (Indian maid or nurse), and was sincerely happy surrounded by India's exotic riches. However, the pleasure he found in India was short-lived, as his parents sought to save their children from the fever-ridden climate and wanted them to acquire English educations. Thus, in 1871, Rudyard and Trixie were sent to be educated at a foster home in Southsea, Hampshire. Rudyard was incredibly forlorn and the experiences of these early years undeniably shaped his writings.

In 1878, Kipling attended a boarding school known as the United Services College at Westward Ho in north Devon. Over the next four years, Rudyard became a voracious reader and his writing skills blossomed. At sixteen, Kipling returned to his parents in Lahore, India and began working for the newspapers, the Civil and Military Gazette and the Pioneer. Alongside his journalism, Kipling wrote many poems and short stories. These writings were later collected and published, winning him early fame.

During his years with the Pioneer, Kipling was able to do a great deal of traveling. In 1889, he went through Asia and the United States, visiting Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, and New York City. By 1890, Kipling made his way to England where he befriended Wolcott Balestair, an American literary agent living in London. The two worked together briefly before Wolcott's untimely death from typhus in 1891.

In 1892, Rudyard married Wolcott's sister, Carrie Balestair, and the two embarked on a round-the-world voyage. During this trip, Kipling outlined "Mowgli's Brothers" and, upon completion of the trip, the couple settled in Brattleboro, Vermont. In Brattleboro, the Kiplings had their first two children, Josephine and Elsie. It is also there that Kipling wrote his most famous work, The Jungle Book.

The Kiplings returned to England in 1896, due to a family quarrel, and they quickly had their third child, John. In 1899, during a visit to United States, the family fell ill with pneumonia and Josephine died. During these years, some of Kipling's most famous works were published. He gained world recognition for The Jungle Book, The Second Jungle Book, Kim, Stalky & Co., and Just So Stories.

Although he was content throughout most of his life, Josephine's death had a profound impact upon Kipling. The loss was devastating, and in the wake of his increasing popularity, it was difficult for Kipling to escape tourists and devotees. In 1902 he moved, seeking seclusion, to a home in Sussex where he spent all of his remaining years. However, Kipling continued to write and travel. His works earned him great accolades, including knighthood and the poet laureateship of England, most of which he refused. He did, however, accept one award, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

As his works depict, Kipling was feverishly passionate about travel and dedicated to his children. All of his popular works were filled with lessons to children and inspired adults, giving newfound meaning to the genre of children's literature. On January 18, 1936, Rudyard Kipling died of peritonitis caused by a hemorrhaging gastric ulcer. His work continued to be praised into the early 2000s, its morals and the metaphors of his tales, fables, and novels proving to be timeless.

Plot Summary

The story opens with the presentation of Mother and Father Wolf and the family's necessity for food. Father Wolf is readying himself to begin hunting to feed his mate and cubs when the jackal, Tabaqui, enters their den looking for scraps. Tabaqui finds a bone and is satisfied. After eating the bone, the devious jackal compliments the wolves' children to their faces, which is considered unlucky. Both Mother and Father Wolf are uncomfortable, and Tabaqui revels in his mischief. Amidst the tension, Tabaqui delivers the news that the lame tiger, Shere Kahn, plans to shift his hunting patterns to the wolves' hills. This news angers Father Wolf who knows that the tiger will disrupt the patterns of local game, making his hunt increasingly difficult. The exchange so frustrates Father Wolf that he throws Tabaqui out of his den.

After sending Tabaqui out of their cave, Mother and Father Wolf hear the tiger below in the brush. Father Wolf is angered because the tiger's noise will surely scare away his family's dinner. Mother Wolf realizes that Shere Kahn is not hunting game, but man. The wolves are anxious as they listen to the tiger because the Law of the Jungle forbids killing man, except under certain circumstances. They hear the tiger spring to attack, but none of the villagers is caught. The tiger lands in the fire, burning his paws and scaring the villagers away. The wolves are pleased, but they hear something coming towards their den. Father Wolf poises himself for attack, and just as the creature is about to arrive, Father Wolf leaps to attack. Checking mid-jump, Father Wolf realizes the creature is a small "man-cub." Father brings the boy into the den and the boy pushes his way in between the wolf cubs looking for warmth. Next, Shere Kahn and Tabaqui arrive, blocking the entrance to the wolves' cave and demanding the man-cub. Father Wolf does not comply, and the tiger roars with anger. Mother Wolf leaps forward, threatening and insulting the lame tiger. Shere Kahn, although filled with fury, leaves the den, proclaiming that eventually he will get the man-cub. Shere Kahn knows that tall cubs, man or beast, must be presented to the pack at Council Rock. The tiger believes the pack will reject the man-cub, and he will be able to finally eat the boy.

Media Adaptations

  • The stories of Mowgli from The Jungle Book have been adapted for the screen. Most notable is Disney's 1967 animated feature staring Phil Harris as the voice of Baloo and Bruce Reitherman as the feral man-cub, Mowgli.
  • In addition to the animated feature, Disney produced a second adaptation in 1994, called Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book." Stephen Sommers directed Disney's return to the tales of Mowgli, setting aside animation in favor of live action.
  • In 1942, Zoltan Korda directed a rough rendition of The Jungle Book, starring the young Indian actor, Sabu. The movie does not follow the text exactly, but the movie's Technicolor and exotic setting are effective.

The wolves decide they must keep the man-cub, and Mother Wolf names him Mowgli the Frog because he is small and hairless. After some time, Mother and Father Wolf decide that it is time to present their cubs to the pack at Council Rock. At the Council Rock, the cubs are all brought before the pack. Akela, the leader, instructs everyone to, "Look well—look well, O Wolves!" If there is a dispute over the right of a cub to be accepted into the pack, then the cub must be spoken for by two members of the pack other than his mother and father. Mother Wolf pushes Mowgli into the middle of the pack to be accepted or rejected. There is a great disturbance, fueled by Shere Kahn's desire to eat the boy. Yet, in the end, two extended members of the back, Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther, speak for Mowgli. Baloo agrees to teach the boy the Law of the Jungle, and Bagheera buys the pack with a freshly killed bull. With this, Mowgli enters the wolf pack.

After Mowgli's first appearance at Council Rock, the story leaps forward by a decade. With the help of his family, Baloo, and Bagheera, Mowgli now understands the Law of the Jungle. He knows what to eat, how to kill, and how to enjoy the jungle. He understands that Shere Kahn is not to be trusted. Mother Wolf tells him that one day he must kill Shere Kahn.

Akela is aging, and Shere Kahn sees the changing of leadership as an opportunity to turn the pack against Mowgli. He plants the seed of envy amongst the young wolves by reminding them that no animal in the jungle can look Mowgli between the eyes. The tiger challenges the wolves by proclaiming that Mowgli is too powerful, too much like man, and that he does not belong in the jungle. Shere Kahn convinces part of the pack to plot against Akela. Once Akela misses a kill, the Law of the Jungle allows the pack to challenge the leader one-by-one until someone kills the leader, taking his position. With the change of tide, Shere Kahn believes he will finally be allowed to eat Mowgli.

Bagheera is aware of Shere Kahn's devious plan. He informs Mowgli and counsels the boy. The panther tells Mowgli to steal fire from the village and then, at Council Rock when the pack is set to challenge Akela, wield the fire and save the aging leader from the tiger's cabal. Mowgli follows Bagheera's advice. At his final appearance at Council Rock, Mowgli listens to Shere Kahn's attempts to incite his followers to overthrow Akela. Clearly his only motivation is his desire to eat Mowgli. With a large portion of the pack against him, Mowgli begins to understand that he must leave the jungle and return to a human existence. Yet, in a final act of gratitude, Mowgli silences Shere Kahn and his wolves. He ignites a dead branch with the fire he has stolen from the villagers, frightening all the beasts. Mowgli exerts the power of fire, burning Shere Kahn and sending him howling into the jungle. After disposing of the tiger, Mowgli demands that Akela be allowed to live, and he banishes the mutinous members of the pack. With this final show of power, Mowgli knows he must forever leave the jungle and enter an unknown future in the village. He says farewell to his foster family and walks down the hillside toward the village.



Akela is the stoic leader of the wolf pack. He is also called The Lone Wolf. At Council Rock, Akela shows no change in emotion as the families present their cubs to the pack. Even when Mother Wolf pushes Mowgli into the moonlight, Akela proclaims, "Look Well, O Wolves!" Akela proves himself a fair leader even when his pack wishes to banish Mowgli. He stands by the man-cub as part of the pack because Mowgli has proven himself. Akela has great respect for the Law of the Jungle and rules his wolves with integrity and justice. Mowgli, recognizing Akela's good and faithful nature, saves Akela from certain death at their final meeting at Council Rock.


Bagheera, a cunning, terrifying black panther, is known both as a smooth talker and a wild, reckless assailant of the jungle. At the first Council Rock, as the pack circles hoping to kill Mowgli, Bagheera offers a recently killed bull to the pack in exchange for the child's life. This, coupled with Baloo's offer to teach the boy the Law of the Jungle, saves Mowgli's life. Bagheera plays an important role in Mowgli's development. Bagheera lived among men as a young panther and, thus, knows the character of man, and he recognizes them in Mowgli. Most pervasive and devastating to Mowgli's future in the pack is his ability to stare down any animal in the jungle, even the fierce Bagheera. Bagheera's explanation of Mowgli's place among men and his power over the animals helps guide Mowgli in his final appearance at Council Rock. Bagheera is Mowgli's mentor, his most trusted guide as Mowgli makes his final maneuvers before leaving the jungle.


Baloo, a quiet, brown bear, is responsible for teaching wolf cubs the Law of the Jungle. Although a famous character from other stories, Baloo is only briefly mentioned in "Mowgli's Brothers." At the first meeting at Council Rock, Baloo speaks for the man-cub and promises to teach him the ways of the pack. Baloo and Bagheera the panther are responsible for saving Mowgli from the wolves at this first meeting at Council Rock.

Father Wolf

Father Wolf is Mowgli's surrogate father in "Mowgli's Brothers." Father Wolf nearly kills Mowgli as he rustles out of the bushes, fleeing from a tiger. Father Wolf checks his lunge, just as the boy ambles out. Mother Wolf and Father Wolf decide to raise the boy alongside their cubs and, when the time is right, bring Mowgli before the pack at Council Rock.

Mother Wolf

Mother Wolf is Mowgli's surrogate mother in "Mowgli's Brothers." She is also called Raksha, The Demon, because of her prowess as a hunter and devoted mother. Mother Wolf is responsible for naming Mowgli and convincing Father Wolf to raise him with their other cubs. At Council Rock when it appears the pack may not accept Mowgli, Mother Wolf shows devotion to her man-cub as she prepares to fight to the death to protect him from Shere Kahn and the naysaying members of the pack. She is deeply devoted to and proud of Mowgli and incredibly saddened by his decision to leave the jungle.


Mowgli, the main character of "Mowgli's Brothers," is first named by Mother Wolf as Mowgli the Frog when he wanders into their den after a narrow escape from the tiger, Shere Kahn. Although a human, Mowgli, with the help of Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther, is accepted at Council Rock by the pack as one of their own. Because of his innate human traits, Mowgli is able to stare down and intimidate the animals of the jungle. Mowgli does not recognize this as an enviable skill; he simply finds it amusing that the animals will lower their eyes when he stares at them. Unfortunately, this creates a division among the animals—those who are friendly with Mowgli and those who are envious of Mowgli. Eventually, Mowgli recognizes that his inclusion in the pack is disrupting the Laws of the Jungle and that many wish to banish him from the jungle. Yet before his departure, Mowgli takes it upon himself to right several wrongs, punishing Shere Kahn and the wolves that turned against him and saving Akela from an unjust death. His self-realization as a man and the division among the pack members lead Mowgli to his voluntary exile from the jungle and his return to the world of man.

Shere Kahn

Shere Kahn is the tiger responsible for scaring a human family who, in their retreat from the tiger, abandon their young son. The young child, Mowgli, wanders into a wolves' den. Shere Kahn looks eagerly for the easy meal, but it is to no avail because Mother and Father Wolf refuse to give the boy up. Shere Kahn, also referred to as The Big One, Lungri, and The Lame One (due to his lame paw), is most noted for disrupting the Laws of the Jungle. Because of his lame paw, Shere Kahn preys too frequently upon man and domestic cattle. Shere Kahn's choices disturb regular movements of game and have even brought men into the jungle, bearing torches and guns. Later, when Mowgli is brought to Council Rock, the pack's decision to accept the man-cub angers Shere Kahn who vows to avenge his lost meal and someday eat him. However, his plans are foiled because Mowgli grows up with great prowess, and his skill becomes the envy of the jungle. Eventually, Mowgli is the avenger, burning Shere Kahn's brow and sending him howling into the jungle.


Tabaqui is a mangy, untrustworthy jackal referred to as The Dish Licker. He is Shere Kahn's sidekick. Tabaqui directs Shere Kahn to Mother and Father Wolf's den as the tiger searches for his lost meal, the child later named Mowgli. In the den, Tabaqui comments about the Wolf's cubs, making them both very uncomfortable. Eventually, because of Tabaqui's deviousness and Shere Kahn's tyrannical requests, Mother and Father Wolf scorn them both, driving them from their den.


Nature versus Nurture

The nature part of the story pertains to Mowgli's innate classification as a human. His body is human, hairless and upright. The nurture part of the story pertains to his learned traits and characteristics. His extended foster family teaches him everything he must know to be a wolf. He hunts when he is hungry; he sleeps in a cave with his family. Mowgli understands and lives by the Law of the Jungle. Mowgli's identity grows based on both his innate nature and the conditioning he receives from his surrogate family. Although he never breaks the Law of the Jungle, he continues to develop his prowess as a human being. This fact is evident in his ability to stare down any animal in the jungle. In addition, Mowgli grows as a human even though he follows the jungle code. He understands and recognizes himself as being like the villagers even though he feels as if he could live as a wolf for all of his days.

Experience and Knowledge

Mowgli develops an understanding of the jungle based on his experience. Interacting with the jungle and the teachings of Baloo, Bagheera, his family, and the pack shape his experience and develop his knowledge of the jungle. In this regard, Mowgli is an example of empiricism. With his accumulation of knowledge through experience, Mowgli is able to develop the skills necessary for survival and pleasure in the jungle. Experience provides him with knowledge, both of the jungle and of himself as a wolf.

