O BELOVED KIDS"": Rudyard Kipling's Letters to His Children by Rudyard Kipling

O BELOVED KIDS"": Rudyard Kipling's Letters to His Children

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The Kipling family was obsessive about privacy--so these letters, written mostly to son John (away at school, then at war), didn't surface until after the death of Kipling's daughter Elsie in 1976. They cover the period from 1906 to 1915, when 18-year-old John was reported missing-in-action in France. In them, the ""poetical Pa"" emerges as the most affectionate of fathers: entertaining young John (and sometimes young Elsie) with illustrated accounts of his travels; offering comical-yet-serious advice and encouragement; writing with a largely beguiling combination of allusive sophistication and jolly juvenile gusto. (From his letter about receiving the Nobel Prize in Stockholm: ""I felt rather like a bad boy up to be caned. . . You have no notion how difficult it is to shake hands gracefully when one arm is full of a large smooth leather book on top of which is a slippery slidy red leather box--like a huge Tiffany jewel case."") Elsie, educated at home, only receives guidance when traveling on her own--as in ""a few simple rules for Life in London."" (Rule #5: ""Never stop a motor bus with your foot. It is not a croquet ball."") But poor John, who seems to have been a pleasant lad with no particular talents or personality, gets gentle, amusing pushings and buckings-up--about his spelling, his non-eating, his school-work--at regular intervals: ""From all I can discover, you behaved yourself like a man when you felt homesick. I understand that you did not flop about and blub and whine but carried on quietly. Good man! . . . You are deficient in lime in your carcass, young Sir. Meat will give it you."" True, some biographers have faulted the jingoistic Kipling for pressing his 17-year-old son into military service. Yet, despite a few racial epithets and some beefsteak rhetoric, the Kipling here is no tunnel-visioned Empire builder, merely a parent genuinely wanting the best for a rather directionless son; the tragedy at the end, then, arrives with quiet impact. And, if neither a substantial addition to Kipling scholarship nor a richly satisfying collection of correspondence (only a few shorthand replies from John at the front are included), this handsome, slightly oversized album has a fair measure of period charm and infectious father-to-son warmth.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich