Imperialism in Rudyard Kipling’s Art and Works

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

One of the most characteristic features of the modern development of humanity is a sharp increasing trend towards integration, mutual influence and cooperation and internationalization of world processes. A new stage of development marks the transition from enclave civilizations, which almost did not interact with each other, towards the desire to intensify inter-civilization contacts. This turn of universal history is connected, first of all, with the vital activity of European civilization, the existence of which required constant self-reproduction and expansion. The last circumstance has found its manifestation in colonial expansion and the creation of a single system of world economy, without which the modern order of the world would not have arisen.

Therefore, without comprehension of the phenomena that took place in the colonial era, it is impossible to fully understand complex and contradictory processes occurring in the modern era. This raises the need to study and rethink colonization processes, their impact on the life of all countries and nations that were part of this process. Also, mutual contacts should be viewed not as a unidirectional action, but as a dialogue of different cultures and different civilizations, which, voluntarily or involuntarily, significantly intensified the processes of interaction and mutual influence of representatives of different cultures, civilizations and religions. Very important and promising for historians is the thesis of the mutual influence of all cultures. None of them is isolated and pure. All cultures are hybrid, heterogeneous and highly differentiated and non-monolithic. The empires of the past have been affected by all states, imperialism has made the world closer. Therefore, the imperial context should not be ignored during the studying of the development and interaction of cultures.

So, I would like to focus now on British imperialism specifically in India. And, firstly, i will begin with what imperialism is, how did the British come to rule India, positive and negative effects of imperialism and after the reflection of imperialism in Kipling’s To be Filed for Reference (“Plain Tales from the Hills”, 1888). So, the definition. Imperialism is a policy, in which a strong nation seeks to dominate other countries politically, economically or socially. In simple words – it’s when a country goes outside of their boundaries and takes over another territory or another country. The British economic interest in India began in the 1600s with the British East India Company. This establishes sort of the beginning of British colonialism in different territories. Part of why did the British come to rule India – the Mughal dynasty India began to crumble. So in a lot of sense was sort of ripe for the taking. The country didn’t have strong leadership, the country itself was very weakened so historically it was the perfect time period for the British to move in and to try occupy India or take it over. So, from 1757 to 1858, the British East India Company was the leading power in India. They moved in with their superior ships, weapons and government. They were able to establish control in India.

The area controlled by the East India Company grew, eventually controlled Bangladesh, most of southern India, and territory along the Ganges River. Sepoys (or Indian soldiers) made up a large part of the East India Company army. The Governor of Bombay referred to the sepoy army as a “delicate and dangerous machine, which a little mismanagement may easily turn against us”.

Probably, it is wrong to divide the imperial intentions and the national culture of the metropole. It should be considered as a whole. It is also wrong to consider fiction out of the international context, out of the history of society. Literature participated in the expansion, it created a certain moral climate for it. At the end of the XIX century, there were a lot of works about empires. Through works of fiction the history became accessible to a wide range of readers. Most humanists – authors of the XIX century could not explain the connection between the practice of slavery, colonialism and racism with the poetry, prose and philosophy of the society that carried out this practice. But critics often cut off such themes from the ‘sublime’ culture. Imperialism is the cultural artifact of bourgeois society. Imperialism and fiction complemented each other. The works of Henry Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Edward Morgan Forster, Arthur Conan Doyle along with the works of ethnographers, economists, historians played a big role in the formation of imperial psychology.

For the British Empire and its cultural development the interaction of Western and Eastern civilizations was of particular importance because its main colony, India, was a vivid representative of Asian culture. Although India gained independence in 1947, the dispute over how to assess the joint history of Britain and India is still actual. There is an opinion that imperialism has disfigured and destroyed Indian life so much that even after decades of independence, the Indian economy, adapted in the past to the needs of Britain, continues to suffer. On the other hand, a number of British historians, public figures and politicians believe that the destruction of the Empire was pernicious for both the British and the Indians. Problems of mutual relations and clashes of East and West in India, understanding of the ‘alien’ culture have always occupied the minds of many British scientists and cultural figures, and Rudyard Kipling (Dec. 30.12.1865, Bombay, India – 18.01.1936, London, Eng.) takes a special place among them. Joseph Rudyard Kipling is an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, his tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