Reason and Knowledge

Mowgli develops his knowledge of humans through his reasoning faculty. It is from within that Mowgli is able to grasp his identity as a human. He is able to see the similarity between himself and the villagers, but it is his deduction that leads him to the knowledge of his inborn nature. Reason compels Mowgli to grasp the universals that mandate his power over the animals. Even Mowgli's dear friend and mentor, Bagheera, the most feared animal in the jungle, cannot withstand the stare of the boy. Mowgli does not learn the power of the stare. He grows to understand it through the rationalist process of deductive reasoning. This power, in turn, helps Mowgli to understand the determined laws that dictate his nature as a human being.


In "Mowgli's Brothers," Mowgli faces abandonment twice: first, he loses his family in the tiger attack, and, second, at the end of the story, he is cast out by the pack. Both events are compensated by victories. When Mowgli loses his family, he is embraced, protected, and accepted by a team of foster parents: Mother and Father Wolf, Akela, Baloo, and Bagheera. His extended family loves him deeply, but they are also aware and leery of his power. The boy's strength as a human being lessens his vulnerability. This circumstance mitigates the trauma of his separation from his birth family. In the other instance, when most of the pack wishes to banish Mowgli, he defeats his enemy, the lame tiger, Shere Kahn. Mowgli overcomes the banishment by singeing the tiger, sending him fleeing into the jungle, and by exercising his will over the pack to save Akela and get rid of his saboteurs.

Topics For Further Study

  • When he returns to his family and the village after being away in the jungle for a decade Mowgli is not prepared for human lifestyle. How would you expect Mowgli to interact with his father? What would be some possible arguments Mowgli might face living in a house as opposed to a cave? Are there any lessons that would cross over or possibly even benefit his human family?
  • British imperialism played an important role in Kipling's writing and life. The social codes he felt compelled to follow were directly related to his fevered defense and support of spreading justice. However, it is apparent his wishes were not fulfilled as many Indians suffered great injustice and dehumanization. Research another example of imperialism during the last two centuries, explaining the impact on literature and politics.
  • Charles Darwin was a British naturalist who lived during the nineteenth century. In his work On the Origin of Species, Darwin constructs a scientific theory of evolution, concluding that variations within a species occur at random and that survival of each organism is dependant upon that organism's ability to adapt to an environment. In light of this theory, examine Mowgli as an evolutionary human organism. Is Mowgli still human? Is he a wolf? Has he undergone a specialization that sets him apart from all humans and all animals, thus creating a new organism? If he is not a new organism, what can be made of his adaptation to the jungle environment?

Laws and Codes

Kipling's story is based on laws and codes. He constructs a strict Law of the Jungle that mimics the strictness of the code Mowgli's foster family makes Mowgli follow as a youth. Within a framework of codes, Kipling creates the complicated title character. With the Law of Jungle and the Law of Man, Mowgli faces two systems that are intended to dictate his decisions. However, these codes clash, so Mowgli is pulled in opposite directions.

Discrimination and Envy

Kipling explores both discrimination and envy in "Mowgli's Brothers." In the beginning of the story, Mowgli is treated differently than the other wolf cubs because his appearance is different than theirs. Because Mowgli is a member of another specie and looks different, and the wolf pack wants nothing to do with him. He is different. He cannot be accepted as a member because he does not look like the group. Luckily, Baloo and Bagheera are able to save Mowgli from certain death. Later, as the boy grows and learns, discrimination and envy become linked. Mowgli learns the Law of the Jungle, and it directs his decisions. At the same time, because he is human, he is able stare down the animals. While Mowgli sees this trait as humorous, the animals see it as proof that he is superior to them. The animals see his stare as proof that he is wise beyond their comprehension. Shere Kahn and the wolves are jealous of Mowgli's stare, so they work together to banish Mowgli from the pack. Their envy of Mowgli's apparent power causes them to want to drive Mowgli from the jungle.

Mowgli as a Jungian Archetype

Psychologist Carl Jung used the term archetype in connection with his description of the unconscious. He argued that the unconscious is composed of two parts: the personal, consisting of an individual's own memories and repressed information; and the universal or archetypal, consisting of those patterns and symbolic elements that all human beings inherit from a shared racial past. The content an individual shares with all other members of the race Jung called the collective unconscious. The archetype is prototypical or original material. This content surfaces in literature in the form of the recurrent story, myth, or character type. It causes strong emotional response because it is universally relevant. Literary criticism can apply the term archetype to a given story or character that illustrates a paradigm or recurrent pattern.

Mowgli's story echoes the myth of Romulus and Remus, the twin boys who were taken from their mother and thrown into the Tiber River. The brothers were discovered by a female wolf, who suckled them. In this myth, Romulus grew up to become the founder of Rome. The character of Mowgli and his story repeat some features of the Romulus myth. Mowgli, a human child, is reared among wolves and then leaves the animal kingdom to return to human civilization. In this sense, then, one might say that Mowgli is archetypal. In terms of Jung's idea of the collective unconscious, one might interpret the end of Mowgli's story, his departure from the jungle and return to the village, as a reenactment of a memory stored in the vague recesses of the unconscious of a time when human beings stood upright and "left" the animal kingdom. Something distinguished these very early human-like beings from the animals around them (perhaps their ability to stare down the animals), and this difference caused them to separate from jungle existence. The remembered moment is itself a construction or distillation of a developmental process that occurred during the development of the human race. That extremely slow process is compressed and dramatized succinctly in Mowgli's departure from the wolf pack.


Beast Fable

"Mowgli's Brothers," as well as the other short stories in Kipling's collection, is a beast fable, a story in which the characters are animals with human faculties. Kipling's fable teaches lessons. The fable is effective in "Mowgli's Brothers" because it creates a world beyond human civilization, the jungle, which is governed by a different set of rules. The animals are expected to follow the Law of the Jungle. Within the fable, animals are able to reason and speak within a set of laws similar to man's laws but still outside them. The fable form allows the mutually exclusive laws of man and beast to be dramatized. Even if the Law of the Jungle is similar to the Law of Man, the distinction between animals and humans makes clear the differences between their codes. Thus, the fable, which puts forth these two codes, provides the stage for Mowgli's conflict of identity.

Point of View and Narrative Voice

Kipling uses the third person in "Mowgli's Brothers." The third-person narrative defines the contrasting laws without bias. However, the narrative is sometimes emotional. The narrator describes lawbreakers, like Shere Kahn and Tabaqui, negatively. These characters are unattractive, while kindly characters, such as Bagheera, are described in positive terms. This helps to create the tone needed to develop the plot and conflict between the characters.

Historical Context

Born in India in 1865, Kipling was a product of late nineteenth-century British imperialism, an expansionist policy that justified the economic benefits to be had in conquering undeveloped lands with a language of paternalism and benevolence. In 1899, Kipling's poem, "White Man's Burden" (which was in fact addressed to Americans as they took control of the Philippines) revealed the racism inherent in imperialism and, historically, did much to tarnish Kipling's reputation.

The purpose of British imperialism in the second half of the nineteenth century was to find a solution to longstanding economic depression in England. The answer seemed to lie in the previously untapped natural and cultivated resources of other countries. Many people shared Kipling's belief that the British were racially superior and that this supposed superiority obliged the British to impose their culture, government, and education system on other countries. The propaganda of the day, openly attacked in Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness (1902), claimed that the dark races in non-industrialized regions of the Earth would be given the lamp of progress. In truth indigenous cultures were destroyed, natives were often virtually enslaved, and local resources were exploited. However this situation was not initially the perception back home. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the British Empire controlled one-fourth of the inhabited land on the Earth. In 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. When she celebrated her fiftieth and her sixtieth anniversaries as queen (in 1887 and 1897), Victoria was heralded as the greatest of monarchs.

Compare & Contrast

  • Late Nineteenth Century: Kipling and other British imperialists staunchly believe in the benefits of colonization and its positive effect on economy, justice, and public health worldwide.

    Today: Historians and modern politicians alike are quick to note that imperialism, regardless of the era, has a dire impact on indigenous cultures.
  • Late Nineteenth Century: Conservatism dictates the social code under which men and women interact. Women and men are expected to remain reserved under all social circumstances.

    Today: Men and women alike are believed to be empowered with creativity and are encouraged to show their individuality and to think "outside the box." Television shows featuring extreme behavior and achievement are popular.
  • Late Nineteenth Century: Strict adherence to code and law is imperative to being a good, upstanding citizen. There is little flexibility in conservatism and the Victorian order must be upheld at all costs.

    Today: Adherence to the law is presented as essential for the proper functioning of society, but this is balanced with an awareness of the weaknesses of the legal system. In addition, in the United States, the more conservative Republican party and the more liberal Democratic party vie for political control of the country, so the country may alternate between a period of greater conservatism and a period of greater liberalism.

Kipling believed in imperialism; he believed in the responsibility and duty of spreading British laws and their administration and enforcement. In stories, like "Mowgli's Brothers," the effect of British imperialism on Kipling's storytelling is evident. He created stories and characters that are ruled by laws. While creating entertaining plots, Kipling used these rules to create tension, cause conflict, and provide a means for expressing lessons and morals.

Critical Overview

Unlike many authors, Kipling received praise early in his career and consistently throughout his life. In 1894 when it first appeared in print, The Jungle Book, however, received both praise and criticism. Some viewed the publication as one of the greatest literary events of the year. Several publications lauded Kipling's work. For example, according to Harry Ricketts in his biography of Kipling, the Athenaeum gave its praise: "our sincere thanks to Mr. Kipling for the hour of pure and unadulterated enjoyment which he has given us, and many another reader, by this inimitable 'Jungle Book.'"

Yet Kipling and The Jungle Book were criticized, too. According to Ricketts, the American Henry James wrote to English writer, Edmund Gosse:

He sends me too [James told Gosse] his jungle book which I have read with extreme admiration. But how it closes his doors & sets his limit! The rise to 'higher types' that one hoped for—I mean the care for life in a finer way—is the rise to the mongoose & the care for the wolf. The violence of it all, the almost exclusive preoccupation with fighting & killing, is also singularly characteristic.

The Jungle Book was intended for children, not adults. Yet it was full of warring creatures, savage beasts, and conflict resolved by force and fire. But despite the more brutal elements, the morals of the stories remained central, and the book was propelled into the spotlight, for both juvenile and adult readers.

Even though some authors expressed criticism, Kipling's importance was acknowledged by some of his peers. Mark Twain, for example, according to Ricketts, stated that Kipling as "the only living person not head of a nation, whose voice is heard around the world the moment wit drops a remark." Other authors, both British and American, agreed; Kipling was held in high regard, both as a writer and a public figure.

In 1927 several enthusiasts founded the Kipling Society. The literary society, which still existed as of 2006, published a quarterly magazine, The Kipling Journal, containing literary criticism, historical information, and biographical information.

In fact, Kipling's fiction and his message were interesting enough to stimulate much detailed, academic discussion. M. Flint states in his article in Studia Neophilogica, "Mowgli's cognitive development can be seen in the way his focalization of the world, while remaining restricted, ultimately allows him to realize that the code of signification, the paradigms, of the animal world are no longer adequate to explain and understand his own world…." Flint's analysis of Mowgli dissects the character's struggle with his own identity amidst the contrasting codes of man and beast. Beyond Mowgli, this struggle connects to the search for identify and community in a context large enough to confront the individual with difference and exclusion.


Anthony Martinelli

Martinelli is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor. In this essay, Martinelli examines the identity of the main character, Mowgli, through rational and empirical philosophical doctrines.

In "Mowgli's Brothers," Rudyard Kipling tells the tale of his celebrated "man-cub," who is rescued from certain death as an infant and raised by a pack of wolves. Although a human being, Mowgli effectively becomes a "wolf cub" in nearly every other respect and grows to adopt the Law of the Jungle as his code of behavior. However, through his innate ability to reason, Mowgli soon recognizes the existence of the Law of Man as a distinct code of behavior, a recognition that immediately gives rise to a conflict between codes, sending Mowgli into an existential crisis. Mowgli is, essentially, a character trapped between the Law of the Jungle and the Law of Man. Mowgli's struggle to resolve this crisis represents the tension between the opposed philosophical doctrines, empiricism and rationalism. Mowgli makes choices, defines his being, and is an existentialist as he exercises his will outside the structure of a particular dogma, making Mowgli a prototypical existentialist.

The Law of the Jungle, as explained explicitly in the story, is the set of rules that dictates the education, movements, and interactions of different groups of animals within the jungle and animals' relationships to humans outside the jungle. While an important part of the communication between the beasts in the jungle is each animal's need for food, the most important code pertains to killing man. The Law of the Jungle greatly limits an animal's right to kill man because frequent hunting of humans brings "the arrival of white men on elephants, with guns and hundreds of brown men with gongs and rockets and torches" and disrupts the balance of the jungle.

The Law of the Jungle also imposes rules that are particular to classifications of animals. On a wider scale, cubs are taught the Law of the Jungle through experiences within the jungle. With the help of elders and friendly beasts, such as Baloo the Bear, Mowgli develops his understanding of the Law of the Jungle and is able to build his position in the jungle through experience. Through this empirically gained identity, Mowgli is able to adhere to the Law of the Jungle and see himself as part of the pack.

An analysis of Mowgli's position as "Mowgli the Wolf" and his realization of "self" through his interactions with the jungle creates an empirically determined identity. As a philosophical doctrine, empiricism is defined by the contention that all knowledge of matters of fact (e.g. the jungle or the village) distinct and separate from the relation of concepts (e.g. mathematics or philosophy) is based upon experience. In short, all knowledge, outside purely conceptual relations, has its source in what is experienced, not what is simply imagined or thought. John Locke, often considered the father of British empiricism, argued in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding that in experience "all our Knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself." Therefore, Mowgli's knowledge of the jungle and of what it means to be a wolf comes from the empirical data that bombard his senses through his interactions with the jungle.

The Law of Man does not necessarily contradict the code followed in the jungle, but it certainly occurs exclusively and separately from the Law of the Jungle. Man, after all, exists outside the jungle, just as beasts exist outside the village. In the story, the codes of man, unlike the codes of the jungle, are revealed through negation and rational deduction. The Law of Man is not explained in the text like that of the Law of the Jungle; instead it must be understood through the way Kipling and other British people lived during the Victorian period. It is reasonable to assume that the codes humans follow in Kipling's stories are the same codes that dictate human interactions in his era. A code of man, for instance, can be deduced as follows: when beasts from the jungle kill man with too great a frequency, the Law of Man dictates that the jungle should be torched and that animals should be killed or driven deeper into the woods. The code followed by man is, in the broad sense, about self-preservation.

