April 5, 2012
Rudyard Kipling was born in India in 1905, and spent his early years there. His father was an artist, an art teacher, and a museum curator who illustrated several of Kipling’s books. His mother’s maiden name was MacDonald (the family was Scottish); one of her sisters married the painter Edward Burne-Jones, another sister was the mother of Stanley Baldwin, a British prime minister.1
When Kipling was five, his parents sent him and his sister to board with strangers in England, while they remained in India. Gone were the obedient servants who had surrounded him in India, gone the loving parents. Kipling later dubbed his domicile The House of Desolation. He spent seven unhappy years there, then spent four happier years at an English boarding school; his school years were the basis of a book called Stalky & Co.
When he was 16, Kipling moved back to India, where his father had found him a job on a newspaper. He published a volume of poems when he was 20, and a volume of stories when he was 22. The volume of stories was called Plain Tales From the Hills, and was soon followed by more story-collections (Kipling was a prolific writer, especially in his youth). His reputation in India was growing, and he was even becoming known in England.
After seven years in India, Kipling decided to pursue a literary career in England. He travelled from India to England via Burma, Hong Kong, Japan, and the U.S.; he later described his travels in From Sea to Sea. In 1889, at the age of 23, he arrived in London, where he was hailed as the new genius. At 24, he was churning out stories and poems at a rapid rate, prompting Robert Louis Stevenson to say, “At this rate his works will soon fill the habitable globe.... Kipling is by far the most promising young man to appear since — ahem — I appeared.”2
Kipling decided to try his hand at novel-writing, and wrote four novels in the next twelve years, while continuing to write stories and poems. His first novel was The Light That Failed, about a successful painter who becomes gradually blind.3 His second was The Naulahka, which he co-wrote with an American publisher, Wolcott Balestier (he became close friends with Balestier, and when Balestier died suddenly in 1891, Kipling married Balestier’s sister, Carrie). The third was Captains Courageous, about cod fishing in New England (“It seems very odd to me,” Oscar Wilde said, “that a man should write a whole novel about cod-fishing — but then I suppose that is because I do not like cod”4). His fourth novel was Kim (1901), often called his best novel; Kim is about a boy travelling through India who becomes involved with English espionage and Tibetan Buddhism. Kipling’s novels didn’t arouse as much public enthusiasm as his poems and stories, and he finally decided that the novel wasn’t for him.
As Andrew Lang said, few writers have succeeded in both the short story and the novel; Maupassant succeeded in the short story, but his novels are mediocre. Poe succeeded in the short story, but didn’t attempt a novel. Chekhov succeeded with stories and plays, but didn’t attempt a novel. Hawthorne is one of the few writers who succeeded with both stories and novels.5 Perhaps we should compare Kipling to Maupassant: both were masters of the short story, less successful with the novel. But while Maupassant wrote only prose, Kipling was known for his poetry as much as his prose.
When Kipling was 41, he received the Nobel Prize; he was the first English-language writer to receive it, and to this day, he’s the youngest person ever to receive it. Henry James said, “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.” Kipling’s poems and stories were so widely read that many of their phrases passed into everyday speech (such as “white man’s burden” and “somewhere east of Suez”), or became book titles (such as The God That Failed and A Savage War of Peace). His children’s books — such as Just So Stories and The Jungle Book — were especially popular. When he was in France during World War I, a French soldier who was under fire asked him to explain how the idea for the Jungle Book came to him.6 In 1899, when he was seriously ill, the world waited for news, and even the Kaiser sent him a telegram.
Journalists were constantly trying to interview him, so he learned to maintain a stony silence. When he was living in Vermont, and saw journalists approaching, he hid in a neighbor’s barn. “Why don’t you tell them to go to hell?” his neighbor asked. “Can’t do that, they would write it all up in their papers.”7 He disliked biographers even more than journalists, and called biography “higher cannibalism.” He wrote,
Seek not to question other than
He had a substantial income, and built himself a large house in Dummerston, Vermont (near Brattleboro), which he called Naulahka; he lived in Vermont for four years.8 Later he bought an old English mansion, Bateman’s, where he spent the last thirty years of his life. At Bateman’s, he had his own brook, which he used to generate his own electricity. He received farming advice from Rider Haggard, an agriculture expert and the author of King Solomon’s Mines, She, and other novels. Kipling and his family enjoyed Haggard’s stories about his years in Africa. Like Kipling, Haggard had experienced the death of a child, and never fully recovered. In his later years, Haggard said that he and Kipling were “in supreme sympathy.... A long talk with Kipling is now one of the greatest pleasures I have left in life.”9
Kipling was interested in practical matters, and began driving a car in 1897, when cars had 6 horsepower, and travelled 15 miles per hour.10 He often interrogated tradesmen and engineers, then put his knowledge to use in his stories. His curiosity was described as “insatiable,” and his memory as “prodigious.”11 Like his contemporary H. G. Wells, Kipling wrote stories about future technologies: in 1903, he wrote “Wireless,” about using radio to communicate with a past century; in 1904, he wrote “With the Night Mail,” about flying across the Atlantic in a plane that almost flew itself; and in 1907, he wrote “As Easy as A.B.C.” in which a broadcasting company governs the world. Kipling was as interested in the past as the future, and wrote two books that put English history into fictional form: Puck of Pook’s Hill, and Rewards and Fairies.
In his later years, Kipling’s popularity declined. He seemed out of touch with modern taste. He was a staunch defender of the British Empire, and believed that the British could govern India better than the Indians themselves.12 He also opposed Home Rule for Ireland. Kipling was scornful of democracy, and thought the strong man should rule alone. He complained that the British wasted their time with soccer and cricket; he thought they should train for war instead, by fighting mock battles, etc.13 His days were darkened by the deaths of his son and daughter, by his unhappy marriage, and by illness.
In a 1942 essay, Orwell called Kipling a “jingo imperialist,” and said that “during five literary generations every enlightened person has despised him.” In a period that was preoccupied with darkness and evil, Kipling’s “bouncing vulgar vitality” was unfashionable. Kipling was a champion of empire at a time when empire was viewed with disfavor. While most intellectuals were starting to question Western civilization, Kipling thought that Western societies had an obligation to rule, educate, and civilize non-Western societies:
Take up the White Man’s burden —
Kipling lamented democratic trends in countries like Japan and India, and defended non-democratic countries like Russia.
In defense of Kipling, however, it should be noted that he always opposed Marxism and Nazism. And he had a knack for anticipating future developments; for example, he anticipated the world wars.
Around 1930, Kipling “spoke always about the coming war, the advent of which he clearly predicted.”16
There’s an excellent biography of Kipling by Lord Birkenhead; the longer biography by Charles Carrington also deserves mention. Kipling wrote an autobiography, Something of Myself.18 The Kipling Society is an excellent web resource (another web resource is the Victorian Web’s Kipling page.) There are many anthologies of Kipling’s short stories, including one called Mrs Bathurst and Other Stories, which has explanatory notes, and one made by Somerset Maugham.
I read “The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes,” one of Kipling’s best-known stories.19 Carrington calls it a tale of horror “written markedly in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe.”20 It’s enjoyable to read, it grabbed my attention in a way that Kim didn’t. It’s an early work, published when the author was just 22.
When you read this story, you quickly discover why Orwell said “there is a definite strain of sadism in [Kipling].” Sadism seems to be as pervasive in Kipling as sex is in Maupassant. The story begins with dogs baying at the moon, and thus disturbing the sleep of Morrowbie Jukes. He says that, a few days before, he had shot one noisy dog, and hung up his carcass as a warning to the others, but the others ate the carcass, and were then as noisy as ever. The story fairly drips with blood, but the tone is light-hearted and playful. Perhaps Kipling’s sadism has its source in The House of Desolation, where Kipling himself was treated sadistically.
The story mentions “the ill-fated Mignonette.” I looked up “Mignonette” in Wikipedia, and learned that it was an English ship that was damaged and had to be abandoned. The four-man crew took refuge in a lifeboat, and soon suffered the ravages of hunger and thirst. Two crew members decided to kill a crew member who appeared to be dying, Richard Parker. After killing and eating Parker, they were rescued by a passing ship, and brought back to England. There they were tried for murder; it became a famous case. They were convicted and sentenced to death, but released after six months in prison.
