KIPLING: The Glass, The Shadow and The Fire by Philip Mason

KIPLING: The Glass, The Shadow and The Fire

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Say the name Rudyard Kipling and you evoke uneasiness, an instant dilemma. What other writer's place in the constellation of literary greats is so rickety? His virtues are obvious; his faults glaring. His defenders include such surprising people as T. S. Eliot, Henry James, Oscar Wilde and George Orwell; the charm of Kim and The Jungle Books has captivated generations of children and adults. But there is also the other Kipling who will not go away: the vulgar, bullying imperialist, the woman-hater, the smug boy scout who embarrasses us. Mason, who like Kipling spent years in India safeguarding the Empire (A Matter of Honour with its Kiplingesque title is the latest of his many books on British rule in that mysterious subcontinent) is in a unique position to evaluate the man and his work. Kipling, the lackey for the imperial administrative class, was also one of the first Englishmen to write in lower-class Cockney accents; his great, his perennial theme was work, the obligation to do the job well no matter how lowly. The craftsman's instinct was strong in him, as was the wish for the passionate camaraderie work created-C. S. Lewis perceptively noted, ""I think he loves work for the sake of professional brotherhood."" Barrack-Room Ballads (which Mason rather underestimates) are some of the most convincing tales of military life ever written. Mason is both empathetic and acute when he observes that Kipling, the brassy imperialist, wrote out of some profound ""need to keep chaos at bay,"" was attracted to and deeply frightened of lawlessness. None of this excuses what Edmund Wilson called his ""excommunicatory hatreds""--he could summarily banish whole classes from humanity, but once again Mason is on to something when he suggests that Kipling was ""a tribesman without a tribe""--marooned between the Indian world which was enjoyment and the Europeanized world which was duty. A deep schism between compassion and hatred, between the smoking-room and the jungle, was manifest both in his books and his personality. A compelling interpretation of a difficult man and a perplexing writer.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row