What Do I Read Next?

  • The Second Jungle Book, the second and final installment, was published in 1895. Much like The Jungle Book, the second consists of poems and short stories about the jungle, animals, and, most important, the man-cub Mowgli.
  • Captains Courageous, published serially in McClure's Magazine in 1897, is the story of Harvey Cheyne, the pampered son of a millionaire, who falls overboard from an ocean liner. He is rescued by a fishing vessel where he must work, initially against his will, to hold his place aboard the boat. Like Mowgli, Harvey is inadvertently thrust into a completely foreign world where he is forced to adapt in order to survive.
  • Stalky & Co (1899), based upon Kipling's experience at the United World College Westward Ho!, is a collection of short school stories. Kipling appears as the main character, Beetle, who learns lessons about imperialism, warfare, and becoming a man of service.
  • Kim, published serially in McClure's Magazine in 1901, is often called Kipling's finest work. This is the story of an orphan born in colonial India who is torn between his love of India's culture and vitality and the demands of British imperialism.
  • Kipling's Just-So Stories (1902) is a well-known collection of short stories giving imaginative answers to questions like "How did the whale get his throat?" and "Who invented the alphabet?"
  • Heart of Darkness (1902), by Joseph Conrad, is a complicated adult novel. It is the tale of Marlow, a seaman, who makes a journey up the Congo River. In part the novel is Conrad's attack on imperialism and the abuses of Leopold II who regarded Congo as his personal resource.
  • Anne of Green Gables (1908), by Canadian author L. M. Montgomery, is a children's classic from Kipling's era. Anne of Green Gables captures the hopes and struggles of childhood and is considered Montgomery's most famous work.
  • Peter Pan (1911), by J. M. Barrie, is another children's classic from Kipling's era. Similar to "Mowgli's Brothers," the story of Peter Pan contrasts good and evil and is intended to teach lessons and morals.
  • Volume 2 of The Letters of Rudyard Kipling (1995) covers the years between 1890 and 1899. This was a pivotal time in Kipling's life when he first becomes a celebrity and when he lost his beloved daughter to pneumonia.

The Law of Man during this late-Victorian era is primarily commanded by rules established by courts and by ethical and moral codes outlined by the church. The courts mandate that certain crimes, such as murder, are illegal. These types of actions are in opposition to the Law of Man and are, thus, punishable. The church defines moral human behavior with rigid statements about family values and individual obligation to God: fathers are expected to provide for their children and wives; mothers are expected to raise their children and support their husbands; and all of mankind is expected to respect God and his creations. Although there is little interaction with humans in the story, Mowgli does come into contact with one group of humans when he is attempting to acquire fire. It is Mowgli's first exposure to a nuclear family, and he comments, "they are very like me." The description of the family, although brief, suggests the importance of family and its place in the code of man.

Mowgli does not live under the Law of Man, yet it is apparent to the inhabitants of the jungle that he is different. It is not his sheer physical appearance that dictates this determination; it is something additional, something in Mowgli. During a conversation with the panther Bagheera, Mowgli has his first revelation. Bagheera, like Mowgli, spent his earliest years outside his inborn identity; men raised Bagheera, just as beasts raised Mowgli. Everyone in the jungle fears "Bagheera—all except Mowgli." Kipling writes:

"Oh, thou art a man's cub," said the Black Panther, very tenderly; "and even as I returned to my Jungle, so thou must go back to men at last,—to the men who are thy brothers,—if thou art not killed in the Council."

"But why—but why should any wish to kill me?" said Mowgli.

"Look at me," said Bagheera; and Mowgli looked at him steadily between the eyes. The big panther turned his head away in half a minute.

"That is why," he said shifting his paw on the leaves. "Not even I can look thee between the eye and I was born among men, and I love thee, Little Brother. The others they hate thee because their eyes cannot meet thine—because thou art wise—because thou hast pulled thorns from their feet—because thou art man."

"I did not know these things," said Mowgli sullenly….

In this exchange, Kipling presents the rational, innate beings of Mowgli and Bagheera: Mowgli's innate being, regardless of the wolf identity he has gained through experience, is that of man; Bagheera's innate being, regardless of the understanding of man he gained through his captivity, is that of the beast. The Black Panther, although feared in the jungle and aware of the code of man because of his upbringing, is still unable to withstand the power of the stare of "Mowgli the Man."

An analysis of Mowgli the man through his revelation near the end of the story creates an identity founded upon rationalism. Rationalism states that all knowledge can be obtained from reasonable deduction, from thought alone, independent of that which is experienced. Benedictus Spinoza, a seventeenth-century rationalist, argued in Tractatus Theologico-Politicus that "the natural light of reason does not demand anything which it is itself unable to supply." Essentially, Spinoza states that everything people know is determined by and springs forth from universal laws and exists and acts in a certain and determinate way. Thus, Spinoza would see Mowgli's return to the Law of Man as a self-determined necessity—Mowgli is man, he is not beast—it is mandated by universal laws that he returns to the Law of Man.

During his final visit to Council Rock, Mowgli finds himself in a difficult situation. Here both Mowgli and Akela are to make a last stand before the pack. Mowgli is to be banished from the jungle, and old Akela's position as leader is to be challenged by the pack because he missed a kill. Both situations arise from Shere Kahn's hatred of Mowgli and from his manipulation of the wolf pack. Both Mowgli and Akela can expect death as the outcome of their situations. However, because he is privy to Shere Kahn's devious intention, Mowgli has other plans. Upon his arrival at Council Rock, "more than half the Pack yelled: 'A man! a man! What has a man to do with us? Let him go to his own place.'" Shere Kahn responds, "No, give him to me. He is a man and none of us can look him between the eyes." Akela then outlines Mowgli's empirically understood identity as a wolf by saying, "He [Mowgli] has eaten our food. He has slept with us. He has driven game for us. He has broken no word of the Law of the Jungle." The argument within the pack, between Shere Kahn and Bagheera, exemplifies Mowgli's conflict. He is both man and wolf; he is a construct of two mutually exclusive beings.

At this moment Mowgli begins to accept his future as man. He proclaims to his naysayers, "Ye have told me so often tonight that I am a man (and indeed I would have been a wolf with you to my life's end), that I feel your words are true. So I do not call ye brothers any more, but sag [dogs], as man should." Interestingly, though, Mowgli is neither man nor wolf in this instance; instead, he takes on a separate being in the revelation that his being is based on neither the empirically gained knowledge of wolf nor the rationally gained knowledge of man. Here Mowgli is not of a particular system; he is separate from the codes of the jungle and the codes of man; he is distinct and separate from any one dogma. In this momentary separation from the Law of Man and the Law of the Jungle, Mowgli is a unique creation: he is an existentialist.

Existentialism has its roots in the first half of the twentieth century, an era much later than Kipling's. Existentialism is in opposition to empiricism and rationalism. For the empiricist or rationalist, knowledge gained through experience or reason can be obtained by any contemplative observer. However, the existentialist view of the problem of being is separate from and must take precedence over the philosophical investigation of knowledge, its acquisition, and its relation to being. For the existentialist, being cannot be an object of simple inquiry. Being is only revealed to the individual. It is not mandated or determined by laws or natures; it cannot be acquired through experience or through reason. Mowgli's existence at Council Rock is basic: he is present at that moment in a volatile world. He understands his being in terms of the moment of his existence, not in terms of his significance as abstraction. This is apparent because Mowgli makes decisions in terms of their impact on that particular existence. As he stands at Council Rock, naked and longhaired like a wild animal but wielding flame like a powerful man, Mowgli is aware of his freedom of choice, but he is ignorant of his future. At Council Rock, after sending Shere Kahn whimpering into the jungle with a singed brow, Mowgli demands of the pack that wants to banish him that "Akela goes free to live as he pleases. Ye will not kill him, because that is not my will. Nor do I think that ye will sit here any longer, lolling out your tongues as though ye were somebodies, instead of dogs who I drive out—thus! Go!" Here Mowgli is not bound by a code or by a predetermined duty to save Akela but is compelled to assume the responsibility of making choices.

In these final moments between the Law of the Jungle and the Law of Man, Mowgli anticipates a philosophical trend that followed Kipling's time. Perhaps it is unintentional on the author's part, but Mowgli is a character of great complexity, so much so that Mowgli's pursuit of being connects the philosophy of Kipling's predecessors and the great thinkers who followed his era.

Source: Anthony Martinelli, Critical Essay on "Mowgli's Brothers," in Short Stories for Students, Thomson Gale, 2006.

Donald Gray

In the following essay, Gray discusses Kipling's writing career.

It is easy to underestimate the variety, complexity, and subtlety of Rudyard Kipling's writing. He became an extraordinarily popular writer in the 1890s with short stories and poems enlivened by strange and interesting settings, a brisk narrative economy, and the fresh energy of the voices that told his tales, sometimes in working-class dialects and usually in the smart, confident tone of someone who affected to know how the world really worked. Readers and critics who esteemed the refined melancholy and stylistic elaborations of the fin de siècle often thought his effects coarse and common. The loose colloquial forms and development of his tales and fables came to seem obvious and old-fashioned to early-twentieth-century readers learning to enjoy the compression and elliptical styles of James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, and Virginia Woolf and the rhetorical intensity of D. H. Lawrence. Kipling's popularity itself sometimes made him suspect to readers who had learned from literary modernism that popularity was necessarily purchased by undignified concessions to vulgar tastes and conventional expectations.

The themes of Kipling's short stories have also been criticized by contemporaries and increasingly by later critics and readers as simple-minded and even pernicious. He often seems to honor white men and Western technology as agents of a desirable dominion over less-progressive peoples and parts of the world. He has been read as the eulogist of an oligarchy of effective administrators, soldiers, engineers, doctors, and an occasional journalist who belong, formally or informally, to a club almost always closed to women. Such men are also almost always British, bred in the schools and ethical code of a professional middle class in which they learned how to obey the law that work be honorable and honest while making up their own rules for getting the job done.

These assessments are just but incomplete. From the beginning, especially in his short stories, Kipling wrote as powerfully, and more often, of the waste and cost of the work of empire as he did of its efficiencies. He was always aware of the impermanence of dominion, the inevitable decline and succession of empires. He knew that Western perspectives—sometimes he even seemed to recognize that masculine perspectives—were inescapably limited. There is much in the world that a European male simply cannot comprehend, and much that he comprehends quite differently from the equally valid understanding of someone who organizes experience by the interests and values of another culture or a different gender. The mystery of the world and the burden of human fallibility and mortality can sometimes baffle attempts to do orderly work in the world and tell coherent and conclusive stories about it.

In his best short stories, early and late, Kipling found ways to play these uncertainties and contingencies against his desire for order and his trust in the kinds of men and work he thought could create and sustain it. He wrote fiction that moved not only by the conventions of realism but also by those of fable, ghost stories, and science fiction, and sometimes he incorporated one of these fantastic modes into a realistic story in order to show the instability or surprise in what is taken to be real life. The many voices of his fiction—of Americans, Indians, women, an Irish soldier and a cockney sailor, animals, and machines—sometimes testify to what is common and fundamental in experience and sometimes remind readers that they are always hearing only one version of the story. Especially in his later stories Kipling liked to suggest what the story left out or to take in matter that the story left unexplained. He could be as confident, sureminded, and repetitive in his narrative practices as some readers since the 1890s have judged him to be. He could also use his considerable craft as a short-story writer, a talent that he learned to take seriously and to enlarge as he matured, to complicate and call into question the structure of belief and practice by which he wanted to order the world.

In his fragmentary autobiography, Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown (1937), Kipling wrote, "Everything in my working life has been dealt to me in such a manner that I had just to play it as it came." Certainly one of the most powerful cards dealt to Kipling was his birth and experience in India, and as a young man he played it masterfully. His father, John Lockwood Kipling, had worked as a sculptor during the construction of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in the 1860s. He traveled to India in 1865 as professor of sculptural history at the University of Bombay. His mother, Alice Macdonald Kipling, had also moved in the company of artists in London. His family was affectionate and talented, giving support and encouragement that Kipling was later to depend on as "the family square."

When Kipling was not yet six years old he was sent away with his younger sister, Alice, to begin his education in England. They were lodged at Southsea with a religiously evangelical family who held strict views about the upbringing of children. Kipling perhaps exaggerated the meanness of this period when he recalled it in his autobiography and the short story "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" (1888). He remembered himself as the black sheep. His energy and curiosity about books and almost everything else consistently brought punishments at home, and undiagnosed problems with his eyesight created difficulties at school. When he was eleven his mother returned to England, probably summoned by a friend who had discovered his predicament. She placed him in the United Services College, a school organized to prepare the sons of military officers and colonial administrators for similar careers.

Kipling flourished in his new school. Here the code of the boys and the rules of the masters created a discipline that was masculine and institutional, with clear premises and hierarchies and consistent administration. He read widely, learned Latin well enough to amuse himself as an adult by translating and imitating Horace, and wrote for the school paper. He formed the close friendships memorialized in his school novel Stalky & Co. (1899) and became what he admired the rest of his life, a capable, knowledgeable, eminent member of a group of like-minded males. At Southsea he learned, as he wrote in "Baa, Baa Black Sheep," that "when young lips have drunk deep of the bitter waters of Hate, Suspicion, and Despair, all the Love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge; though it may turn darkened eyes for a while to the light, and teach Faith where no Faith was." At the United Services College he learned to balance his dark knowledge that one day the apparently secure world will collapse into confusion with the satisfaction of freely accepting a set of rules that give hard work its reasons and rewards.

At the end of 1882 Kipling returned to India to work as subeditor (the editor was the only other staff member) of the Civil and Military Gazette, a daily newspaper in Lahore. He wrote, edited, and translated scraps of news: "Wrote in course of year 230 columns matter," he noted in his diary in 1884. As a reporter he traveled to public events and the courts of native rulers, and he spent his evenings at home in the "family square" or at clubs where, he wrote in his autobiography, he met "none except picked men at their definite tasks." In 1885 he wrote the first two stories he thought worthy of inclusion in later editions of his works for a family magazine subsequently issued as a Christmas number by the newspaper. Then he began to write stories for the newspaper that had to fit into columns of two thousand words. When in 1887 he moved to a bigger paper as a reporter and editor of its supplement, the Week's News, he immediately contracted to supply fiction to the supplement.

The matter of his stories was India, usually the events of the offices, garrisons, and bungalows of the British in India, occasionally the character and customs of India itself as it could be known by an Englishman. The teller of the stories was often someone like Kipling—a detached observer, a retailer of the tales he heard in railway carriages and at the club. When he collected some of the stories he wrote for the Civil and Military Gazette as Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888 for an Indian publisher, they were widely read and discussed by the British in India, although the one thousand copies the publisher sent to England were little noticed. Kipling followed this mixed success in the same year by collecting some of the stories he had written for the Week's News in six volumes of the Indian Railway Library, published by the proprietors of his newspaper. He retained the titles of these volumes when he later combined them in two volumes of his collected works: Soldiers Three, The Story of the Gadsbys, and In Black and White in one volume (1892) and Wee Willie Winkie, Under the Deodars, and The Phantom 'Rickshaw and Other Stories in the other (1892). After serving what he called a seven-year apprenticeship in India, he left in 1889, sailing east to visit China, Japan, and California, then traveling across the United States to sail for England.

Kipling arrived in London in the fall of 1889, three months short of his twenty-fourth birthday. By the end of the next year he was famous. All through 1890 he wrote about India in new stories and poems—among them some of his best known, including "Gunga Din," "Danny Deever," and "Mandalay"—that appeared monthly, sometimes weekly in British and American periodicals. He collaborated on one novel, The Naulahka: A Story of West and East (1892), with Wolcott Balestier, and completed another, The Light That Failed (1891), that was also published in England and the United States in an American magazine. British and American publishers reprinted the stories of Plain Tales from the Hills, which went through three printings in six months in England, and the volumes of the Indian Railway Library. At the end of 1890 Kipling put his new stories together with some unpublished fiction and a dozen stories from Indian newspapers to make his first substantial volume of short stories first published outside India, Life's Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own People (1891).

At the end of this first phase in his career, Kipling had seen into print more than one hundred short stories, more than half the number written for adults that he finally admitted into authorized editions of his work. Often composed to meet the deadlines and space requirements of newspapers, many of these stories nonetheless hold together to compose a body of writing marked by complicated themes and ambitious practices. In these stories he found his hero, the competent man (and, only occasionally, woman) of deeds rather than talk who did the real work of the world. He made India into a place that expressed his abiding sense of reality as a finally incomprehensible mystery within which humans constructed different codes of belief and conduct, some more honorable and availing than others but none essentially more true than others. He became known for a kind of literary realism within which he could register the costs as well as the material and moral benefits of the work people do. But his laconic style of anecdote occasionally turned his stories into something like parables, and he began to experiment with stories that left the conventions of realism entirely to move into fable.

Private Terence Mulvaney, described in "The Three Musketeers" (1887)—collected in Plain Tales from the Hills—as one of "the worst men in the regiment as far as genial blackguardism goes," fairly represents the hero of Kipling's early stories. Mulvaney gets drunk, gets into fights, flirts with other peoples' wives, and finally loses his corporal's stripes. But when it comes down to it, Mulvaney is capable, a brave and effective soldier. He leads a group of naked men in "The Taking of Lungtunphem" (1887), collected in Plain Tales from the Hills, and helps to turn an ambush into a vividly described victory in "With the Main Guard" (1888), collected in Soldiers Three. In "The God from the Machine" (1888), another story in Soldiers Three, he prevents the inappropriate elopement of the colonel's daughter. In "The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney" (1888), collected in The Courting of Dinah Shadd and Other Stories (1890), he destroys a scheme in which a contractor is cheating his coolie workers and then, after a farcical sequence created by his drunkenness, impersonates the Hindu deity Krishna and extorts 434 rupees and a gold necklace from a priest. After he marries and leaves the army, there is no place for Mulvaney in England. He returns to India in "The Big Drunk Draf" (1888), gathered in Soldiers Three, as a civilian, "a great and terrible fall." Even out of uniform, he helps to discipline an unruly regiment of men waiting to go home by advising its young officer to tie one of the men spread-eagle to tent pegs and leave him out one frosty night. "You look to that little orf'cer bhoy. He has bowils. 'Tis not ivry child that wud chuck the Rig'lations to Flanders an' stretch Peg Barney on a wink from a brokin' an' dilapidated ould carkiss like mesilf."

Competence and effectiveness in these stories often require a bending of regulations or a neglect of protocol. When in "Thrown Away" (1888), a story in Plain Tales from the Hills, a sheltered boy breaks under the strain of his work and shoots himself in the head, a major and the teller of the story organize the lie that he died of cholera to protect his honor and the sensibilities of his mother. "The tale had credence as long as was necessary; for everyone forgot about The Boy before a fortnight was over. Many people, however, found time to say that the Major had behaved scandalously in not bringing in the body for a Regimental funeral." Strickland, a police officer who appears in several stories and later in Kipling's novel Kim (1901), uses his intimate knowledge of native ways to disguise himself in order to defeat an accusation of adultery against an innocent woman in "The Bronckhorst Divorce Case" (1888) and to be near and finally to win the woman who becomes his wife in "Miss Youghal's Sais" (1887), both collected in Plain Tales from the Hills. The narrator of the latter story refers to Strickland's "crowning achievement" of "spending eleven days as faquir or priest in the gardens of Baba Atal at Amristar, and there picking up the threads of the great Nasiban Murder Case. But people said, justly enough, 'Why on earth can't Strickland sit in his office and write up his diary, and recruit, and keep quiet, instead of showing up the incapacity of his seniors?'"

Even competent men can be defeated by the reality of British India and of India itself. Bureaucratic rigidity in "In the Pride of His Youth" (1887), a story in Plain Tales from the Hills, frustrates Dicky Hatt, who works "like a horse" to save money to bring his wife and child out from England. But "pay in India is a matter of age, not merit, you see, and if their particular boy wished to work like two boys, Business forbid they should stop him." By the time Dicky is given a salary that will enable him to pay the cost of passage, his child is dead and his wife has divorced him. He quits at age twenty-three: "I'm tired of work. I'm an old man now."

Other careers are destroyed, and sometimes made, because of tedium. Her gender deprives Mrs. Hauksbee, a clever, manipulative woman who appears in half a dozen stories, of a field in which she can openly exercise her intelligence and ambition. Out of boredom she incites callow young men to waste their time by riding miles to flirt with her and tries to become influential by intriguing to make the careers of cheats and fools. In "At the Pit's Mouth" (1888), collected in Under the Deodars, another woman, named only the Man's Wife, relieves her boredom by manufacturing "some semblance of intrigue to cloak even her most commonplace actions." She conducts an affair in a cemetery until her lover, the Tertium Quid, becomes depressed by the presence of shallow graves filling with water. When he is killed in an accident, she goes to bed for three days, "which were rainy; so she missed attending the funeral of the Tertium Quid, who was lowered into eighteen inches of water, instead of the twelve to which he had first objected." The condition of people at Simla, the hill town to which British administrators and their families retreat in the hot weather, and in the married quarters of garrisons is presented at its extreme in "A Wayside Comedy" (1888), collected in Under the Deodars. Each of the five men and women isolated in the "rat-pit" of a remote station is in some way unfaithful to friend and spouse. By the end of the story everyone knows about and has been hurt by these betrayals, but all stay in their marriages and their jobs, visiting one another as before, singing to the banjo and laughing "the mirthless mirth of these men on the long white line of the Narkarr Road."

Beneath what the British do to one another in India lies what India does to them. Kipling's India is violent and dangerous, only lightly marked by British rule. One of his first published stories—"The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes" (1885), collected in The Phantom 'Rickshaw—describes a grotesque community of Hindus who have "had the misfortune to recover from trance or catalepsy" before their bodies were burned. They are dumped into a crater whose walls are unscalable cliffs, like the trap "the ant-lion sets for its prey," and left to scramble against one another in a brutal contest of survival. In "Dray Wara You Dee" (1888), included in In Black and White, one of several stories Kipling tells in the voice of a native, the speaker recounts how he has beheaded his wife because she was unfaithful and then cut off her breasts to advertise her crime. "Your Law!" he says. "What is your Law to me!"

When Englishmen cross into this India, even the most compassionate and competent are baffled. John Holden in "Without Benefit of Clergy" (1890), a story in The Courting of Dinah Shadd, buys a fourteen-year-old "Mussleman's daughter" from her mother, falls in love with her, fathers a son, and lives happily in a house in the native precincts of the city. "The delight of that life was too perfect to endure. Therefore it was taken away as many things are taken away in India—suddenly and without warning." His lover and son die of fever; the house is torn down; and Holden is called away to relieve a British colleague dying in the epidemic. Trejago, the hero of "Beyond the Pale" (1888), gathered in Plain Tales from the Hills, is undone because of his intimate knowledge of India. A young woman, Biesa, who has spoken to him from behind a grated window in an alley sends him a letter made of objects whose meaning he must interpret. "Trejago knew far too much about these things, as I have said. No Englishman should be able to translate object-letters." His translation begins an affair that lasts until one night, after an interval of three weeks, he knocks at the grating and the girl "held out her arms into the moonlight. Both hands had been cut off at the wrists, and the stumps were nearly healed." Trejago never discovers what has happened. "He cannot get Biesa—poor little Biesa—back again. He has lost her in the City where each man's house is as guarded and as unknowable as the grave; and the grating that opens into Amir Nath's Gully has been walled up."

India baffles the British even when they do not venture into its mysteries. "False Dawn" (1888), collected in Plain Tales from the Hills, tells of a midnight picnic in the ruined gardens of an old tomb during which Saumerez, a civil servant, intends to propose to Edith Copleigh. A dust storm blows up, and in the "roaring, whirling darkness" he proposes by mistake to Maud, her older sister. The narrator rides after the distressed Edith and, "ringed with the lightning and the storm," brings her back to correct the mistake, but the mistake cannot really be corrected. He ends his story "tired and limp, and a good deal ashamed of myself." He knows that this trivial tale carries a deep, sad lesson about the cost of trying to stage picnics and decorous courtships in the ruins and violent weather of this alien place. He also knows that from another perspective the story is even sadder. "There is a woman's version of this story, but it will never be written … unless Maud Copleigh cares to try."

Kipling's manner in these stories is that of a realist. He suggests that he tells the real story beneath the official narrative and superficial glamour of empire. Kipling fills the stories with the place-names of India, words from its languages, and the dialects, jargon, and shoptalk of British soldiers and administrators. Most often the narrator has heard his stories from someone else, but rather than diluting his authority, this enhances it: he knows all the stories, more about the British in India than anyone else. His tone, with a few lapses, is matter-of-fact. He wants to shock his readers, but he is not shocked, and some of his most devastating stories concern events that at home would be quite ordinary. For example, in "Bitters Neat" (1887), a story from the Civil and Military Gazette that Kipling did not put into Plain Tales from the Hills until an 1897 collected edition of his writing, a young woman falls in love with Surrey, an efficient yet dull man unaware of her infatuation. She refuses a proposal from another man, goes somewhat crazy, and is sent home. When Surrey learns why the young woman has gone, he is unstrung: "I didn't see, I didn't see. If I had only known." The narrator, who has known the whole story all along, spends no other words of pity or irony on Surrey. He drops directly to what he has also always known, what this story is really about—"the hopelessness and tangle of it—the waste and the muddle."

In some of these stories Kipling leaves realism to make his skepticism about certainty and permanence into parables about empire itself. The heroes of "The Man Who Would be King" (1888), competent men in the style of Terence Mulvaney, use their knowledge of India to disguise themselves to make a dangerous journey beyond the northern frontier. Then they use their training as soldiers to drill an army and organize the region into their kingdom. The region once had been conquered by Alexander, who introduced Masonic rituals, and the two Englishmen use their knowledge of Masonry to pass themselves off as gods. The ambitious Daniel Dravot has himself crowned king. "I won't make a Nation," he says, "I'll make an Empire…. Two hundred and fifty thousand men, ready to cut in on Russia's right flank when she tries for India! … Oh, it's big! It's big, I tell you. But there's so much to be done in every place." After Dravot is tricked and killed by suspicious priests, his partner, Peachy Carnahan, survives a crucifixion and is set free, maimed and mad, to make his way back to India, carrying Dravot's head and crown in a sack. When Carnahan dies in an asylum, the narrator, who has seen the contents of the sack, asks "'if he had anything upon him by chance when he died?' 'Not to my knowledge,' said the Superintendent. And there the matter rests." Like Alexander yesterday, like England tomorrow, another empire has come to nothing, this time leaving no trace at all.

The tactics of the stories of Kipling's first collections eventually extend his ironic sense of the contingency of systems to the premise of his own kind of realism, which is founded on the secular, materialistic creed that people can know the world, even if they cannot always command it. He plays with this creed in ghost stories in which he allows the inexplicable to stand unexplained. Is the apparition of "The Phantom 'Rickshaw" (1887) a hallucination, or is it retribution for the lover's heartless rejection of the woman whose ghost haunts his rides with his fiancée? The narrators of many of these stories occasionally admit that their compressed forms leave complicated questions unanswered and intricate characters unrealized. The narrator poses a conundrum to himself at the end of "The Bronckhorst Divorce Case": "What I want to know is, 'how do women like Mrs. Bronckhorst come to marry men like Bronckhorst?'" In "The Last of the Stories," a fantasy that Kipling wrote in 1888 but left unpublished until 1909, when it was collected in Abaft the Funnel, the narrator visits a hell populated by grotesque dolls who tell him that they suffer from his botched attempts to make them seem real. Even so, "'I've touched 'em raw…. I show you what they ought to be. You must find out for yourself how to make 'em so.'"

The one hundred stories of these first collections are told by a chorus of voices. Each voice contributes a piece to a mosaic that collectively represents a stable, comprehensible reality. But as the narrator acknowledges at the end of "False Dawn," another voice would tell a different story. Thus, each perspective offers not a piece of the whole but a singular, subjective version of it. In "To be Filed for Reference," the last story in Plain Tales from the Hills, police officer Strickland and the narrator study a manuscript left by McIntosh Jellaludin, a drunken Scot who changed his religion, went to live with a native woman, and descended into India. Neither Strickland nor the narrator can make any sense of the manuscript, but Kipling gives it the title of his own never-finished novel of native life, "The Book of Mother Maturin." There are stories that Kipling as a Western realist can neither understand nor write. Writing of the tales of Gobind, a Hindu holy man he invents for the preface of Life's Handicap, he says his "tales were true, but not one in twenty could be printed in an English book, because the English do not think as natives do." Kipling then introduces his own stories, "collected from all places, and all sorts of people." He adds, "The most remarkable stories are, of course those which do not appear—for obvious reasons."