Wikipedia’s article on the Mignonette says that in 1974
Poe’s apparent anticipation of the Mignonette episode reminds one of Morgan Robertson’s anticipation of the Titanic disaster.
Another horror story by Kipling is “The Mark of the Beast.” I found an essay in The Kipling Journal on “The Mark of the Beast.”22 Since the story has a torture scene, the essay discusses the question, “Is torture ever justified?” The author argues that those who perform torture in “The Mark of the Beast” are inspired by loyalty to their friend, rather than by loyalty to the abstract principle that torture is wrong. This leads the author to refer to Talcott Parsons’ distinction between “universalist” cultures and “particularist” cultures:
The author suggests that Kipling’s torturers may follow the particularist path because they’ve been influenced by a particularist culture, India.
Not all Kipling stories deal with horror and the supernatural, some deal with the everyday world. An example is “Jews of Shushan,” which discusses a tiny group of Jews in a North Indian town.
But whatever style he uses, Kipling writes with skill and verve. He’s a pure artist, an unconscious artist; he wasn’t inclined to write critical essays, as Forster and Gide were. I enjoy Kipling’s stories, but I would find it hard to explain why. They aren’t especially humorous or profound or suspenseful, they’re just great stories.
Birkenhead notes that, when Kipling was living in London and being hailed as the new genius, he wasn’t happy. Birkenhead speaks of “the emptiness of his private life,” and “the depression and eyestrain brought on by overwork.”23 He had long been infatuated with a woman named Flo Garrard, who had boarded with his sister in The House of Desolation (after Kipling had left). But Flo didn’t requite his love, and even when he became famous, “her only desire was to be left alone to her painting.”24 Kipling’s novel The Light That Failed is said to reflect his London life, and his concerns about his own eyesight, and the character Maisie is said to be based on Flo Garrard. Birkenhead says it’s difficult to understand Kipling’s emotional life, which was “protected by a profound and almost morbid reticence.”25
Meanwhile, Kipling was writing stories of “supreme literary merit,” such as “The Head of the District,” “The Courting of Dinah Shadd,” and “The Man Who Was.” But Birkenhead takes a dim view of The Light That Failed, calling it a “rotten apple.”26
When Kipling was 26, he married 29-year-old Carrie Balestier. In an earlier issue, I mentioned that intellectuals often have relationships with older women. Intellectuals often have a feminine streak, and connect with a woman who has a masculine streak. We mentioned above that Kipling was infatuated with a woman (Flo Garrard) who was more interested in her career than in marriage. Carrie Balestier had a strong personality, and was inclined to control Kipling. “Henry James, who had never liked [Carrie], noted: ‘She is a hard, devoted, capable little person, whom I don’t in the least understand his marrying. It’s a union of which I don’t forecast the future.’”27
A character in Kipling’s Naulahka, Kate Sheriff, resembles the strong, masculine, career-oriented Maisie. When a male character urges her to give up her career and marry him, Kate responds, “Suppose I ask you to give up the center and meaning of your life?” The protagonist of The Light That Failed, Dick, tells Maisie, “We’ve both nice little wills of our own, and one or other of us has to be broken.”
One is reminded of Kipling’s own marriage. But since The Light That Failed was written before Kipling was married, it must be seen as an anticipation of Kipling’s marriage, not a reflection of it. One is also reminded of the subservient husbands in D. H. Lawrence’s fiction. Was Lawrence influenced by Kipling? Kipling’s protagonist (Dick) finally goes off to war and dies, just like the protagonist of Lawrence’s “England, My England” (Egbert). Do Dick and Egbert die because they don’t have a strong will to live? Are their deaths “willed deaths”? Dick’s death has been described as a “self-sought death at the hands of his friend, the enemy.”29
Maisie has been compared to Sue Bridehead, a character in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.30 Both Maisie and Sue were tomboys in their early days, and artists as adults. Both have an aversion for sex, an aversion that finally drives Sue to suicide. Kipling deserves credit for perhaps the first depiction of the modern, emancipated, career-oriented woman.
As for Kipling’s male character, Dick, he can be compared to two male characters in Jude the Obscure, characters who appear to die from flawed relationships with women.31 If Dick’s death is the result of his relationship with Maisie, so too is his blindness; it is Maisie who reduces Dick “to darkness and to impotence.”32
Birkenhead describes Carrie (Kipling’s wife) thus: “Her character was strong and possessive; she had a passion for the domination of others which she did not attempt to control, and greatly disliked being crossed.” Kipling said, “I am no more than a cork on the water when Carrie is with me.... Even if I wanted to run away from Carrie I couldn’t do it, because she would have to look out the train and book the ticket.”
Carrie had a taste for formality. When the Kiplings were living at Naulakha, their Vermont house, she insisted that they dine in full evening dress, even when they were alone, in order to “keep the respect of the English servants.”33 Kipling didn’t share Carrie’s taste for formality, and complained to a neighbor, “When your work is over you can go into the kitchen and have supper. I have to dress up in evening clothes.”
As I mentioned before, Kipling was close friends with Carrie’s brother, Wolcott Balestier, and married Carrie soon after Wolcott’s death. Kipling and Carrie felt that Wolcott wanted them to look after his brother, Beatty. They probably settled in Vermont partly in order to be near Beatty.
Beatty was as wild and crazy as Carrie was prim and proper. “A great bronze bell hung from the top of [Beatty’s] front porch, and when he saw someone in the distance he would tug the bell rope and bawl across the valley, ‘God damn it, come and have a drink!’”34 Beatty was often drunk, and often incurred debts that he couldn’t pay.
Carrie clashed with Beatty, and scarcely spoke to Beatty’s wife. Kipling and Carrie hired Beatty to do various jobs, and this led to further disagreements. Finally the two couples weren’t speaking at all.
One day, Beatty encountered Kipling on a country road, and accused him of spreading rumors — telling people that he was supporting Beatty. Beatty screamed that if Kipling didn’t retract those remarks within a week, he would take matters into his own hands. Kipling seems to have been a somewhat timid person, and he thought that Beatty might kill him. He and Carrie decided to have Beatty arrested for assault. Kipling began carrying a pistol, and going around with a bodyguard.
James Joyce was also somewhat timid. This may be characteristic of intellectuals. A friend of Joyce’s said, “Surely he cannot fight and does not want to. He is going through life hoping not to meet bad men.”35 Ibsen said, “I never was a brave man face to face.”36
Kipling’s decision to arrest Beatty brought Kipling an avalanche of unwanted publicity. The journalists whom Kipling had treated coldly swarmed to the local courthouse to cover Beatty’s trial; the news travelled around the world. One might say that Kipling got into a mess of his own creation, like Oscar Wilde when he sued the Marquess of Queensberry. As for Beatty, he seemed to enjoy the trial immensely, and even drove visiting journalists around town! The trial was suspended during the summer, and Kipling decided to leave Vermont and return to England before the trial resumed, so a verdict was never reached.
Kipling left his Vermont house, Naulakha, with a heavy heart. Kipling’s three children had been born in Vermont, and he had written the Jungle Books there, and other works.
Both Beatty and Kipling died in 1936. At the end of his life, Beatty blamed Carrie for the fracas, and said that if Kipling returned to Vermont, he would be his best friend. Beatty described the fracas as a quarrel between two hot-headed young men. (The trial took place in 1896, when Kipling was 30.)
Just before the feud with Beatty erupted, some Yale students who had formed a Kipling Club invited Kipling to attend their first banquet. Kipling declined, but sent the Club a poem, a poem that shows the verbal skill and playful spirit that made his poetry so popular:
Attend ye lasses av swate Parnasses37
The leadin’ feature will be literature
They’ve made a club there an’ staked out grub there
The honest fact is that daily practice
When you grow oulder an’ skin your shoulder
But I’m digressin’; accept my blessin’,
In The Age of Kipling, there’s an essay by Leon Edel, best known for his multi-volume biography of Henry James.
Edel discusses the close friendship between Kipling and Wolcott Balestier, Carrie’s brother.
