RUDYARD KIPLING by Martin Seymour-Smith


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Give Seymour-Smith (Robert Graves, 1983; etc.) his due: he's an idol-smasher, and in this bellicose, irreverent, and often engrossing study of Kipling, he's on quite a scent. The trick is in discovering whether it's false or not. The Kipling everyone knows, the pampered guardian of British Imperialism, presiding over the last glory days of empire, is here replaced by the Kipling who perhaps no one except the author really wants to know: Kipling as a closeted, sadomasochistic homosexual and pedophile. Seymour-Smith builds his case on the assumption of Kipling's ""sexual ambivalence,"" a view now commonly accepted, and put discreetly in perspective in Angus Wilson's The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling (1977). Perhaps too discreetly, our present writer instructs, for ""the manner in which all people's sexuality leaks into and thus distorts their lives and their emotions tells us a great deal about them."" The result is a full-throttled Freudian tour through Kipling's low spots in life: a ""parentless"" childhood, a fascination with cruelty, an unhappy marriage, an assumedly platonic affair with his wife's brother, and, above all, a deeply abiding fear of self-knowledge. Seymour-Smith is most convincing when he allows the circumstantial evidence to speak for itself (most private correspondence has long since been destroyed). When, for example, he discusses Kipling's rapturous fascination with Wolcott Balester, a handsome youth who ""seduced"" the famous writer into coauthoring a book with him. Or when he shrewdly speculates about marriage to Carrie, Wolcott's sister, whom Kipling wed soon after the young man's death from typhoid. Less persuasive are the critical arguments Seymour-Smith brings to the works themselves. Riding roughshod through Stalky is only one of many rather interesting distortions. On the whole, a stimulating and ground-breaking psychobiography, opening up a Pandora's box of speculation that should keep patriots and scholars arguing for years.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1989
Publisher: St. Martin's