In the two decades after the publication of his first collections of short stories Kipling consolidated and enlarged his fame. After traveling to South Africa, Australia, and (for the last time) India, he married Carrie Balestier, an American, in 1892 and moved to Brattleboro, Vermont. There he began to write the children's stories of The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895), in which the boy Mowgli learns the law of the jungle and becomes leader of its creatures before marrying and settling on the boundary of the forest, a master of the two cultures, the wild and the civilized. Kipling's novel "Captains Courageous": A Story of the Grand Banks, was published in 1897, and he followed the great success of Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses (1892) with collections of poems in 1896 and 1903 and in the United States the first collected edition of his verse in 1907. He visited President Grover Cleveland in the White House and met Theodore Roosevelt, whose energy he admired. He picked up the notion, which he still seemed to hold when he wrote his autobiography at the end of his life, that the United States was in decline, its hardy stock devastated in the Civil War and replaced by less vigorous immigrants. A rancorous dispute with his brother-in-law, which ended in court, precipitated Kipling's return to England in 1896.

Back in England, Kipling rose from fame and affluence to eminence. When he visited Scotland Andrew Carnegie offered him his house; he spent his winters in South Africa in a house provided by Cecil Rhodes. The editorial page of the Times was open to him whenever he wanted to address his contemporaries in verse on public issues, as he did when he warned them of the obligations and costs of empire in "Recessional" (1897) and "The White Man's Burden" (1899). He witnessed some of the Boer War (1899–1902), during which he contributed to and helped to edit a newspaper for the troops. He received honorary degrees from Cambridge and Oxford but refused a knighthood in 1899 and declined to stand as a Conservative for Parliament. In 1907 he became the first British writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Kipling continued to write for children and young adults; his efforts include his school novel Stalky & Co.; Just So Stories: For Little Children (1902), a collection of fables about animal origins; and Puck of Pook's Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910), fanciful retellings of stories from British history. He wrote about India again in Kim, probably his most successful novel.

Now at home in England, Kipling bought Bateman's, a seventeenth-century house in Sussex, and knit himself into the life of a member of a high professional caste. He explored the countryside in the automobiles he enthusiastically acquired; prosecuted a steady commerce with magazine editors, publishers, and literary agents in Britain, the United States, and Canada; and enjoyed his fraternity with other leading men in their professions at London clubs and public dinners. Two more collections of short stories published before 1900, Many Inventions (1893) and The Day's Work (1898), include stories about India, but increasingly in the stories collected in the two volumes published in the first decade of the twentieth century, Traffics and Discoveries (1904) and Actions and Reactions (1909), Kipling reflected the experience and opinions of a man making himself comfortable not in the outposts but at the center of empire.

In the short stories of these collections Kipling sometimes attacked the complacency and enervation of the comfortable English at home. In a few stories published in the 1890s—for example, "Love-o-Woman," told by Mulvaney and first published in Many Inventions—he continues to try to shock people at home by retailing the self-destructive appetites for drink and women that can be set loose out on the margins. He urged the support of a large volunteer army in the tractlike fantasy "The Army of a Dream" (1904), collected in Traffics and Discoveries. In "One View of the Question" (1890), a story in Many Inventions, he reversed his usual perspective so that an Indian visitor to London could conclude that "the fountain-head of power is putrid with long standing still" and predict, with a smugness that Kipling surely intended as cautionary, that "the Sahibs die out at the third generation in our land." That prediction seems already to be coming true in "A Deal in Cotton" (1902), collected in Actions and Reactions, in which the narrator revisits Strickland, now retired to a seaside resort in the west of England, and hears of how Strickland's son, helpless with fever, was made to look good in his African post by the contrivance of his Indian servant.

When Kipling looks from England at the work of the empire at this stage of his career, however, he usually tends to remember not war and waste but the benefits whites bring to natives. "William the Conqueror" (1895), gathered in The Day's Work, opens with the observation, "famine was sore in the land, and white men were needed." Scott, a civil servant, and William, the oddly but revealingly named sister of a British officer in the police, alleviate the disaster in a heroic bout of work that also turns out to be their courtship. A third-generation Anglo-Indian in "A Tomb of His Ancestors" (1897), another story in The Day's Work, uses the natives' belief that he is the reincarnation of his grandfather, an administrator of fabled effectiveness, to complete a successful vaccination campaign. In "Little Foxes" (1909) in Actions and Reactions, British administrators in Africa settle land disputes during ingeniously organized fox hunts: "One gets at the truth in a hunting-field a heap quicker than in your law courts." Generally in these stories, white people do good for natives, and the British do more good than anyone. Certainly they do more than the engaging American who thinks of war as a game and tries to sell the gun he has invented to the Boers in "A Captive" (1902), collected in Traffics and Discoveries; more than the Boers with their dishonorable guerrilla tactics in "A Sahib's War" (1901), also in Traffics and Discoveries; and more than the Jewish shipowners cleverly outwitted in "Bread Upon the Waters" (1896), collected in The Day's Work.

A set of fables in these four collections epitomizes some of these themes and the convictions they express. Kipling loved modern machinery—the railways and steamships of the old century, the motorcars, wireless, and airplanes of the new. When he installed a turbine in an old mill on his Sussex property, he wrote a fable—"Below the Mill Dam" (1902), collected in Traffics and Discoveries;—in which the Waters and the Spirit of the Mill discuss the innovation. All approve except an old English rat, who is discovered by the electric lights turned on by the turbine and killed. Yet Kipling was deeply hostile to political innovation. When in "A Walking Delegate" (1894), a story in The Day's Work, a Kansas horse brings socialist views to a Vermont stable—"'As usual,' he said, with an underhung sneer—'bowin' your heads before the Oppressor, that comes to spend his leisure gloatin' over you'"—he is argued down and beaten by the other horses. "'There's jest two kind o' horse in the United States—them ez can an' will do their work after bein' properly broke an' handled, an' them as won't.'" A wax moth that insinuates itself into "The Mother Hive" (1908), included in Actions and Reactions, so subverts the work of the hive that it produces a batch of Oddities who destroy it with theories that honeycombs should be built of democratic circles and that bees can live on the honey of the hive without producing more. As the plates and rivets of "The Ship That Found Itself" (1895), gathered in The Day's Work, tell one another during its first Atlantic run, each must learn its place in the hierarchy of the Design, "how to lock down and lock up on one another." Then "the talking of the separate pieces ceases and melts into one voice, which is the soul of the ship." Waste in these fables is not a natural condition within which humans build more or less adequate shelters of work and rule. Instead, Kipling here imagines existences governed by design and law that creatures, to their ruin or profit, choose to resist or accept.

As his convictions settled in the two decades before World War I, Kipling's narrative practices became expansive and adventurous. No longer constrained by the limitations of space imposed on his early stories, he constructed elaborate plots, sometimes around nothing more than a practical joke. He began his practice of prefacing and concluding his stories with verses that sometimes enforced, sometimes complicated, their themes. He told some stories in several voices, giving them the feel, obliqueness, and surprise of conversation. If the stories of the Jungle Books and Just So Stories are included, he wrote as many fables as realistic short stories in these years. He even toyed with science fiction. At the end of "With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 a.d. "(1905), a fantasy about airplanes and a world benevolently regulated by the Aerial Board of Control that was collected in Actions and Reactions, his invention spills over into appendices of mock news stories, a book review, and advertisements for used dirigibles and aerial chauffeurs ("Must be member of the Church of England, and make himself useful in the garden"). The best measure of the development of Kipling's talent as a short-story writer in these years is that the four collections published between 1893 and 1909 contain five or six of his most accomplished and interesting stories, and none is like any of the others.

For example, "The Bridge-Builders" (1893), collected in The Day's Work, begins as a typical Kipling story celebrating capable men doing good work in India despite the heat, disease, and interference of remote and ignorant superiors. Trying to protect their uncompleted bridge from a flood, the British engineer Findlayson and his lascar overseer Peroo are swept in their boat into the river, out of realism and into fable. In a trance of weariness smoothed with opium, they witness the gods debate the plea of the river to destroy the bridge that obstructs her. "Be certain that is only for a little," Krishna says, and then tells the gods that except for Brahma, the principle of life, they themselves are only for a time: "The fire-carriages shout the names of new Gods that are not the old under new names." When morning comes the bridge still stands. Findlayson and Peroo are rescued by a westernized Indian in his steam launch on his way to the temple "to sanctify some new idol." The realistic part of the story honors Findlayson's work in careful descriptions of it; the fable both subverts and sanctifies it. Although it too will ultimately be washed away, Findlayson's work, like the "fire-carriages" of the railway, speaks the name of gods. The bridge is an idol rightly to be worshipped, an authentic contemporary expression of reverence for Brahma.

"'They'" (1904), a story in Traffics and Discoveries, is to an early Kipling ghost story such as "The Phantom 'Rickshaw" what "The Bridge-Builders" is to some of Kipling's early realistic anecdotes about good work in India. The narrator clatters in his motorcar through a magically beautiful southern English landscape to find by accident a lovely Elizabethan house behind a lawn full of topiary yew cut as knights and ladies. Gradually it comes to him that the children he entertains with his motorcar are ghosts summoned by the need of the gracious blind woman who lives alone in the house. Kipling's young daughter Josephine, born in 1892, had died during his visit to the United States in 1899, and his loss underwrites the poignancy of the narrator's decision not to return to the house. Kipling prefaced "'They'" with a poem in which the Virgin Mary releases children from heaven so that their spirits will comfort people on earth. The ghostliness in this story is not a realist's playful reminder that he cannot know everything. It is rather a possibility of belief, an earthly paradise, from which the narrator is shut out because of his commitment to the valuable, practical work that makes and purchases motorcars.

Each of these four collections of short stories includes one or two stories governed by the physical action of farce. The deft timing of "My Sunday at Home" (1895), a story in The Day's Work, tops its principal plot, in which an American doctor mistakenly administers a purgative to a perfectly healthy workingman, with a final scene in which the enraged victim is approached by yet another doctor intent on doing him good. Kipling then caps the story with a lightly ironic comment on "man who is immortal and master of his fate." Included in Actions and Reactions, "The Puzzler" (1906), named for a densely branched tree, is more ambitiously metaphorical. A group of important men—politicians and government ministers—set a monkey loose in the tree to test its impenetrability. One of the puzzles of the story is how to catch the monkey after it has escaped into a house. Another puzzle is how to get an idea about the governing of colonies through the dense thicket of British government at home. The solution to the first puzzle also solves the second: bonded by the fun of their adventure in catching the monkey and facing down the indignant residents of the house, the important men work together to get the idea through, "a little chipped at the edges."

"Mrs. Bathurst" (1904), collected in Traffics and Discoveries and perhaps Kipling's finest short story, begins with its tellers reminiscing about a farcical episode of their youths, turns into something like a ghost story, and ends as a commentary about the difficulty of catching reality in the frame of narrative. Vickers, a naval warrant officer, is haunted by a sequence he sees in a "cinematograph" shown in a carnival at Cape Town. Night after night he takes Pyecroft, the principal teller of the story, to watch a woman step out of a train in Paddington Station and walk toward the camera, looking "out straight at us … till she melted out of the picture—like—like a shadow jumpin' over a candle, an' as she went I 'eard Dawson in the tickey seats be'ind sing out, 'Christ! there's Mrs. B!'" Two other people help Pyecroft tell the story. One, like Pyecroft, has known Ada Bathhurst as the generous proprietor of a small hotel near Auckland. The other knows what happened to Vickers. None of them know what Mrs. Bathhurst was doing in London—"She's lookin' for me," Vickers says—or what Vickers has done to be haunted by her, or what he tells the captain of his ship before he is sent upcountry alone on a detail, or why he deserts, or who is with him when he is found with another person on a railway track in a teak forest, both "burned to charcoal" by lightning. The artful ramble of the story, as its several tellers exchange information and opinions that end without resolving its plot, testifies both to the ambition of realistic narrative to take in everything and to the futility of that ambition. By this time Kipling has learned to accommodate his own skepticism about ascertaining fact within the structure of a story that defeats its drive for closure. Ten years earlier, in the preface to Life's Handicap, he marked the limit of his craft by referring to stories he could not tell. In "Mrs. Bathurst" he makes the same point not by withholding the story but by trying, and failing, to tell it.

Three collections of Kipling's short stories were published in the last twenty years of his life: A Diversity of Creatures (1917), Debits and Credits (1926), and Limits and Renewals (1932). He was now a wealthy man: except for Thy Servant a Dog, Told by Boots (1930), three sketches about the faithfulness of dogs told by one of them, his new books sold only modestly, but editions of his children's stories, anthologies of his stories and poems, editions of his collected works, and the Inclusive Editions of his poems (first published in 1919) brought him a large annual income. One of his biographers, C. E. Carrington, estimates that in his lifetime Kipling earned more than $4 million, mostly from his writing and the rest from investments its income purchased.

During his cousin Stanley Baldwin's terms as prime minister in the 1920s, Kipling's advice to the Conservative party acquired a quasi-official status, and when he visited Scotland he stayed at Balmoral with the king. He suffered a stomach disease that he incorrectly feared was cancer, and his wife carefully guarded his privacy at Bateman's. But when he believed the world was going wrong, he used his public presence to try to set it right. With his friend H. Rider Haggard he founded a short-lived Liberty League to oppose socialism. He bitterly regretted the 1921 treaty that set Ireland on its way toward independence of England, and he resigned from the Rhodes Trust in 1925 because he thought its policies encouraged the growth of a commonwealth of autonomous nations to replace an empire ruled by white men from home.

In the short stories of his last three collections, Kipling's conviction that at least some of the time right-minded people know exactly what to do coexists with his persistent sense of the uncertainties of knowing and doing. A set of stories about the consequences of World War I shows this mix of skepticism and sometimes belligerent certainty. Like many of his contemporaries, Kipling at first welcomed the war as an occasion to renew and test courage and honor. He enlisted his talent and name in a series of pamphlets and newspaper articles about the army in France and the work of the navy. When his only son, John, was reported missing in action in France in 1915—his body was never found—Kipling responded in part in the manly code in which he had been schooled: "it's something to have bred a man." (Interestingly, he used a woman's voice to express his grief in the 1916 ballad "My Boy Jack.") He soon undertook to edit a history of his son's regiment, The Irish Guards in the Great War (1923), and to serve on the Imperial War Graves Commission, which established and supervised military cemeteries outside England.