Haggard’s novels draw on his experiences in southern Africa. His descriptions of lost civilizations were inspired by actual ruins, such as “Great Zimbabwe.” His novel King Solomon’s Mines is considered the first novel in the “Lost World” genre. Wikipedia calls King Solomon’s Mines “hugely popular,” and says that its protagonist, Allan Quartermain, was an inspiration for the film character Indiana Jones. Wikipedia says that Haggard’s novel She is “one of the best-selling books of all time.” (Jung was impressed by the way She depicts a man’s soul as feminine in nature and ancient in origin.38) Like many writers of the time, Haggard was interested in the occult; according to Wikipedia, “Three of Haggard’s novels were written in collaboration with his friend Andrew Lang who shared his interest in the spiritual realm and paranormal phenomena.”39
A chapter of The Age of Kipling contrasts the worldviews of Haggard and Kipling. Kipling seemed to think that life is a bad business, and we should “tough it out” by focusing on the task at hand. Kipling seemed to think that human nature couldn’t be trusted, and people would go berserk if they weren’t restrained by society’s rules and conventions. Kipling believes in will power and a stiff upper lip, not spontaneity, as we see in his famous poem “If — ” (often voted Britain’s favorite poem):
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
Kipling’s views seem to be the antithesis of Zen, yet in Kim, he was able to describe a Tibetan Buddhist with deep understanding. One might say that Kipling observed Eastern religion clearly, but didn’t make it a part of his own life.
Compared to Kipling, Haggard had more respect for dreams, he was more romantic.
Truth is grim and ugly, Kipling seemed to think, so we should clothe it, or close our eyes to it. For Zen, though, and for the Philosophy of Today, Truth isn’t grim and ugly, so we don’t try to hide it or close our eyes to it. We try to let human nature express itself spontaneously, rather than controlling it through will power.
Kipling’s worldview seems to be similar to that of his friend and contemporary William Henley, author of the famous poem “Invictus”:
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
It matters not how strait the gate,
The emphasis here is on will and character and separateness, rather than on merging oneself with the world. The world is viewed as distinct from oneself, outside oneself, and it’s a hostile world, a “place of wrath and tears.” As Zen dissolves the individual in the All, so Zen dissolves time in the present moment, but Henley emphasizes time — “the menace of the years.”
Henley’s poem was a favorite of Nelson Mandela who, while he was imprisoned, recited the poem to his fellow prisoners. A film about Mandela was titled Invictus.
Kipling’s worldview was embodied in what he called “The Law.” Paul Fussell says that “The Law” is a “fundamental idea of Kipling’s,” and “rests upon two principles: hierarchy and reciprocal obligations.”40
“The Law” can be seen as a justification of imperialism, with the colonizer obligated to protect and assist, and the colonized obligated to admire and obey.
Again we see that Kipling’s worldview is far removed from Zen. “With its emphasis on action and doing, rather than on apprehension or contemplation, Kipling’s ‘Law’ is Hebraic and Old Testament.” Fussell speaks of Kipling’s “ethical idealism.... His ethical fervor has reminded Edmund Wilson of a Wesleyan preacher.” Kipling had the ethical passion that we often find in great imaginative writers.
Another critic, Jeffrey Meyers, says “Kipling’s concept of the Law... is expressed in... ‘McAndrew’s Hymn’”:
Now, a’ together, hear them lift their lesson — theirs an’ mine:
How different from Zen’s emphasis on tranquillity, non-doing, and spontaneity!
My study of Kipling began with the novel Kim, which is the only Kipling work in the “Norton Critical” series. I had heard that Kim was a spy story, an enjoyable book to read, and I was in the mood for light reading. I found Kim to be an impressive book, displaying Kipling’s deep knowledge of India, of Buddhism, etc., but I didn’t enjoy it. It seemed to have everything that a first-rate book should have, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t enjoying it. When I started reading critical essays on Kim, I found that other readers had the same reaction to it. When Kim was published in 1901, a critic wrote,
When you read one of Kipling’s stories, you feel that the author enjoyed writing it, but you don’t feel that way about Kim. The stories seem like play, but Kim seems like work.
When I finished Kim, however, I began enjoying critical essays about it, I enjoyed a Kipling biography so much that I couldn’t put it down (the Birkenhead biography), and I enjoyed Kipling’s stories, so I don’t regret taking up Kim, though I didn’t enjoy Kim itself.
I agree with this, I don’t deny that Kim contains many great passages, but I question whether Kim works as a whole.
Chaudhuri speaks of “the biggest reality in India, which is made up of the life of people and religion in the twin setting of the mountains and the plain. These four are the main and real characters in Kim.” Kim is impressive in its depiction of India’s various ethnic groups, various classes, and various religions.
“Like a good artist,” Chaudhuri writes, “[Kipling] stood on the firm ground of personal experience. His interest in Buddhism was roused by the Gandhara sculptures in the Lahore museum, of which his father was the curator.” Kipling displays his knowledge of Buddhism through the character of the Tibetan lama — a central character in Kim. Kipling’s grasp of Eastern religion is profound, and his lama is a remarkable portrait of enlightenment. Dostoyevsky attempted to depict a good man, a Christ figure, in The Idiot, but Kipling was probably more successful than Dostoyevsky at depicting an ideal man.
Why did Kipling depict a Tibetan Buddhist rather than an Indian Hindu? Chaudhuri says that a Buddhist expresses mystic tranquillity better than a Hindu because Hindus try to use spirituality for worldly ends, try to use spirituality to generate energy — like a magician who tries to affect the world. “In his spiritual activities [the Hindu] is like a dynamo, generating electricity, in his worldly life a motor that expends it.” Chaudhuri seems to be contemptuous of the occult; he says “Kipling was not... completely immune to the abracadabra of Hindu necromancy.”
Chaudhuri doesn’t admire Kim for its politics; he insists that “Kipling’s politics... are no essential ingredient of his writings.”
Chaudhuri makes some remarks on the English novel in general:
Chaudhuri fills his writings with references drawn from his wide reading; perhaps his writings have too many of these historical and literary references.
The Norton Critical Edition of Kim has an essay by Irving Howe. Howe is an elegant stylist, an astute judge of literature, and a big fan of Kim. Just as we argued recently that Moby Dick became popular because of its preoccupation with darkness and evil, so Howe argues that Kim is out of step with modern taste because it’s largely devoid of darkness and evil.
Howe says that Kim venerates sainthood, but also holds onto the world. “Kim embraces both worlds, that of the boy and the lama, the senses and beyond.” Respect for the mystical doesn’t prompt Kipling to reject the world. The claims of the spirit and the earth may be contradictory, irreconcilable, but Kipling accepts the contradiction, the tension.
The main subject of Kim, Howe says, is “an unfolding of the love between [the boy and the lama], that thrill of friendship which in nineteenth-century literature comes to replace the grace of God.” As Huck and Jim travel along the Mississippi in Huck Finn, so Kim and the lama travel along the Grand Trunk Road in Kipling’s novel. This road stretches from Kabul, Afghanistan, in the northwest to Chittagong, Bangladesh, in the southeast, passing through the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Lahore, and the Indian cities of Delhi, Benares, and Calcutta.
Howe says that Kim doesn’t have the darkness, the pessimism, that Huck Finn has. He says that Kim is “far more harmonious and accepting” than Twain’s novel. Huck Finn is “much more despairing... perhaps because it has no lama, no religious atmosphere.” Twain didn’t have a philosophy that made sense of the world, justified the world, justified evil; he could see the weaknesses in the philosophies/religions that he saw around him, but he couldn’t replace them with something better.
Why, then, do I find Huck Finn so enjoyable to read, and Kim so dull? Perhaps because Twain was writing from the heart, Kipling from the head; Kipling understood Buddhism intellectually, but hadn’t internalized it. Twain’s novel has an edge because he believed what he was writing, he’s an advocate for his worldview, however nihilistic that worldview may be. Also, Twain is writing about his native ground, but Kipling is writing about a foreign land; though he was a keen observer of India, Kipling wasn’t entirely at home there. Twain stayed close to his own experience — his boyhood experiences growing up on the Mississippi, his years as a riverboat pilot, etc. As I said in an earlier issue,
Kim doesn’t stay as close to the author’s experience as Huck Finn does.
Howe was a left-winger, so he dislikes Kipling’s politics, and calls Kipling “a jingo and a bully.” Howe is puzzled by the fact that “this often small-spirited writer composed, once in his life, a book of the most exquisite radiance of spirit, breathing a love of creation such as few of his greater contemporaries could match.”
Likewise, Birkenhead notes that Kim is the only Kipling work that doesn’t have an edge, a viewpoint, a for-and-against. He said that Kim is
But perhaps this calm tolerance is what makes the book somewhat dull. It lacks the cheeky, boyish, playful spirit that one finds in Kipling’s short stories.
While Kim deals with the friendship between the lama and the boy, Kipling astutely points out that enlightenment is an inner state, and isn’t dependent on a relationship with someone else. When the boy is taken away from him, the lama says,
One is continually impressed by Kipling’s deep understanding of The Eastern Way.
The lama draws a picture; he calls it The Wheel of Life, Jungians might call it a mandala.
Kipling mentions many details about Indian life, such as the use of opium, which he calls “meat, tobacco, and medicine to the spent Asiatic.”
At the conclusion of Kim, the lama seems close to death. He says that his soul was liberated from his body, “wheeling like an eagle.” Then a voice asked him, “What shall come to the boy if thou art dead?” So he returned to his body, returned to life, with reluctance, with “agonies not to be told.” This is the Near Death Experience, the experience of the body-less soul, that we’ve discussed in several earlier issues — in connection with Jewish mysticism, in connection with Jung’s autobiography, in connection with Kubler-Ross’ Life After Death, and in connection with Tibetan spirituality. As one reads the conclusion of Kim, one is impressed again by Kipling’s understanding of Eastern spirituality.
Tompkins is a major figure in Kipling criticism. Howe speaks highly of her book The Art of Rudyard Kipling, and Howe’s view of Kim was probably influenced by Tompkins.
Tompkins notes the positive spirit of Kim: “Kipling’s concern in this book is not with any form of evil or terror. Kim is a limpid eye through which he looks back on ‘the great and beautiful land’ of Hind.”44
Tompkins is much impressed with Kipling’s portrayal of the lama: “The beauty of Kim lies largely in the figure of the lama, which is drawn with great delicacy. Benign, courteous, humble and clean of heart, but a man of authority in his place and time.” She notes that the aging lama is rejuvenated when he goes to the hills, but he has a moment of anger in his conflict with the Russians, and he feels that he has lost his center, he has strayed from the true path. “There follow the moving farewell to the hills and the panic-stricken flight back to the plains.”
Tompkins notes the similarities between Kim and Huck Finn: “They are picaresque narratives, with boys as travelers, sweeping in the characteristic scenes and figures, opinions and superstitions of a particular society at a particular time.” She notes that Huck Finn is a darker book: “There [is] a latent tragedy in Huckleberry Finn which is absent from Kim, and a hard realism which was no part of Kipling’s intention.”
An essay in the Norton Edition (by Blair Kling) says that a character in Kim, “the Bengali Babu, or ‘gentleman,’ Hurree Chunder Mookerjee,” represents Western-educated Bengalis. Bengalis had been Westernizing since the late 1700s — learning Western science, studying Western literature, organizing politically, building factories, etc. Chaudhuri was a Bengali, and was born in what is now Bangladesh. These Westernized Bengalis became a threat to English rule. “By the 1880s [the English] perceived the Bengalis who had learned to play their game as a threat and attacked them with ridicule as well as racist legislation.”45
Kim depicts British and Russian spies in India — that is, it depicts Britain and Russia competing for power, the so-called “Great Game.” Russia’s expansion in the 19th century brought it close to Britain’s Indian Empire; at the start of the 19th century, the Russian border was 2,000 miles from India, but by the end of the century, it had come within 20 miles. For the British, this was “too close for comfort” — they feared a Russian invasion.
The British tried to prevent Russia from acquiring influence in Afghanistan (Afghanistan was then a buffer state between Russia and Britain.) Around 1840, the British sent a force to Afghanistan to install “their man” on the Afghan throne, but the Afghans rose up against the British, and killed almost the entire force of 16,000 as it attempted a winter retreat back to India. This became known as the First Anglo-Afghan War.
In the Second Afghan War, around 1880, the British sent a larger force (40,000), and were able to defeat Afghan armies, and establish their influence; one of the British leaders in this war was Lord Roberts, with whom Kipling was acquainted.
The British and Russians also competed in Tibet. China had considerable power in Tibet until around 1900, when the Dalai Lama tried to use Russian power to offset the Chinese, and to free his country from Chinese influence. The British were alarmed at the idea of Russia in Tibet, and in 1904, they sent their own force to Tibet, which managed to obtain a foothold for trade and diplomacy.
Kling’s essay concludes with some remarks on the occult. He says that Kipling and other British writers in India had a “preoccupation” with magic and the supernatural, perhaps stimulated by native traditions. Madame Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, visited India from 1879 to 1884. She claimed to communicate with Tibetan gurus by psychic means. “Madame Blavatsky heightened British interest in India’s mysterious neighbor, Tibet, and may have been a factor in Kipling’s choice of a Tibetan monk as a major character in Kim.”
The Norton Critical Edition of Kim has a short piece by Carrington, an excerpt from his biography of Kipling. “The desire to penetrate the occult,” Carrington writes, “exercised a strong fascination over Rudyard throughout life.... His youth was passed in a circle where Madame Blavatsky and the early Theosophists had made no small impression. Later he was a friend of William James.”
Carrington says that Kim is divided between the world of action and the world of contemplation, the world of espionage and the world of mysticism. Likewise, Mowgli, in the Jungle Books, is divided between the Jungle and the Village, and Georgie, in “The Brushwood Boy,” is divided between two worlds. In the end, Kim seems to choose action over contemplation, like Mowgli and Georgie. “With an almost audible click, [Kim] felt the wheels of his being lock up anew on the world without.”46
Carrington argues that Forster’s description of India, in Passage to India, is coldly analytical, while Kipling writes of India with “loving interest.” But Forster deals with the struggle for personal growth; for Forster, the mystical worldview is something to live by. When you read Kipling, on the other hand, you don’t see a struggle for personal growth; the mystical worldview is something to observe, to write about, but not to live by. Forster describes a character named Fielding, who can’t appreciate the view from the verandah, an “exquisite moment,” because he can’t live in the present, can’t experience life directly. Fielding’s quest for personal growth is also Forster’s quest.
Kipling appeals to a broader audience than Forster. There’s a certain vulgarity in Kipling that you don’t find in Forster. Forster aims at a more cultivated audience. Kipling’s work has action scenes that appeal to the 11-13 age group, as when Kim says that he kicked one of the Russian spies in the groin as they wrestled.
The Norton Edition also has an excerpt from Kipling’s autobiography. The autobiography is well-written; Kipling weaves a charming and interesting narrative. He says that Kim was written as a string of episodes, like Don Quixote. But his mother said, Don’t hide behind Cervantes! “You know you couldn’t make a plot to save your soul.” Kipling says that he dreamed for many years of writing a well-plotted novel, like The Cloister and the Hearth, but he wasn’t able to. Kipling modestly says that whatever beauty and wisdom Kim has is due to his father’s input. He also says that his Daemon guided him when he was writing Kim, the Jungle Books, and the two Puck books. “When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey.”
This is one of Kipling’s best-known stories, I recommend it. Perhaps the best critical study of it is by Paul Fussell, a Penn professor.47 Fussell explores the role of Freemasonry in the story, pointing out that Kipling himself was a Mason, and that the story “abounds with Masonic references and jokes.” The epigraph of the story, “Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy,” is apparently a Masonic phrase that means, “Once you enter the Freemasons Lodge, everyone is equal, though they have different roles in the outside world.” Fussell says that “in their acts of sacrifice and fidelity at the end of the story, [the two protagonists] behave as if conscious of Masonic obligations.” He also says that Kipling was always fascinated by kingship.
