IF by Christopher Benfey

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The Untold Story of Kipling's American Years
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An examination of Rudyard Kipling’s life and work through the lens of the years he spent living in the United States.

Many scholars regard the once-popular writer as little more than the “jingoist Bard of Empire.” In this book, Benfey (English/Mount Holyoke Coll.; Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival, 2012, etc.) discusses Kipling's little-discussed but highly productive “Vermont decade” to suggest that he became “the writer we know…because of his deep involvement with the United States.” Benfey begins in 1889, the year Kipling traveled from Bombay to London via a route that took him east through the U.S., where he began a friendship with Mark Twain and visited the homes of other American literary idols including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. When he arrived in London in 1890, he met an American, whom he married in 1892. On a whim, the pair bought land in Vermont while on their honeymoon. But after Kipling’s savings were unexpectedly wiped out by a financial panic, they returned to New England to settle. There, Kipling, determined to become an American writer, conceived or wrote some of his greatest works: Kim, a book that would later become a must-read for CIA operatives; Captain’s Courageous, which he called his “first genuine out and out American story"; and the The Jungle Book, a novel Benfey argues arose in part as Kipling’s response to Vermont surroundings that made him feel he was “living in a lawless jungle.” On a visit to Washington, D.C., the writer met the imperialist war hawk and rising political star Theodore Roosevelt, whom he befriended. Kipling hated the “saber-rattling” he observed among American politicians, but he also believed—as he would suggest in his poem “The White Man’s Burden”—that the U.S. needed to “assume its share of the responsibilities of empire.” Intelligent and well-researched, Benfey’s book accomplishes a delicate feat by highlighting the complexity of Kipling’s life and work without seeking to minimize his colonialist, racist views.

An accessible and enlightening biography.

Pub Date: July 9th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2143-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2019




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