Before his son's death Kipling wrote three short stories that express a simple morality about the war. In "Swept and Garnished" (1915), collected in A Diversity of Creatures, the house of a tidy German woman is haunted by the ghosts of children killed by German shells and bombs. In "Sea Constables" (1915), included in Debits and Credits, one of Kipling's competent, affluent gentlemen serving as a volunteer forces a neutral vessel trying to run the blockade into a remote port, where he lets its captain die of pneumonia unattended. After a child in an English village is killed by a bomb dropped from a German airplane in "Mary Postgate" (1915), a story in A Diversity of Creatures, a middle-aged spinster finds the injured German pilot in her garden. Already grieving over a young friend killed while training to be a pilot, she lets the German die, takes a hot bath, and comes down looking "quite handsome."

However, in some of the stories he wrote after the war, Kipling considers that it is not so easy to watch men die. All these stories are about the psychic damage of war and how friends or small communities protect or cure its victims. When the narrator discovers Masonic Lodge Faith and Works 5837 E.C. in "'In the Interest of the Brethren'" (1918), collected in Debits and Credits, this creation of merchants and professional men provides food, lodging, and the comforts of ritual to young men on leave from the war. In two later stories, "The Janeites" (1924) and "A Madonna of the Trenches" (1924), both collected in Debits and Credits, the members of the lodge do what they can to hold together men who might never be able to leave the war behind. During the war Brother Strangwick in "A Madonna of the Trenches" saw an apparition of his recently deceased aunt in a trench. Shocked out of his certainties about life and death, he now refuses to get married and get on with life. Brother Humberstall, who tells most of "The Janeites," returns to the front after the explosion of an ammunition dump "knocked all 'is Gunnery instruction clean out of 'im." He is kept going by officers who induct him into a select society of initiates in the details of Jane Austen's fiction. None of the officers survives the collapse of the front at Sommes, and back home after the war Humberstall fills his days by shuffling through his memories of the war and by trying to play his Janeite game with his sister. Strangwick and Humberstall tell their stories at the lodge, presumably not for the first time, to sympathetic men who listen to them and send them home, only temporarily relieved of their burdens.

In other stories about the trauma of the war, friends conspire not just to sustain but to cure the victims. For example, the several tellers of a story in Limits and Renewals, "Fairy-Kist" (1927)—some of them members of Lodge 5837 who also meet occasionally with other successful men as an Eclectic but Comprehensive Fraternity—not only solve the mystery of a dead body much more neatly than the tellers of "Mrs. Bathhurst" manage to do, they also diagnose and make harmless the obsession of a man who, "wounded and gassed and gangrened in the War," goes around England planting flowers. In "The Woman in His Life" (1928), collected in Limits and Renewals, a servant, once his orderly, helps a man who was a sapper in the war recover from the lethargy and hallucinations of his delayed reaction to the horrors of his experience beneath no-man's-land in France. In another story from the volume, "The Tender Achilles" (1929), a group of colleagues, one of them a member of Lodge 5837, combine to return to his important research a scientist unstrung by memories of his inevitable failures as a surgeon in field hospitals during the war: "Everything that a man's brain automatically shoves into the background was out before the footlights, and dancing Hell's fox-trot, with drums and horns." Unlike Strangwick and Humberstall, the men saved in these stories belong to the same mercantile and professional classes as the men who do most of the saving. Kipling here does not put at permanent risk the caste on which he often depended in his later stories to do the real work of making order.

In other stories in these three final collections, such men manage triumphs as complete as those in "Fairy-Kist" and "The Tender Achilles." Returning to the scientific fantasy of a world run by the technicians of the Aerial Board of Control in "As Easy as A.B.C." (1912), included in A Diversity of Creatures, Kipling describes how these powerful masters of machines and electricity effortlessly and bloodlessly suppress a revolt in Chicago of malcontents who want to bring back the days of crowds, sensational journalism, and democracy. In "The Honours of War" (1914), collected in A Diversity of Creatures, Kipling returned to Stalky, the hero of his school novel, to tell how grown-up, hearty army men discipline the unrest of subalterns, just as back in India in their own young manhoods they once gave Elliot-Hacker a bath on his veranda, and "his lady-love saw it and broke off the engagement, which was what the Mess intended, she being an Eurasian." In "Unprofessional" (1930), included in Limits and Renewals, a group of doctors and scientists, "tried and proved beneath glaring and hostile moons in No Man's Land," marry biology and astrology to cure a cancer and hold off death long enough for one of them to marry the woman they have cured.

On the other hand, at the end of "Unprofessional" two of the successful team, from opposite ends of the middle classes, recall the unrelieved sorrows of their marriages to drunken wives. In this story and others Kipling allows pain to be felt beneath or beyond the resolutions of his plots. A woman in a story in Debits and Credits, "The Wish House" (1924), whose fantasy is solidly rendered in the dialect and details of working-class life, cures the cancer of her faithless lover by wishing it to herself. She is troubled only by the worry that he will marry before she dies. "But the pain do count, don't ye think, Liz?" she says on her deathbed. "The pain do count to keep 'Arry—where I want 'im. Say it can't be wasted, like." In "The Gardener" (1925), gathered in Debits and Credits, an unmarried woman visiting the grave of a man she has always called her nephew in a military cemetery in France is guided to it by a gardener who might be Christ and who in any event pleases her by speaking her secret and referring to her son. But the story leaves unexplained and unresolved a curious episode in which she fails to comfort, and even inadvertently insults, another woman who lives without relief in the troubles of her secret: she must invent subterfuges to give herself reasons to visit the grave of a man who never acknowledged her as his lover when he was living. A story collected in Debits and Credits, "The Eye of Allah" (1920), one of several historical fantasies Kipling wrote in the last phase of his career, elevates the difficulties that create such incomplete resolutions into a social and cultural dilemma. A thirteenth-century abbot knows that the prototype of a microscope one of his monks has brought back from the Moors in Spain will lead to the cure of disease. He also knows that its revelation of a hellish world of bacteria in a drop of water will lead to persecution for magic and blasphemy. After a collegial conversation in which some of his monks freely exchange opinions about the significance of this technological advance, the abbot puts on the ring of his authority and smashes the instrument. His act, decisive but unsatisfying, preserves his community, but it also helps to preserve a backward and rigidly dogmatic church that requires such sacrifices.

Two similar, well-managed stories demonstrate how in these stories at the end of his career Kipling sometimes drove toward clear resolutions and sometimes drifted to what he had always known as "the hopelessness and tangle of it." Both stories work out elaborate hoaxes, of which Kipling was always fond. Caught in a speed trap in a small village, a couple of journalists, a member of Parliament, and the proprietor of a music hall combine their talents to revenge themselves in "The Village That Voted the Earth Was Flat" (1913), collected in A Diversity of Creatures. Kipling calls on his exuberant invention and his close knowledge of politics and popular media to describe how the conspirators concoct newspaper stories, commission a music-hall song, and arrange a question in Parliament to convince the public of the lie that the villagers of Huckley are fools who have voted their belief in a flat earth. In this story Kipling exercises his scorn at the ease with which popular opinion can be created by the instruments of politics and popular culture, while at the same time he maneuvers an absolute triumph of sound men who know their jobs over officious incompetents who have risen to an authority and status beyond their talents.

The hoax of "Dayspring Mishandled" (1924), included in Limits and Renewals, is also sponsored by revenge. Castorley, who has risen from writing for a fiction syndicate in the 1890s to become an expert on Geoffrey Chaucer, says something insensitive (it remains unrevealed) about a paralyzed woman Manallace cares for and loves. Manallace, who writes historical novels "in a style that exactly met, but never exceeded, every expectation," spends years fabricating and arranging for the discovery of the manuscript of a supposedly lost tale by Chaucer. Castorley falls into the trap, but before he publishes the book that Manallace lies in wait to ambush, he dies, perhaps of kidney disease, perhaps at the hands of the physician to whom Lady Castorley turns her eyes as her husband's coffin crawls into the crematorium. Here the joke does not clap shut, as it does in the Huckley hoax. Like Manallace's clever machine of vengeance, the plot pulls up short before a deep trouble that cannot be comprehended by farce, then tumbles into other troubles that were there all along—not just the mystery of Lady Castorley and the possible malignity of her lover but also the unspecified cruelty of her husband and the unexamined affection of Manallace for the sad woman who may never have loved him.

The writer of Kipling's obituary in the 25 January 1936 Times Literary Supplement, trying to figure out "Rudyard Kipling's Place in English Literature," acknowledged that by the time of his death "many had lost interest in him and many others had been repelled." What repels mid- and late-twentieth-century readers is most often the politics of Kipling's endorsement of empire. George Orwell, writing a few years after Kipling's death, judged his colonial politics not only repellent but ignorant in his neglect of the economic basis of empire. But Orwell also thought that because of what he left out as well as what he included, Kipling accurately described the life and attitudes of British colonial administrators and soldiers, providing "not only the best but about the only literary picture we have" of late-nineteenth-century Anglo-India. Lionel Trilling, who found Kipling unreadable after his own adoption of liberal politics, nonetheless remarked the "anthropological view" that Kipling learned in India: "the perception that another man's idea of virtue and honor may be different from one's own but quite to be respected." Noel Annan has argued that this awareness of the relativity and individual integrity of cultural institutions and authority assures Kipling's place in the history of ideas. This view has made Kipling interesting to an increasing number of literary and cultural critics and historians who go to his writing not just for a picture of the lives of colonialists but also for a sensitive register of the tensions and contradictions in their exercise of dominion over ways of knowing that Kipling at least sometimes thought of as valid and valuable.

Other commentators who have sustained or revived interest in Kipling's writing since his death have not troubled so much with his politics but instead honored his craft. Despite his disappointment in Kipling's fiction after Traffics and Discoveries, Edmund Wilson presented to formalist literary critics a Kipling who was attractive because of his themes of loneliness and isolation and his accounts of a perilous fortitude. J. M. S. Tompkins has written of the sophisticated use of irony by which Kipling maintains his equilibrium on the edge; Bonamy Dobrée of Kipling's modulation in and out of the fabulist forms in which he tended to express his certainties; and Elliot K. L. Gilbert of the tactics that mediate between Kipling's notion of "the irrationality of the universe and man's need to find some order in it." These fundamentally existentialist ideas about how Kipling's craft fashioned order in and against the void are consistent with the interests and language of late-twentieth-century literary criticism. Sandra Kemp, for example, writes of how Kipling's recognition that identity, like everything else, is constructed and contingent informs self-consciously fictional narratives in which he tries out a repertory of identities, no longer resisting the void but rather inhabiting it as a condition that enables him to explore the exhilarating possibilities of otherness.

One reason to attend to Kipling's craft is that such attention makes clear the continuity and development of his talent during the nearly half century in which he wrote short stories. He now is probably best known outside academic literary criticism as the author of the Jungle Books and Just So Stories, and perhaps after that as a writer of short stories, poems, and a novel, Kim, about the British in India. Recent attention to his colonial politics, although it makes him freshly interesting, also helps to fix him in the moment of his first fame at the turn of the century, as if he wrote little that matters after 1901 or what he wrote has little to do with the books that made him famous. But Kipling's practice was always various, and it grew more supple as he graduated to long forms. He continually experimented with voices and points of view. The connected narratives of The Story of the Gadsbys are told entirely in the dialogue of quick, fluid scenes that read like scripts for short films. The comic effects of Mulvaney's dialect point up the ravages of the losses he describes in the same way that the working-class dialect in "The Wish House" plays against and makes poignant the fantastic event that is the hinge of the plot. Kipling learned to move in the same story from one set of conventions and expectations to another and so to reproduce his sense of a reality in which the meaning of things would not settle and stay fixed. He also learned in stories such as "Mrs. Bathhurst" to let the voices mix with one another to tell their tales in pieces and layers and so to express his skepticism that the whole story could ever be told.

As a young man Kipling sometimes deprecated his calling. Throughout his life he spoke of his "Daemon," who brought the words from somewhere beneath his will. "When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously," he wrote in his autobiography. "Drift, wait, and obey." At the end of his life, however, Kipling proudly owned the craft that deliberately selected and refined the welter of experience. In the chapter on "Working Tools" in his autobiography he mentions first as instruments of the "Higher Editing" a pot of India ink and a brush. He advises that writers "consider faithfully every paragraph, sentence and word, blacking out where requisite," repeating the process after letting the manuscript "lie by to drain as long as possible," and then repeating it again after reading the words aloud. He habitually read his writing aloud, testing the "weights, colours, perfumes, and attributes of words in relation to other words…. There is no line of my verse or prose which has not been mouthed till the tongue has made all smooth."

In "Proofs of Holy Writ" (1934), the last short story by Kipling published in his lifetime (it was collected in volume thirty-four of The Sussex Edition of the Complete Works of Rudyard Kipling), he compared his method of composition to that of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, with occasional help from an outclassed Ben Jonson, has agreed to help the translators of the King James Bible with the rhythms of their sentences:

"Quiet man!" said he. I wait on my Demon! … How shall this open? 'Arise.' No! 'Rise.' Yes. And we'll have no weak coupling. 'Tis a call to a City! 'Rise—shine.' … Nor yet any schoolmaster's 'because.' … 'And the glory of God!' No! 'God's' over-short. We need the long roll here. 'And the glory of the Lord is risen on thee.'"

Kipling started out by presenting himself as a clever young man who wrote "penny farthing tales" in which he pretended to transmit the words of men he met at the club and in railway carriages. He ended by imagining how a craft such as his can find words and a sound that will wake the lessons of a great prophet.

Source: Donald Gray, "Rudyard Kipling," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 156, British Short-Fiction Writers, 1880–1914: The Romantic Tradition, edited by William F. Naufftus, Gale Research, 1996, pp. 181-99.

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Roger Lancelyn Green

In the following essay, Green traces the setting of Kipling's Jungle Book stories to actual places in India while in search of the elements of Mowgli's life that may have been inspired by actual events.