One of the seminal texts of Freemasonry is James Anderson’s The Constitutions of the Free-Masons (1723). Fussell says that Kipling probably received a copy of this book when he joined the Masons. This book says that Freemasonry is very ancient, that it was spread through the world by Noah’s descendants, that the early Hebrews were Masons, that Moses was their Grand Master, and that Solomon was in charge of the Jerusalem Lodge. (Kipling’s uncle, Edward Poynter, was probably a Freemason, and painted “The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon,” copies of which are in many Masonic Lodges.) In short, Anderson’s book argues that Masonry and kingship were closely connected in ancient times, just as they’re closely connected in Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King.” Kipling’s story was influenced by Anderson, Fussell argues; after reading Anderson, Kipling was “unable to resist writing an esoteric and rococo Masonic story in which two outcasts unconsciously burlesque the traditional early history of Freemasonry.”
Fussell says that Freemasonry’s essential ideas are “its emphasis on universal brotherhood; its search for the common element in mankind; its disinclination to quarrel over politics and religion; and its classical emphasis on self-mastery, order, and restraint.” In an earlier issue, we discussed a possible link between Freemasonry and the Hermetic philosophy of Giordano Bruno. We’ve also discussed links between the Rosicrucian movement and Hermetic philosophy. Is Freemasonry closely related to the Hermetic and the occult? Is it closely related to the Rosicrucian movement?
Fussell also says that Freemasonry expresses the ancient fertility rite, in which a god dies and is reborn; Fussell says that this aspect of Freemasonry influenced Kipling’s story.
Fussell was born in 1924, and is still alive today. He fought in World War II, and became interested in literary responses to the world wars, especially to World War I. Fussell wrote a book called The Great War and Modern Memory, which won the National Book Award and other awards. “John Keegan said its effect was ‘revolutionary’ in that it showed how literature could be a vehicle for expressing the experience of large groups. ‘What Paul did was go to the literary treatments of the war by 20 or 30 participants and turn them into an encapsulation of a collective European experience.’”48
Another place to start a study of Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” is with a book edited by Harold Bloom, a book called Rudyard Kipling, which is part of a series called Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers. Bloom’s book has several essays on “The Man Who Would Be King,” but only gives you short excerpts from the essays. The first excerpt is from Fussell’s essay. The second is by Louis L. Cornell, who provides a useful summary of the story’s historical background.49
Another way to approach Kipling’s story is through Understanding Fiction, by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. Understanding Fiction is an anthology/textbook that has commentary on “The Man Who Would Be King” and other short stories. (In an earlier issue, we discussed this book in connection with Hemingway.)
There’s also an essay on Kipling’s story available online. The essay is called “‘The Son of God Goes Forth to War’: Biblical Imagery in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King,’” by Larry J. Kreitzer.50 I found Kreitzer’s thesis unconvincing, but he makes some interesting observations along the way.
In 1975, Kipling’s story was made into a popular film, starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery.
Another highly-regarded Kipling story is “Mary Postgate,” which was written during World War I, and expresses the anti-German feelings that were then common in England. There’s an excellent essay on “Mary Postgate” available online: “Grief, Anger, and Identity: Kipling’s ‘Mary Postgate,’” by William B. Dillingham.51
Another Kipling story that deals with World War I is “The Gardener.” Late stories like “The Gardener” have a complexity that isn’t found in Kipling’s earlier stories. It’s often said that “The Gardener” must be read twice. The Kipling Society website has a good introduction to the story.52
Another Kipling story that deals with World War I is “A Madonna of the Trenches.” This story deals with occult themes such as life-after-death and fore-knowledge (or “second sight”). It’s a rather obscure story, like many of Kipling’s late stories, but it grabs your attention, it draws you in. Like many Kipling stories, it deals with Freemasonry, and with the psychological effects of war.53
A Kipling story about the British administration of India is “The Head of the District.” Some complain about the politics of this story: it describes Afghans as savage, Bengalis as cowardly, and the British as benign and paternal. An essay in the Kipling Journal discusses “The Head of the District,” and says that it depicts “the quiet courage Kipling so often admired.”54 This quiet courage seems to be characteristic of both the dying district head (Orde), and his deputy (Tallantire).
The quiet courage that Kipling depicts reminded me of the courage admired by Conrad and Hemingway. I knew that Hemingway was a Conrad fan. Was he also a Kipling fan? I went to Google to find out. I found an essay on Kipling and Hemingway by Jeffrey Meyers, one of Hemingway’s biographers.55 Meyers says that Hemingway had a “lifelong admiration for Kipling,” and that Hemingway said no one was ever born with more genius than Kipling. Meyers says that Hemingway was influenced by Kipling’s “code of honor,” and that Hemingway imbibed “the traditional moral and military values of the Victorian age.... The ultimate response to suffering, loss and grief is precisely the same in both Kipling and Hemingway: proud stoicism.”
We find this proud stoicism in Kipling’s story “The Maltese Cat,” which is about a polo game. One of the players is thrown to the ground and breaks his collar-bone, but he ties his arm in a sling, and continues playing. Even his opponent is impressed.
Kipling’s influence on Hemingway was a matter of literary technique as well as values; Hemingway “learned from Kipling... the art of the short story.” Both Kipling and Hemingway wrote about the psychological effects of war; Meyers says, “The closest thematic parallels [between Kipling and Hemingway] appear in stories of the symptoms and healing of war neurosis and shell-shock.”
Meyers notes several parallels between the biographies of Kipling and Hemingway:
Hemingway was once asked, What’s the best early training for a writer? He responded, “An unhappy childhood.” Hemingway was surely thinking of his own childhood, but the remark seems to fit Kipling even better than Hemingway.
On the whole, I enjoyed Meyers’ essay, but I take issue with his effort to insulate Hemingway from the unfashionable side of Kipling. Meyers says, “Hemingway wisely avoided imitating Kipling’s weakest stories: the whimsical, the supernatural, the sentimental and the cruel.” But as Meyers’ essay notes, Hemingway was especially fond of Kipling’s “The Mark of the Beast,” which deals with the supernatural. Kipling’s supernatural stories aren’t his “weakest,” they just don’t agree with academic fashions.
I also read a Meyers essay on “Without Benefit of Clergy,” one of Kipling’s best-known stories.56 Meyers views this tragic story not as a celebration of love, but as a warning about the dangers of inter-racial passion. “Kipling’s men,” Meyers writes, “court disaster and tragedy when they commit themselves to love instead of work.” The love between Ameera and Holden is
Meyers defends his thesis by citing other Kipling stories in which inter-racial unions end badly:
In Kipling’s day, inter-racial marriages were frowned on, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, such marriages were accepted, and mixed-race children became prominent in the army and civil life.57 It seems that the 19th century was more race-conscious than earlier centuries.
Meyers says that Kipling subscribed to the racial prejudice common in his day, and also subscribed to the notion of white superiority:
Harold Bloom’s book on Kipling’s short stories, which we mentioned earlier, contains several essays on “Without Benefit of Clergy.” Some of these essays argue that the story’s tragic ending is the outcome of impersonal forces — sickness, bad weather, etc. — not a punishment for breaking the white man’s code. At the center of the story, one critic says, “lies perhaps the most ‘Kiplingesque’ of all his themes — man’s futile effort to thwart and control the forces of chaos.”58 Another critic says, “The tragic forces in the tale are impersonal; no malice or even callousness is involved.”59
Elliot Gilbert argues that Kipling depicts chaos conquering order; our attempts to impose order on life are unsuccessful. Gilbert points out that, early in the story, Holden is uneasy about the coming child: “It disarranged the orderly peace of the house that was his own.” Gilbert says that the “sprawling subcontinent” of India is the “ultimate metaphor for chaos,”60 while the British administration tries to impose order. Holden is part of this attempt to impose order. Meanwhile, Ameera tries to impose order through rituals, prayers, etc. Both these attempts fail, chaos triumphs; the title of Gilbert’s piece is “the failure of ritual.”