Rudyard Kipling was the first born child of John Lockwood Kipling and Alice Kipling, who had settled in India earlier that year. His father was a professor of architectural sculpture; on his mother’s side there was a brace of distinguished Aunts and Uncles for the boy. One Aunt was the mother of Stanley Baldwin, future Prime Minister; another was married to Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the distinguished Pre-Raphelite Painter. He wrote about the Anglo-Indian society, which he readily criticized with an acid pen and the life of the common British soldier and the Indian native, which he portrayed accurately and sympathetically. In 1889 Kipling took a long voyage through China, Japan, and the United States. When he reached London, he found that his stories had preceded him and established him as a brilliant new author. He was readily accepted into the circle of leading writers. While there he wrote a number of stories and some of his best-remembered poems: ‘A Ballad of East and West,’ ‘Mandalay,’ and ‘The English Flag.’

He also introduced English readers to a new type of serious poems in Cockney dialect: ‘Danny Deever,’ ‘Tommy,’ ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzy,’ and ‘Gunga Din.’ In 1897 the Kiplings settled in Rottingdean, a village on the British coast near Brighton. The outbreak of the Spanish-American War (1898; a short war between Spain and the United States over lands including Cuba and the Philippines) and the Boer War (1899–1902; a war between Great Britain and South Africa) turned Kipling’s attention to colonial affairs. He began to publish a number of solemn poems in standard English in the London Times. The most famous of these, ‘Recessional’ (July 17, 1897), issued a warning to Englishmen to regard their accomplishments in the Diamond Jubilee (fiftieth) year of Queen Victoria’s (1819–1901) reign with humility and awe rather than pride and arrogance. The equally well-known ‘White Man’s Burden’ (February 4, 1899) clearly expressed the attitudes toward the empire that are implied in the stories in The Day’s Work (1898) and A Fleet in Being (1898).

Kipling referred to less highly developed peoples as ‘lesser breeds’ and considered order, discipline, sacrifice, and humility to be the essential qualities of colonial rulers. These views have been denounced as racist (believing that one race is better than others), elitist (believing oneself to be a part of a superior group), and jingoistic (pertaining to a patriot who speaks in favor of an aggressive and warlike foreign policy). But for Kipling, the term ‘white man’ indicated citizens of the more highly developed nations. He felt it was their duty to spread law, literacy, and morality throughout the world.

During the Boer War, Kipling spent several months in South Africa, where he raised funds for soldiers’ relief and worked on an army newspaper, the Friend. In 1901 Kipling published Kim, the last and most charming of his portrayals of Indian life. But anti-imperialist reaction following the end of the Boer War caused a decline in Kipling’s popularity. When Kipling published The Five Nations, a book of South African verse, in 1903, he was attacked in parodies (satirical imitations), caricatures (exaggerations for comic effect), and serious protests as the opponent of a growing spirit of peace and democratic equality. Kipling retired to ‘Bateman’s,’ a house near Burwash, a secluded village in Essex.

Kipling now turned from the wide empire as his subject to simply England itself. In 1902 he published Just So Stories for Little Children. He also issued two books of stories of England’s past— Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910). Like the Jungle Books they were intended for young readers but were suitable for adults as well. His most significant work at this time was a number of volumes of short stories written in a different style—’Traffics and Discoveries’ (1904), ‘Actions and Reactions’ (1904), ‘A Diversity of Creatures’ (1917), ‘Debits and Credits’ (1926), and ‘Limits and Renewals’ (1932). Kipling’s later stories treat more complex, subtle, and somber (serious) subjects. They reflect Kipling’s darkened worldview following the death of his daughter, Josephine, in 1899, and the death of his son, John, in 1915. Consequently, these stories have never been as popular as his earlier works. But modern critics, in reevaluating Kipling, have found a greater power and depth that make them among his best work.

In 1907 Kipling became the first English writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died on January 18, 1936, and is buried in Westminster Abbey in London, England. His autobiography, Something of Myself, was published in 1937. Rudyard Kipling’s early stories and poems about life in colonial India made him a great favorite with English readers. Amis, his biographer and a writer himself writes, “Kipling was an authoritarian in the sense that he was not a democrat. To him, a parliament was a place where people with no knowledge of things as they were could dictate to the men who did real work, and could change their dictates at whim. His ideal was a feudalism that had never existed, a loyal governed class freely obeying incorrupt, conscientious governors. He was vague about how you became a governor: you probably (as in the Empire) just found you were one.