[Roger Lancelyn Green's name requires no introduction for anyone familiar with Kipling studies. It is enough to say that he is a distinguished man of letters, a writer of a catholic and readable array of books, a leading authority on Kipling and his period, and in his leisure was Editor of this Journal for twenty-three years, from 1957 to 1979.

In 1975 he published a collection of light but learned essays, entitled "Holmes, This is Amazing": they were straight-faced but "unorthodox" investigations into the quasi-factual background of some literary episodes relating to Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Lord Greystroke (better known as Tarzan of the Apes), and others. One of the others was Mowgli, whose history was discussed in a piece entitled "Mowgli's Jungle."

Perhaps on account of the Editor's modesty, it never appeared in the Kipling Journal. It is certainly overdue, and we have pleasure in reprinting it now, with the author's approval. Readers will see at once that Mowgli is treated as a real person—this being of course consistent with the investigative position adopted in the other essays in the volume in which "Mowgli's Jungle" first appeared.—Ed.]

It was seven o'clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee. hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day's rest.

This first sentence of "Mowgli's Brothers," the first narrative in The Jungle Book, seems straightforward enough, and should set Mowgli's jungle adventures in the neighbourhood of Seeonee, near the Waingunga River, not far from Khaniwara in Madhya Pradesh (the old Central Provinces).

But there are several curious complications in the setting of Mowgli's adventures that have never been explained; and it seems almost as if their true site was being carefully concealed. Certainly Kipling changed his mind about the locality of Mowgli's jungle after he had written "In the Rukh" and the first draft of "Mowgli's Brothers."

When "In the Rukh" was reprinted, with illustrations, in the American McClure's Magazine in June 1896, Kipling added a prefatory footnote:

This tale, published in "Many Inventions" (D. Appleton & Co.), 1893, was the first written of the Mowgli stories, though it deals with the closing chapters of his career—namely his introduction to white men, his marriage and civilization, all of which took place, we may infer, some two or three years after he had finally broken away from his friends in the jungle (vide "The Spring Running," Second Jungle Book). Those who know the geography of India will see that it is a far cry from Seeonee to a Northern forest reserve; but though many curious things must have befallen Mowgli, we have no certain record of his adventures during those wanderings. There are, however, legends.—Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling did not, unfortunately, tell any of these legends; indeed, some of Mowgli's remarks in this story seem to have puzzled him, for he added two more notes. "A woman, an old woman, beloved, saw me playing by night with my brethren in the crops," says Mowgli; and Kipling comments, rather improbably:

The scornful allusion here is clearly to Buldeo the Shikarri, who … interfered with Mowgli when the latter was skinning Shere Khan. It is not easy to understand the reference to "playing by night with my brethren," unless, indeed, Mowgli while among the villagers had stolen out to gambol with Grey Brother, and was under suspicion of wizardry before the fight with Shere Khan.—R.K.

And after Mowgli's confession that "From village to village I went, … a herder of cattle, a tender of buffaloes, a tracker of game," his biographer notes:

It is to be observed that Mowgli here makes no reference to the circumstances of The Spring Running; but evidently he wandered far among men after his return to Messua's hut (vide Second Jungle Book).—R.K.

Kipling himself did not make any mention of Mowgli's later jungle adventures when, so it seems, he had decided not to tell any more of them after "'Tiger! Tiger!'" for he concluded this with the statement that

Mowgli went away and hunted with the four cubs in the Jungle from that day on. But he was not always alone, because years afterward he became a man and married. But that is a story for grown-ups.

The story referred to is, of course, "In the Rukh," written before any of the others, which tells how Mowgli as a grown man, but still accompanied by the four wolves, took service under Gisborne of the Department of Woods and Forests, and married the daughter of his butler, Abdul Gafur.

The site of Gisborne's rukh is uncertain—since cartographers have failed to identify the Kanye river which flowed through it; but it was presumably over a hundred miles south of the Changamanga Reserve, itself about fifty miles south-west of Lahore, on the edge of the Rechna Doab. For Mowgli tells Gisborne that he came "from over there," pointing "towards the north."

Unless Mowgli had wandered many hundreds of miles up into the forests of the Doon in the north of India, near Simla, "north" seems to be a deliberate blind—or else a simple mistake on Kipling's part. It would certainly be impossible if Mowgli really came from Seeonee in Central India: but there is good evidence that the whole setting in and near Seeonee was a conscious attempt to disguise the real location of Mowgli's earlier life in the jungle.

Kipling tells us in the Preface to The Jungle Book that

the adventures of Mowgli were collected at various times and in various places from a multitude of informants, most of whom desire to preserve the strictest anonymity,

and he only mentions one of the Bandar-log, "an esteemed resident of the upper slopes of Jakko" near Simla, who presumably supplied reformation about the attempt to abduct Mowgli, described in "Kaa's Hunting"; and

Sahi, a savant of infinite research and industry, a member of the recently disbanded Seeonee pack,

who, however, is only credited with "valuable data on people, manners and customs."

When it became necessary to disguise the location of Mowgli's adventures it may well have been Sahi who gave Kipling the idea of using Seeonee, and who supplied him with any necessary information about the district—which Kipling had never visited, and knew only from descriptions.

The moment at which Kipling suddenly found himself compelled to change the situation of Mowgli's home jungle to Seeonee came between the writing of the first and second drafts of "Mowgli's Brothers." The first draft begins:

It was about seven o'clock of a very warm evening among the Aravulli hills when the Father Wolf woke up from his day's sleep.

A little further on we are told that

the wolves were talking in their own language, but the way in which animals talk is very much the same as the way in which the men round them talk. So these wolves spoke like the Mewari herdsmen whose goats they stole.

When Shere Khan is first mentioned we are told that he was

the Tiger who lived near a branch of the Bunas river twenty miles away,

and Tabaqui explains that Shere Khan

"is coming here to hunt for man, and he will lie up at the Bunas in his own country."

During the 'Over-looking' at the Council Rock the Lone Wolf, Akela, tells the Pack the advantages of having a man's cub as one of their number—among them that the local villagers will believe that they are all demons and leave them alone:

"Many years ago, before I could kill, so my father told me, a grey pack that hunted below the Abu hills kept with them a man's cub and till that man's cub died no villager stirred from his hut at night—no, not though the pack killed the goats at his doorstep. They believed that he was a demon …"

And finally, Bagheera tells Mowgli that

"I was born among men, and it was among men that my mother died—in the cages of the palace at Oodeypore, a week's hunting from here."

Now the Aravulli Hills, Mount Abu and the Bunas River are all within a fifty mile radius of Oodeypore (now usually spelt Udaipur) in the district of Mewar in the State of Rajputana; nearby also is Bhurtpur where Hathi and his sons sacked the fields—and Udaipur is also much too far from Seeonee for there to be any likelihood of Bagheera travelling over a thousand miles after his escape from the King's Cages which still stand at the foot of the hill below the Palace.

There is also the matter of the Cold Lairs. Of course there are many ruined cities decaying in the jungles throughout India—but there does not seem to be one reasonably near the Seeonee district. On the other hand, not seventy miles from Udaipur and much nearer to the Aravulli Hills stands Chitor (usually known as Chitorgarh to distinguish it from the modern town that has only sprung up at its foot during the last few years: it was still only a village when I visited it in 1968, a growing town in 1971)—and Chitor fulfils every requirement for the original Cold Lairs.

Some king had built it long ago on a little hill. You could still trace the stone causeways that led up to the ruined gates … A great roofless palace crowned the hill, and the marble of the courtyards and the fountains was split, and stained with red and green, and the very cobble-stones in the courtyard where the king's elephants used to live had been thrust up and apart by grasses and young trees. From the palace you could see the rows and rows of roofless houses that made up the city looking like empty honeycombs filled with blackness …

There too you may find the

terrace above the red sandstone reservoirs that were half-full of rainwater. There was a ruined summer-house of white marble in the centre of the terrace …

A much less ruined summer-house stands on the terrace above the reservoir by the Gau Mukh, the "Cow's Mouth" (which plays such an important part in Nicholas Tarvin's adventures not many years after Mowgli's, as narrated in The Naulahka), and from beneath the summer-house a passage is said still to run to a distant treasure-chamber underground—undoubtedly that inhabited by the White Cobra in "The King's Ankus"—though today's explorer is not permitted to enter it.

Chitor has been cleared of the trees and creepers which were destroying it, and there are fewer and fewer of the Bandar-log, the Monkey People, to be seen there. But Mowgli's adventures must have taken place about a hundred years ago [written in 1975]—and even when Kipling visited the site in 1887, as described in "Letters of Marque," the place was still completely overgrown, with the outer walls crumbling, the buildings infested with snakes, and apparently a crocodile in one at least of the reservoirs.

During the last hundred years a great deal of the country between Chitor and Udaipur, and below the slopes of the Aravulli Hills that sweep round them to the west and north, has been cleared of jungle and cultivated. But patches still remain wild—and in one of these (though rather near to the modern road) rises

a hilltop covered with stones and boulders where a hundred wolves could hide,

or, as the original manuscript has it,

the great mound of splintered rocks all mixed up with scrub and thorn brushes—

that must surely be the Council Rock.

Only the gorge below the Bee Rocks defies identification. But I was unable to follow the Bunas River up into the heights of the Aravulli Hills near Mount Abu—and it may well be there. (There is a gorge frequented by wild bees near Seeonee, but this seems hardly sufficient to suggest that even one of Mowgli's adventures took place there.)

Kipling gives us no indication as to the date of Mowgli's birth. He was seventeen years old at the time of the Spring Running when he left the jungle, and we may assume that he was twenty at least when Gisborne found him in the rukh and he joined the Forestry Service. If we consider that the four wolves who still accompanied him were, as is implied, the very same who had been cubs in the Home Cave when Father Wolf rescued him at the age of two from Shere Khan and brought him to Mother Wolf, they had already exceeded the normal life-span of wolves in a completely natural state—and were still flourishing at about the age of twenty when Müller nearly shot one of them by mistake as it guarded Mowgli's eldest child.

If, as is generally agreed, Müller, "head of the woods and forests of all India," is the Inspector-General of Forests whose real name was Ribbentrop, and whom Kipling met in Lahore in 1883, we may assume that his meeting with Mowgli in Gisborne's rukh had recently taken place. And this being so, Mowgli must have been born about 1860.

Why Kipling needed to disguise the setting of all his earlier adventures we shall probably never know. But is it not possible that by 1894 when the Jungle Book adventures were being written, Mowgli had become an important person in India, and did not want to be identified with the hero of these stories? "In the Rukh" had already appeared in April 1893 in Many Invetions, and Mowgli would have been just in time to persuade Kipling to alter the setting from Mewar to Seeonee, and remove other references that might have identified him too closely, before the publication of "Mowgli's Brothers" in its revised version in January 1894.

With his unique background and abilities Mowgli might well have achieved a position of great importance under the British Raj, or perhaps at the court of the Maharajah of Udaipur, by the time he was thirty-four … 'But that is another story.'

Source: Roger Lancelyn Green, "Mowgli's Jungle," in Kipling Journal, Vol. 57, No. 227, September 1983, pp. 29-35.


In the following obituary published originally in Times Literary Supplement on January 25, 1936, the anonymous author assesses Kipling's place in literature and his time.

Rudyard Kipling was a national institution … and regarded as such by all the world. His fame had been long established and his literary activity slight for many years. It was also the case that many had lost interest in him and many others had been repelled. Seldom had a famous national institution been the object of more hostile criticism; some of it, indeed, unfair and marred by lack of understanding, yet some of it damaging enough. There are veterans who were hostile from the first; there are today many thousands of young enthusiasts: but broadly speaking the vocal sections of two generations have been at variance regarding him. Now the time has come for a reckoning; not a final reckoning, for posterity will have its say, but for the verdict of this age, comprising the old and the young, sitting as the jury. The critic writing at the moment must try to assist the jury to find that verdict, not as advocate for or against—they have both been heard at length but, so far as he can and dare, as judge summing up. Conscious of his own limitations and mindful of the disasters of many who have assumed the role, he may also attempt a harder task: that of prophecy. Kipling in life and work alike was downright and decided, without hesitation as to goal or the road that led to it. Let us treat him as he would have chosen to be treated, without timidity or hedging. Let us venture not only to decide what shall be the verdict of our time upon him but to predict boldly what shall be his place in the annals of our letters.

We have to envisage him both as poet and writer of fiction, and in the former aspect our task is, it may be admitted, a difficult one. On the prose side the case is very different. There is, we believe, no heavy risk in the prophecy that Rudyard Kipling will live and be admired as one of the most virile and skilful of English masters of the short story; that if that art, in which we are weak, shows with us no great development in future, he will remain, in years to come, as he now is, unique; that if it goes forward and gives birth to new triumphs, he will still rank among the greatest of the pioneers.

The pioneer has always a special meed of honour, and that honour is Kipling's for more reasons than one. He won it alike for matter and manner. He was definitely the man of the hour, a milestone on the path of letters like Bryon and Chateaubriand. He appeared at a moment when literature in this country was being sicklied o'er, not with the pale cast of thought but with the unnatural bloom of cosmetics. We can realize now more fully than was realized then that fine and enduring work was being done in the aesthetic nineties, outside the school of the aesthetes, even outside that of the two giants who had no relationship to that school, George Meredith and Thomas Hardy. Yet the general atmosphere was stale and scented, artistically as well as literally fin-de-siècle. There was an extraordinary preoccupation with the artificial, a delight, by no means assumed on the part of many of the 'yellow' world, in 'bought red mouths', 'parched flowers', pallid women, 'delicate' sins.

Before the nineties opened there had spread bruit of a young writer out in India who knew little of this world of opera-cloaks and gold-headed canes and scorned what he did know. Kipling was, as his acute French observer, M. André Chevrillon, remarked, English ' d'une façon simple, violente et, de plus, tres nouvelle'; the world which he entered so violently, which he did more than any other to destroy, being, on the contrary, the pale and unsatisfying reflection of a phase in French literature. Kipling was indeed English, but in those early days he was the mouthpiece of classes and types that were not themselves vocal and had long lacked a chronicler. India, with its heat and dust, its diversities of creed and caste was suddenly brought to the door of the stay-at-home Englishman. He learned with a thrill how the more adventurous of his race, from private soldiers to governors of provinces, lived; how they fought and organized and ruled. For this precocious genius had not only observed and recorded for him a great number of interesting and astonishing facts and occurrences; he had also put at his disposal a marvellous power of catching an atmosphere, of summing up an impression of the scenes upon which the writer had looked. This was life indeed, exclaimed the reader in his armchair; this was life as it should be lived, this young seer in India was revealing the highest destiny of the Englishman. Soon it appeared that life could be lived elsewhere than in India. It could be lived in America, in Africa, in the ports of the world, at sea, whether in crack cargo-boats, rusty tramps or the fishing smacks on the Grand Bank, in the cab of a steam-engine; even, for those who knew how, in an unconventional public school. The same vigour, the same brilliant technique, the same power of making mechanism romantic marked each new effort and bound together the spell he had put upon the English public.