Gilbert’s view of the story is very different from Meyers’ view. While Meyers thinks that the story teaches “Obey The Code,” Gilbert thinks that the story teaches “Seize The Day.” Gilbert points out that Ameera refuses to flee to the safety of the hills. She doesn’t want to follow the white women, who give up their children and husbands for safety, who give up the present for the future. Ameera is committed to the idea that life — “infinitely precious and, from all she has seen of it, infinitely tenuous — is meaningful only when it is being lived.” Seize the day, don’t live for the future. “A law of compensation seems inevitably to apply to life, decreeing that any provision made for the future must be made at the expense of the present.” If Ameera lives for today, her mother lives for tomorrow; Ameera’s mother has “abandoned the reality of human love to pursue an ephemeral and empty security.”
Another critic excerpted in Bloom’s book is Helen Pike Bauer, who seems to agree with Gilbert’s interpretation of the story. “In her dying words,” Bauer writes, “Ameera forswears those things in which she formerly placed her trust, amulets and charms, rituals and prayer.... ‘There is no God but — thee, beloved!’” Immediate experience, the experience of passionate love, is more important than order, control, security.
Bauer points out that when Ameera dies, the house can’t survive. “It was Ameera who animated the house.... Without her, the house collapses.” Three days after Ameera’s death, the house looks as if it had been “untenanted for thirty years.” One thinks of Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” in which the house collapses when the owner dies.
A critic named Caroline Reitz says that Sherlock Holmes may be based on a Kipling character, a detective named Strickland. Reitz says that Kipling was Doyle’s “favorite writer.”61 Doyle visited Kipling in Vermont, and taught Kipling to play golf (they played in the snow, with red balls). Both Holmes and Strickland first appeared in 1887, Holmes at the end of the year, in a “Christmas Annual.” Reitz says that Strickland and Holmes are “strikingly similar figures”;62 they both “chafe against social boundaries.”63 Kipling says of Strickland, “people did not understand him; so they said he was a doubtful sort of man and passed by on the other side.” As for Holmes, his “‘outré’ qualities, from his cocaine addiction to his bohemian aestheticism, have been widely documented, as have his periodic departures from the letter of the law.”64
Both Strickland and Holmes are intent on learning, on gathering information; “both Kipling and Doyle define detection as the integration of local knowledge.”65 Strickland is an expert on local customs, Indian customs. Creighton (the spy chief in Kipling’s Kim) is “a published expert in anthropology and ethnography.”66 Likewise, Holmes has published monographs in the Anthropological Journal. Information-gathering is important not only in fictional detective work, but also in real detective work, and in managing an empire.
Kipling, with his focus on foreign matters, has been viewed as the father of the spy/adventure genre, while Doyle, with his focus on England, has been viewed as the father of the detective genre. But Reitz argues that the distinction between spy and detective is false, that Kipling and Doyle have been “wrongly separated,”67 that Kipling deals with detection, and Doyle with international intrigue,68 that not only Kim, but also the Holmes stories deal with The Great Game. The later Holmes stories have an international flavor, and some of them (Reitz argues), such as “Thor Bridge,” are among the best Holmes stories.
Reitz tells us that The Detection Club of London, formed in 1930 by Dorothy Sayers and others, pledged to make sparing use of “ghosts, hypnotism,” etc. “Writers are encouraged to emphasize a homegrown rationality that, Dorothy Sayers explains elsewhere, assumes ‘a knowable universe.’”69 Detective fiction steers clear of the occult, it appeals to man’s delight in the rational.
One of the essays in the Norton Critical Edition of Kim is called “Kipling’s Place in the History of Ideas.” It’s by an English writer named Noel Annan. Annan considers Kipling from a sociological perspective; he compares Kipling to sociologists like Durkheim, who were from the same generation as Kipling. He doesn’t suggest any direct influence between Kipling and the sociologists; rather, he says that they arrived at similar conclusions independently. Both Kipling and Durkheim stressed the importance of the social group, rather than treating the individual as primary.
For Kipling, as for Durkheim, the individual’s rebellion against society is imaginary:
Durkheim views society as primary, the individual as secondary:
In Kipling’s day, the gentleman’s position wasn’t secure.
In Kipling’s view, there’s a place for individuality, but only within the boundaries of the Law:
Annan sums up the teachings of the new sociologists (Durkheim, Weber, Pareto, etc.) thus:
The new sociologists tried to explain what held society together. They viewed society
Kipling was one of the few Englishmen to view society as the new sociologists did: “The new sociology was born on the Continent but passed almost unnoticed in England.” It had been so long since England was riven by civil war that the English seemed to take social stability for granted. Kipling, on the other hand, spent much of his life in India, where stability couldn’t be taken for granted.
Durkheim’s approach was not only foreign to English theorists, but to English novelists as well. “[English novelists] began with individuals — they might set them in relation to God or nature or to the social code or to politics; or oppose individuals of one class to those of another — but the novelist’s gaze was fixed on the individual.”
India was entirely different from England:
In India, social stability could only exist if life were guided by customs, laws, conventions.
Like Weber, Kipling didn’t ask whether religion is true or false, but how it affected society, how it helped society to hold together.
English political principles seemed out of place in India. “Was there such a thing as justice — was it not merely imposing on Indians a morality which their religion and customs made incomprehensible?” The American experience in Iraq has shown that Western principles are often incomprehensible in the non-Western world. While liberals may have wanted to establish Western principles in India, Kipling scoffed at these principles. Kipling’s sociological perspective made him a conservative. Kipling felt that
Kipling wasn’t a utopian, he didn’t believe in the possibility of an era of peace, love, and understanding. In Kipling’s view, “suffering was inevitable. Political action is often not a choice between good and evil but between lesser and greater evil.”74
Reading Kipling has given me a desire to visit India. A popular tourist route is the Golden Triangle: Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Delhi (also called “New Delhi”) is probably where your plane will land. It’s the capital of India, and when the British governed India, it was their capital. Among Delhi’s tourist attractions are the Tomb of Humayun (built for a Mughal emperor in the 1500’s), the Red Fort (a Mughal fort built in the 1600’s), and the Qutb complex (a collection of ancient buildings and monuments). Agra is about 125 miles south of Delhi, and it’s the location of the Taj Mahal. According to Wikipedia, Agra “achieved fame as the capital of the Mughal emperors from 1526 to 1658 and remains a major tourist destination because of its many splendid Mughal-era buildings, most notably the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, all three of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.” Jaipur is about 125 miles west of Agra. Jaipur is a planned city, built in a semi-desert area in the 1700’s. Among its tourist attractions is Jal Mahal (“Water Palace”), which is in the middle of a lake.
If you prefer quadrilaterals to triangles, if you want to take a cooler, more northerly route, you can start from Delhi and visit Simla, Dharamsala, and Amritsar. Simla (also called Shimla) was the British summer capital, and Kipling spent much time there. It’s located in the Himalayas at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Among other attractions, Simla is known for the scenic, narrow-gauge railway that connects it to Kalka, 65 miles to the southwest. Dharamsala is about 150 miles northwest of Simla, and can be reached by bus from Simla (or by bus from other cities). Since 1960, Dharamsala has been the home of the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan exile community. Various hiking trails start from Dharamsala. Amritsar is about 150 miles southwest of Dharamsala, and close to the Pakistan border. It’s the center of the Sikh religion, and the home of the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine.
In his later years, Kipling suffered much from illness (ulcers). His doctors had difficulty making a diagnosis, and tried a popular panacea, the removal of all teeth. Doubtless this only exacerbated his health problems.
Annan’s essays on Kipling-as-sociologist inspired me to learn more about Durkheim. I had heard of Durkheim, but I knew very little about him. I now realize that I have something in common with Durkheim: my theory of history treats society as an organism, and says that the individual is shaped by society, whether he knows it or not. Likewise, Durkheim “affirmed the determinative influence of the ‘social milieu.’”76 So there’s a bond between Durkheim and the philosophy of history. As a graduate student, Durkheim’s thesis was on Montesquieu, one of the thinkers who planted the seeds for the philosophy of history.77 Durkheim is a deep thinker, with profound insights on various subjects.
Durkheim studied under Fustel de Coulanges, “a classicist with a social scientific outlook.” He also read Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer. Comte tried to apply the methods of the natural sciences to the social sciences.78 “Thus Durkheim became interested in a scientific approach to society very early on in his career. This meant the first of many conflicts with the French academic system, which had no social science curriculum at the time.... He finished second to last in his graduating class.”79
Durkheim agreed with Comte that social science should be stripped of “metaphysical abstractions and philosophical speculation.” Durkheim thought that Comte didn’t go far enough, that he was too philosophical.