Nevertheless, birth, influence, money, educational status and the like must not count as qualifications for leadership. Merit, competence and a sense ofresponsibility were what did count: ‘the job belongs to the man who can do it’. As George Orwell pointed out, Kipling was further from being a fascist than can easily be imagined in a period when totalitarianism – a very different thing from authoritarianism – is accepted as a possibly valid or even desirable system. [Kingsley Amis, Rudyard Kipling and his world. Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1975, p.52] Kipling was an imperialist. He accepted the Empire as it stood and he approved the annexation of Upper Burma. His position has been explained semi-mystically the Empire was justified because it fostered virtue in its administrators and psychologically the Empire was attractive because it was an island of security in a turbulent, hostile universe. But Alan Sandison, one of the most famous Kipling’s critics, analyzed the connection of literature and imperialism in The Wheel of Empire (1967), a group of essays on Haggard, Kipling, Conrad, and Buchan, explored the ‘nature and function of the imperial idea’ in their respective works. Treating each figure as a special case, Sandison suggests that imperialism exists as something quite separate from the creative writer, something outside, to which the writer responds in a distinctly personal way. ‘Given the imperial idea”, he says of Kipling, ‘he reacted in the way any artist would-by finding in it a means through which to express his own artistic vision’.Kipling’s vision, according to Sandison, is the ‘awareness of man’s essential isolation… illumined in the imperial alien’s relationship to his hostile environment.’

Sandison does not hold imperialism even partially responsible for helping to create isolation or fragmentation; it merely clarifies an already existent situation. Sandison thinks it ‘unfortunate… that Kipling chose the physical context of a political idea’ to express his own singular vision, because his support of Empire ‘concealed the fact that, fundamentally he was not writing to express the idea of empire.’ [Wendy R. Katz. Rider Haggard and the Fiction of Empire: A Critical Study of British imperial fiction, Cambridge, 1987, p.3-4] Now I would like to focus on ‘To Be Filed for Reference’. This story was first published in “Plain Tales from the Hills” (1888), a collection of stories of life in India. It is the last of the forty stories in the collection. The plot of the story: McIntosh Jellaludin, an Englishman educated at Oxford and formerly a brilliant scholar, has ‘gone native’, marrying a native woman and becoming a convert to Islam as well as (somewhat inconsistently) taking to drink: ‘a tall well-built, fair man, fearfully shaken with drink, and he looked nearer fifty than thirty-five, which, he said, was his real age.’

The narrator happens on him one night in the Sultan Caravanserai, drunk and helpless, helps him home to his filthy lodgings where he lives with a native woman, becomes his friend, and listens to his ramblings as he dies of pneumonia, brought on by drink. Before his death, McIntosh bequeaths the narrator the manuscript of his book, Mother Maturin, which may or may not be a masterpiece of low life in India. This was the title – and indeed the theme – of Kipling’s first attempt at a novel, of which he had written over 200 pages in 1885, but never completed.

Some critics suppose that this story is not just a part of Kipling’s life in India. It contains more than a trace of autobiography. Like all Englishmen, he perceives a mystery in India which he desires to penetrate, but equally he believes, like all Englishmen, that to do so is to lose oneself. Another figure that fascinates him is the “loafer” or white man ‘gone native’, like McIntosh Jellaludin in “To Be Filed for Reference”. McIntosh, it is hinted, has penetrated some of the mysterious of the East, but he pays the price in degradation and death. The brash young Kipling appears to promise us Jellaludin’s ‘manuscript’ at a future date but, as with ‘Mother Maturin’, the promise was ne er fulfilled. Much as Kipling may have got to know India as a journalist such a promise could never really be fulfilled, because India was understood to be necessarily alien and incomprehensible to Western minds; and as Kipling usually understood quite clearly, the Empire rested on a belief in that unbridgeable gulf. Yet it remains true that he, more than any other writer, explored the relationship between the British and India. [Mark Pafford. Kipling’s Indian Fiction, Palgavre Macmillan, 1989, p.54]. By every Anglo-Indian standard he has failed utterly. And yet he has captured Kipling’s imagination: the conversations between McIntosh and the reporter suggest in a curious way that two conflicting impulses in Kipling himself are debating against one another.

McIntosh embodies that part of Kipling’s mind for which the restraints of Anglo-Indian life were intolerably burdensome…McIntosh is enviable to the extent that he has seen to the bottom of Indian life, and can therefore laugh at Strickland as an ignorant man. He is enviable as the author of ‘Mother Maturin’, the novel Kipling had begin but was never to complete.


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