And then there came another phase. The worshipper of dangerous living, of physical excitement, of noise, some detractors averred, became entranced with the peaceful beauties and with the traditions of the English countryside, and touched upon them with as much originality as he had all the rest. Such are the broad lines of his literary career.

Rudyard Kipling is first of all master of the conte. He attempted full-length novels, achieving in The Light that Failed and Captains Courageous romances to which no adjective higher than 'successful' can be applied: in The Naulahka written in collaboration with his brother-in-law, not even that; and in Kim his one masterpiece in that province. But in the short story he has had few English rivals, even if we take the best work of others to match against his, and from his take any of forty or fifty which it is hard to separate from the point of view of merit. The short story was suited to his peculiar gifts of compression, of clarity, of characterization that needs no building up but is completed and fixed in a flash. In his stories he has used almost every kind of matter, though the love of the sexes plays a very much smaller part than with most writers. War, adventure of every type, machinery pure and simple, have been his familiar subjects. He has employed the grotesque, the horrible, and very often the eerie in his plots, looking with anxious but never credulous eyes at what may be distinguished or imagined 'at the end of the passage', in the half-world betwixt fact and dream. Nor has he neglected that form of short story which is almost an allegory, among which the Mowgli tales of The Jungle Book stand highest. In a great number of the early stories, in those of Mowgli above all, we seem to detect a form of idealism with as little historical justification as that of Rousseau. He sees the savage in man and that it is not far below the surface, and he is disposed to question the benefits of civilization.

The sentiment was perhaps with him no more than a phase, but those who study him closely can have little doubt that it existed. They will assuredly not regret the fact. For in the Mowgli stories Kipling achieved a rare feat: he invented a new form of expression. And these tales have a charm, a beauty, a boldness of imagination that we have not often seen equalled in our time. The animals are not, as are those of Kipling's numerous imitators in this vein, creatures with men's minds in the bodies of beasts. The sentiments of beasts may be inaccurately described; that we cannot tell, though we may suspect that their intelligence is exaggerated; but the whole affair is managed with such marvellous dexterity that we are convinced and willingly surrender to him our judgment. Can an animal find enjoyment in the thrill of danger, as many human beings can? Hear his answer and see if you can state the contrary opinion with equal plausibility?

To move down so cunningly that never a leaf stirred; to wade knee-deep in the roaring shallows that drown all noise from behind; to drink, looking backward over one shoulder, every muscle ready for the first desperate bound of keen terror; to roll on the sandy margin, and return, wet-muzzled and well plumped out, to the admiring herd, was a thing that all tall antlered young bucks took a delight in, precisely because they knew that at any moment Bagheera or Shere Khan might leap upon them and bear them down.

That word plausibility, in fact, gives us the key to one of the chief secrets of his popularity. It also explains a certain impatience felt by those who caught him out. For, excellently documented as he was, he was not always correct—could hardly be so, seeing how wide was his range. But, right or wrong, he was always equally assured, cocksure said the less friendly of his critics. And yet, these slips apart, his plausibility is amazing. The finest of the stories, such as 'On Greenhow Hill', 'The Return of Imray', 'The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes', 'the Man who would be King', 'Without Benefit of Clergy', 'the Mark of the Beast',—have the verisimilitude of chronicles. Let us say that chronicles they are indeed, the chronicles of an epoch of British administration in India, infused with the imagination of a great writer of fiction.

The poetry is another matter. Poetry demands a standard even higher than prose; that is to say, an infelicitous expression, a piece of loose thinking are in it more painfully apparent and bring their own condemnation more swiftly. In his early work in verse Kipling did not fly high. Departmental Ditties may have won him his earliest fame, but these popular ballads, parodies, society verses, satires, clever and witty as they are, do not warrant the bestowal of the title of poet. The elevation of Mr. Potiphar Gubbins, the transfer to Quetta of Jack Barrett, may take their place somewhere below the satiric verse of Marvell and above that of Churchill; the rest, if they live, will live because they are Kipling's. Yet on the last page of that volume came a poem, 'L'Envoi', which few probably noticed, which a bold prophet might have seen as a cloud no bigger than a man's hand. Till that cloud has sailed up we continue in the arid heat of dexterity, of rhetoric, of admonition, of a sententiousness often grating. We are warmed and made happy by wit and humour, we recognize a master of metre, rhythm and onomatopoeia in a line like

The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded.

But almost always we are either pulled up with a jar by a phrase which is definitely inappropriate, definitively no poetry; or, if we escape that, subsequent reflection seems to indicate a flaw in taste, a thought of which the expression begins well but is not sustained at the level of its early dignity and beauty. But the cloud was drawing nigher and swelling in size. There may be difference of opinions whether the later stories of the English countryside are the equals of the more brilliant exotic predecessors. There can be little doubt that in the lovely songs, strewn among them, buttercups and daisies amid rich green grass, Kipling reached his highest as a poet. The passionate patriotism which had often previously run riot, shocking and offending the weaker brethren, is here even more intense, but purified, purged of that note of brawling.

  Under their feet in the grasses
  My clinging magic runs.
  They shall return as strangers,
  They shall remain as sons.

  Scent of smoke in the evening.
  Smell of rain in the night,
  The hours, the days and the seasons,
  Order their souls aright.

In these songs, with their simplicity, their kindly and gracious philosophy, he reveals at last that lyric sweetness whereof we had had promise in 'L'Envoi', and himself as not merely a satirist or humorist or master of the banjo ballad, but a lyric poet.

  Cities and Thrones and Powers,
  Stand in Time's eye,
  Almost as long as flowers,
  Which daily die:
  But, as new buds put forth
  To glad new men
  Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth,
  The Cities rise again.

  This season's Daffodil,
  She never hears,
  What change, what chance, what chill,
  Cut down last year's;
  But with bold countenance,
  And knowledge small,
  Esteems her seven days' continuance
  To be perpetual.

(Even in reading these lines we pause. Is there not something school-boyish in the irony of that 'almost as long'?)

Yet let us make no mistake. More of Kipling will go down to posterity than the fastidious literary critic is prepared to pass. The flaws are those of a great and original craftsman; in the most faulty productions there is power; one feels everywhere in them the grip of a strong hand. Often that which is not poetry is life itself. Take a poem such as 'If'; not poetry at all, some critics may declare. It may not be, yet it has been an inspiration to many thousands and those not the most ingenuous or limited in their appreciation of poetical merit. Its moral maxims are as clean-cut and forcible as those of Pope or Edward Young. Almost all the patriotic verse, though it may grate often upon the ears of those whom Kipling called, with rather less than strict fairness but a large measure of truth,

Brittle intellectuals who crack beneath a strain,

and sometimes upon any critical ears, represents at least one side of England. 'Wordswoth,' wrote Lowell, 'never lets us long forget the deeply rooted stock from which he sprang—vien ben da lui.' The words may be applied with equal justice to Kipling. At his worst as at his best, the love of England breeds in him a passionate intensity and sincerity which ennoble even the verse marred by the shouting of party warfare or by extreme patriotic dogmatism, as by technical faults of like nature.

What verdict England of the future will pass upon England of the last years of Victoria and Edward VII, is uncertain, but it is incontestable that the age will always rank as one of the greatest in our history—great materially and great in national temper. And may one not dare to foresee that when, long hence, that age and its characteristics and products are called to mind, the name of Rudyard Kipling will come first to men's mouths when they talk of its most typical representatives? Is it not likely that then the lesser work will take its place with the greater, as all part of and symbolic of the country which he loved and celebrated?

It were not easy to imagine two writers more widely separated than Rudyard Kipling and Maurice Barrès, but their names are linked by the fact that as contemporaries, born within a few years of one another, each set up a philosophy of nationalism and each was assailed from a point of view in which the political mingled with the artistic. Each might have taken as motto the words of Disraeli: 'Now a nation is a work of art and a work of time;' and each tripped not seldom in the snares which arrogance sets for the feet of the nationalist. Hear them each, Barrès on his beloved Hill of Sion-Vaudemont:

Où sont les dames de Lorraine, sœurs, filles et femmes des Croisés, qui s'en venaient prier à Sion pendant que les hommes d'armes, là-bas, combattaient l'infidèle, et celles-là surtout qui, le lendemain de la bataille de Nicopolis, ignorantes encore, mais épouvantées par les rumeurs, montèrent ici intercéder pour des vivants qui étaient déjà des morts? Où la sainte princesse Philippe de Gueldre, à qui Notre-Dame de Sio découvrit, durant le temps de son sommeil, les desseins ambitieux des ennemis de la Lorraine?

and Kipling on his Sussex Downs:

  See you the dimpled track that runs,
  All hollow through the wheat?
  O that was where they hauled the guns
  That smote King Philip's fleet.

  See you our stilly woods of oak,
  And the dread ditch beside?
  O that was where the Saxons broke,
  On the day that Harold died.

While Barrès, a mystic, heard 'the hushed and timid voices' of the gods of his ancestors at those spiritual points where, it seemed to him, the crust of the material world was thin and the poetry of great deeds and great lives came through it as in a vapour, Kipling, more realistically, conjured up upon the Downs his ancestors, themselves. Puck of Pook's Hill, Rewards and Fairies, have in them the very marrow of England. For them, at least, we may prophesy with assurance that death will not come quickly. In these entrancing volumes, in many another tale of the stamp of 'An Habitation Enforced', there is far more than merely the exquisite art of telling a story; there is the recreation of history, the essence of a nation's beginning and early development. The figures of De Aquila and Sir Richard Dalyngridge are not only great characters of fiction but pendants to the works of great historians. 'And so was England born.' The work of Kipling, as of Barrès, at its greatest moments is a flower of national art. It was fitting that the former should have known and loved and been honoured of France; and that the latter, though he said hard words of England, should have been the guest of our fleet in time of war and lauded its traditions to his countrymen.

We have hinted that the young men have less pleasure in the work of Kipling than those who reached manhood at any time between the publication of Departmental Ditties and that of Kim, though there is some doubt as to how far the young writers represent their generation in this. In any case there is in it nothing uncommon or prejudicial to his eventual fame. At Wordsworth's death, when subscriptions were being collected for a memorial to him Macaulay declared to Arnold that ten years earlier more money could been raised to do him honor in Cambridge alone than was now raised all through the country. Thirty years later Arnold was bewailing that the diminution of Wordsworth's popularity was continuing, that, effaced first by Scott and Byron, he was now completely effaced by Tennyson. The selected poems of Wordsworth, which Arnold was then editing, to which the essay quoted was a preface, ran through thirteen editions between 1879 and the close of the century, and there have been many others. That which is popular today may be outmoded to-morrow, but if it has the stuff of life in it, it will assuredly not be dead the day after. Yet, where Kipling is concerned, it is improbable that there will ever be unanimity of opinion.

He was a man of strong prejudices, strong political views, with little tenderness for the opinions of others, and—though to lesser extent than now—he may always divide men into camps. So much granted, there will be, we are convinced, in years to come a general agreement upon the high merit of a great part of this man's work. The perfervid admirers will come to admit that there is dross—dross, why he threw it up in a heap about him as he worked, till at times we could scarce see him over the top of it! Those of the type of mind which is antagonized by a loud-voiced patriotism and Toryism will allow those English songs and stories which we last considered to be free from that offence, and will perhaps even pardon it elsewhere for the vigour and skill with which it is presented. Both will proclaim him a magician in the art of the short story, who raised it to a higher station in our literature than it had known before his coming. As novelist they will call him author of one, but one only, of the finest romances of his time. As a poet he will be remembered for a mass of vigorous, pithy, if faulty, work of the second order; for a patriotic hymn that had become part of every national ceremony; last, not least, as the singer of English country beauties and traditions. And if, amid the work he leaves behind him, those juries of the future contrive, to catch a glimpse of the man himself, as his own time knew him, they must add to their verdict a rider that this was a great man as well as a great writer; and honourable and fearless and good.

Source: Anonymous, "Rudyard Kipling's Place in English Literature," in Kipling: The Critical Heritage, edited by Roger Lancelyn Green, Barnes & Noble, 1971, pp. 384-93.


Flint, M., "Kipling's Mowgli and Human Focalization," in Studia Neophilogica, Vol. LXV, No. 1, 1993, p. 78.

Kipling, Rudyard, "Mowgli's Brothers," in The Jungle Books, Vol. 1, Doubleday, 1948.

Locke, John, "Book II—Of Ideas," in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited by Peter H. Nidditch, Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 105.

Spinoza, Benedictus, "Theologico-Political Treatise: Chapter IV: Of the Divine Law," in The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, translated by R. H. M. Elwes, Dover, 1951, p. 61.

Further Reading

Bauer, Helen Pike, Rudyard Kipling: A Study in Short Fiction, Twayne, 1994.

Bauer explores the themes and morals of Kipling's short fiction. The book includes essays on the Mowgli tales and other short works.

Cain, Peter, and Tony Hopkins, British Imperialism, 1688–2000, 2d ed., Longman, 2001.

Critic R. D. Long calls this book "the standard work on British Imperialism and may remain so for the foreseeable future."

Gilmour, David, The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling, Farrar, 2003.

Gilmour focuses on Kipling's political life and his pessimistic approach to the colonization that made him a rare human and British imperialist.

Mallett, Phillip, Rudyard Kipling: A Literary Life, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Mallett studies the influences on Kipling's work, including his family, his laureate status, and his relation to the literary world.

Orel, Harold, A Kipling Chronology, G. K. Hall, 1990.

Orel provides an excellent reference outlining Kipling's life and career in a timeline with short, insightful descriptions of all major events in his life.

Orel, Harold, ed., Critical Essays on Rudyard Kipling, G. K. Hall, 1989.

This collection of essays establishes the complexity of Kipling, his characters, and his contribution to British and children's literature. The collection contains essays dedicated to poetry, short fiction, and other writings.