Durkheim was a reader of books, not a collector of data: “Durkheim traveled little and, like many French scholars and the British anthropologist Sir James Frazer, he never undertook any fieldwork.”
Perhaps Durkheim’s emphasis on society, rather than the individual, is part of a larger trend, a trend to emphasize the whole, rather than the part, in many different fields, from sociology to quantum physics to literary criticism to the philosophy of history. “Heisenberg was so impressed by the new relationship between the part and the whole that he used it as the title for his autobiography, Der Teil und das Ganze.”80 In his essays on Shakespeare, Wilson Knight argued that a fictional character is not an independent being but part of a whole, part of a milieu, part of an atmosphere, and Knight realized that this view was analogous to contemporary developments in physics. Did Durkheim realize that his approach had analogues in other fields?
Durkheim’s first major work was The Division of Labor in Society (1893).
The philosophy of history also says that society is more than the sum of its parts, it has a will, an instinct, it’s like an organism. A heroic figure doesn’t make society, he’s made by society. As Napoleon said, “Muhammad came at a moment when general opinion was ready for a single God.... A man is but a man, but often he can do much; often he is a tinderbox in the midst of inflammable matter.” Without the “inflammable matter,” the spark that the hero provides would achieve nothing. Muhammad, Shakespeare, Aristotle — all are products of their time, and couldn’t have arisen in another time.
One of Durkheim’s best-known works is Suicide (1897), which compares suicide rates among Catholic and Protestant groups. Durkheim argued that
Durkheim relied on statistics (in this respect, he differs from the philosophy of history).
Another of Durkheim’s major works is The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), which tries to understand the essential nature of religion by looking at primitive religion. Durkheim came from a Jewish family, but led a secular life, and
Durkheim’s view of religion is the opposite of Kierkegaard’s, since Kierkegaard insisted that religion speaks to the solitary individual. Kierkegaard deplored the social aspect of religion, and wanted each individual to choose his beliefs, not acquire them at birth from his society.
According to Durkheim, religion creates community:
One might say that Nietzsche and Freud saw religion as answering a psychological need, Durkheim a social need, and E. O. Wilson a biological need.
Religion creates many social institutions, according to Durkheim, because religion is all about society: “If religion generated everything that is essential in society, this is because the idea of society is the soul of religion.” Even our fundamental view of the world is molded by religion, by “social facts”:
Primitive man is comfortable with the occult, the supernatural, because for primitive man, everything is supernatural:
Just as everything was supernatural, so too everything was sacred, everything had a religious character. Only later were the sacred and profane separated: “Over time, as emotions became symbolized and interactions ritualized, religion became more organized, giving rise to the division between the sacred and the profane.” As I said earlier in my discussion of Huston Smith,
Early in his career, Durkheim thought that religion was declining, but after studying William Robertson Smith, and witnessing the Dreyfus Affair, Durkheim began to think that modern, “secular” ideals are religious in character, and thus religion isn’t declining, just changing form. In his work on the ancient Hebrews, William Robertson Smith “claimed that religion pertains to the common good, not private interest; it expresses a community’s public hopes and goals, thereby strengthening the social bonds between its members.” Thus, Smith “confirmed Durkheim’s thesis about the social character of the sacred.”
Durkheim had long criticized “classical liberalism and its assumption that modern society is adequately understood as disparate individuals pursuing private projects.” During the Dreyfus affair, Durkheim saw something in French society that reminded him of Robertson Smith’s description of the ancient Hebrews — he saw society unified by emotion, he saw people taking to the streets, waving flags, etc. (One thinks of the outpouring of patriotic feeling that swept the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks.) Durkheim began to view political life as a kind of modern religion. “Many secular beliefs, he claimed, are ‘indistinguishable from religious beliefs proper.’ Indistinguishable because modern France, like traditional societies, has a shared (even if ‘secular’) faith: ‘The mother country, the French Revolution, Joan of Arc, etc., are for us sacred things which we do not permit to be touched. Public opinion does not willingly permit one to contest the moral superiority of democracy, the reality of progress, and the idea of equality.’”
Durkheim began to interpret everything in terms of religion. “‘From myths and legends have issued forth science and poetry; from religious ornamentations and cult ceremonials have come the plastic arts; from ritual practice were born law and morals.’”84 As Nietzsche argued that science arises from the ascetic ideal, so Durkheim argued that science has its roots in religion: “In the end, even the most logical and rational pursuit of science can trace its origins to religion. Durkheim states that, ‘Religion gave birth to all that is essential in society.’”
Durkheim felt that society was held together by a moral consensus, a collective consciousness: “The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society forms a determinate system with a life of its own. It can be termed the collective or common consciousness.”85
Perhaps Durkheim’s view creates a new definition of philosophy: philosophy shapes collective consciousness. As Nietzsche put it, philosophy shapes values.
Durkheim thought that the criminal could shape the collective consciousness, and benefit society. Durkheim “believed that crime... serves a social function. He stated that crime implies, ‘not only that the way remains open to necessary changes but that in certain cases it directly prepares these changes.’ Examining the trial of Socrates, he argues that ‘his crime, namely, the independence of his thought, rendered a service not only to humanity but to his country’ as ‘it served to prepare a new morality and faith that the Athenians needed.’ As such, his crime ‘was a useful prelude to reforms.’ In this sense, [Durkheim] saw crime as being able to release certain social tensions and so have a cleansing or purging effect in society.... ‘To make progress, individual originality must be able to express itself... [even] the originality of the criminal.’” Durkheim seems to put the criminal in the same boat as the thinker and the artist!
According to Durkheim, collective consciousness counters egotism and atomization:
Tocqueville noticed that, in the U.S., the majority provides individuals with “ready-made opinions” on many subjects, and even religion is a “public opinion” rather than a revelation. Tocqueville realized that people don’t form their beliefs and values independently, they absorb beliefs and values from the society around them. What makes democratic society different, Tocqueville argued, is that people adopt the views of the majority, rather than the views of an elite. Like Durkheim, Tocqueville realized that society requires consensus: “Without ideas held in common,” Tocqueville wrote, “there is no common action, and without common action there may still be men, but there is no social body.”
Let’s go back to the France of Durkheim’s youth, the France of 1880. A casual observer of this society might be struck by the diversity of moral and religious views, and might conclude that “moral consensus” is a figment of Durkheim’s imagination. But if this society is compared to societies in far-flung corners of the globe, it may seem to have a moral consensus. Thus, the travelers and anthropologists who brought back reports about foreign societies may have provided the catalyst for Durkheim’s work; sociology may have grown out of anthropology; the study of far-flung societies may have given people a better understanding of their own society.
But Durkheim would have agreed, at least in part, that the France of 1880 was deficient in moral consensus. He felt that the bonds holding society together were growing weaker. He discussed “how societies could maintain their integrity and coherence in the modern era, when things such as shared religious and ethnic background could no longer be assumed.” He was concerned about what would happen if society “lacks the unity based upon the commitment of men’s wills to a common objective.”
One might compare Durkheim’s view with that of Hegel: “Commonplace thinking,” Hegel wrote, “often has the impression that force holds the state together, but in fact its only bond is the fundamental sense of order which everybody possesses.” Hegel’s “sense of order” is akin to Durkheim’s “collective consciousness.” Durkheim and Hegel agree that society is a kind of organism.
Ortega spoke of a common plan; what holds a nation together, Ortega said, is a common plan: “Force has the character of an adjective. The substantive, motivating power always consists in a national dogma, an inspiring plan for a life in common.”86
Banfield was fond of asking, “Why do people vote?” They know their vote is very unlikely to determine the outcome of the election, but they vote anyway, they vote because they think they should, our society’s moral consensus says you should vote.
As society advances, the division of labor increases, specialization increases. People are dependent on each other for the performance of specialized tasks, and this dependence fosters social cohesion:
Perhaps class distinctions arise when society becomes more complex. “According to Durkheim, fashion serves to differentiate between lower classes and upper classes, but because lower classes want to look like the upper classes, they will eventually adopt upper-class fashion, depreciating it, and forcing the upper class to adopt a new fashion.”
One of the main features of modern society, according to Durkheim, is
Durkheim doesn’t see the individual in conflict with society; rather he sees society creating individualism, creating the “cult of the individual”:
One factor behind the division of labor and the cult of the individual is population growth:
As population continues to grow, and moral solidarity continues to decrease, society falls into “anomie” — that is, a breakdown of social norms, a breakdown of moral consensus. “By ‘anomie,’ Durkheim means a state when too rapid population growth reduces the amount of interaction between various groups, which in turn leads to a breakdown of understanding (norms, values, and so on).” Durkheim thought that anomie could lead to social disintegration.
Wikipedia’s article on Durkheim is one of the best, most meaty Wikipedia articles that I’ve ever read. (The English prose is slightly rough, however. I suspect the article was written by a Frenchman. The writer doesn’t seem to know when to use “the” and when not to.87) If Wikipedia can’t satisfy your “Durkheim appetite,” but you don’t want to read Durkheim himself, consider Robert Nisbet’s The Sociology of Emile Durkheim, or Raymond Aron’s Main Currents in Sociological Thought: Durkheim, Pareto, Weber. Both Nisbet and Aron are conservative, but while Nisbet takes a favorable view of Durkheim, Aron takes a more negative view.
|1.|| Kipling’s mother wasn’t related (as far as I can determine) to the writer George MacDonald. back|
|2.|| Letter to Henry James, Dec. 29, 1890; quoted in Kipling: The Critical Heritage, ch. 10, p. 65. Flushed with success, Kipling cabled his parents in India, “Genesis 45:9,” which reads, “Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph [Kipling’s real name was Joseph Rudyard Kipling], God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not.” One reason Kipling travelled from India to England via the Pacific was to meet Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa, but Kipling didn’t make it to Samoa, and never met Stevenson. back|
|3.|| I don’t count Mother Maturin, a novel set in an opium den in India; Kipling never published it, and probably never finished it. back|
|4.|| Lord Birkenhead, Rudyard Kipling, Ch. 11, “The End in Vermont,” p. 164 back|
|5.|| See Lang’s essay in Kipling: The Critical Heritage, ch. 12 back|
|6.|| Lord Birkenhead, Rudyard Kipling, Ch. 17, p. 267 back|
|7.|| Ibid, ch. 10, p. 148. Birkenhead says that Kipling’s “desire for privacy... has so often been referred to as neurotic and unnatural.”(p. 148) back|
|8.|| The word “Naulahka” comes from a building in Lahore Fort in Pakistan. The correct spelling seems to be “Naulakha.” back|
|9.|| The Age of Kipling, edited by John Gross, “A Matter of Vision,” pp. 131, 134 back|
|10.|| Lord Birkenhead, Rudyard Kipling, Ch. 16, p. 236 back|
|11.|| Lord Birkenhead, pp. 326, 327; see also p. 206, where his memory is described as “astounding.” back|
|12.|| Birkenhead, p. 218. Kipling believed that “the conditions of modern life had grown to such complexity as to make it impossible for any government whatever to fulfill its task perfectly, and that the Indian Civil Service with its long tradition of the leadership of ‘a strong man governing alone’ [was] as good an administrative organization as the world had ever known.”(Birkenhead, p. 222) back|
|13.|| Birkenhead, p. 224. Kipling’s optimism about the British Empire was undermined by the Boer War, by “the spectacle of this mighty Empire struggling desperately to defeat a handful of Boer farmers.”(p. 229) A great power frustrated by guerrilla warfare. back|
|14.|| Ch. 15, pp. 217, 218 back|
|15.|| Ch. 16, p. 252. Birkenhead says that, as Kipling grew older, he developed a “malignant hatred of the Germans, which produced such murderous stories as ‘Mary Postgate’.... His mistrust of them had begun long before, when he first realized that an assault on civilization was coming.”(p. 227) back|
|16.|| Ch. 22, p. 325 back|
|17.|| Ch. 25, pp. 342, 343 back|
|18.|| If you want to read Kipling’s autobiography, consider the version edited by Thomas Pinney, Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990 back|
|19.|| Angus Wilson, an English novelist, wrote a book called The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works. back|
|20.|| The Life of Rudyard Kipling, by C. E. Carrington, ch. 4, p. 54 back|
|21.|| I was intrigued by Koestler’s “competition,” so I searched the Internet, and was led to a Koestler biography by Michael Scammell. Scammell says that Koestler’s book The Roots of Coincidence was roundly criticized by the press. Scammell recommends Koestler’s summary of the book, an essay called “Science and Para-science,” which can be found in a volume called The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968-1973. Scammell says that Koestler acquired a large collection of “coincidences,” some of which he put in part three of The Challenge of Chance, of which he was a co-author. back|
|22.|| “Kipling’s ‘Rather Unpleasant Story,’” June 2006, By Dr Francis Jarman, pp. 15-23 back|
|23.|| Ch. 9, p. 121 back|
|24.|| Ch. 9, p. 122 back|
|25.|| ibid back|
|26.|| Ch. 9, pp. 122, 123 back|
|27.|| Ch. 9, p. 134 back|
|28.|| The Age of Kipling, “Kipling’s First Novel,” pp. 4, 5. According to Birkenhead, Carrie was not only controlling, she was also unstable: “She suffered at intervals from those bouts of neurotic depression so often masked by a brisk managing exterior.... Emotional instability.”(p. 235, 236) back|
|29.|| The Age of Kipling, p. 6 back|
|30.|| See The Age of Kipling, p. 5 back|
|31.|| These two male characters are Jude and “the young Christminster graduate who falls in love with Sue Bridehead.” (The Age of Kipling, p. 5) back|
|32.|| The Age of Kipling, p. 6 back|
|33.|| Rudyard Kipling, ch. 10, p. 147 back|
|34.|| Rudyard Kipling, ch. 11, p. 158 back|
|35.|| Ettore Schmitz, better known by his pen name Italo Svevo, quoted in Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce, ch. 16.|
An incident in Joyce’s life closely resembles Kipling’s clash with Beatty Balestier: Joyce was verbally abused and threatened by Henry Carr, who worked in the British consulate in Zurich. Joyce sought help from the police, and sued Carr for libel.(Ellmann’s biography, Ch. 25, pp. 427, 428) back
|36.|| Henrik Ibsen, by Michael Meyer, ch. 4 back|
|37.|| of sweet Parnassus (perhaps Kipling is affecting a Cockney accent) back|
|38.|| See, for example, Jung’s Collected Works, volume 7, par. 298, 299, 303 and 375. back|
|39.|| We mentioned Lang earlier, in the first section of this essay. back|
|40.|| “Irony, Freemasonry, and Humane Ethics in Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King,’” English Literary History, 25 (1958) pp. 216-233 back|
|41.|| Norton Critical Edition of Kim, essay by Arthur Bartlett Maurice. The novelist Arnold Bennett said, “Stalky chilled me, and Kim killed me.”(Carrington, p. 280) back|
|42.|| Chaudhuri’s essay can be found in The Age of Kipling back|
|43.|| pp. 218, 219 back|
|44.|| The Art of Rudyard Kipling, “Kipling and the Novel,” p. 22 back|
|45.|| Kipling ridicules a Westernized, educated Bengali in “The Head of the District.” back|
|46.|| Kim back|
|47.|| “Irony, Freemasonry, and Humane Ethics in Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King,’” English Literary History, 25 (1958) pp. 216-233 back|
|48.|| Wikipedia back|
|49.|| At the start of Bloom’s book is a fine biographical sketch of Kipling. back|
|50.|| The Kreitzer essay is in a book called Borders, Boundaries and the Bible, edited by Martin O’Kane. back|
|51.|| Kipling Journal, March, 2002, pp. 33-42 back|
|52.|| Here are some critical essays on “The Gardener”:|
|53.|| If you want to read a critical study of “A Madonna of the Trenches,” consider “Politics and Art in Kipling,” by Peter Havholm, Kipling Journal, December 2002, pp. 22-35. This essay also discusses Kipling’s “The Head of the District.” back|
|54.|| “Politics and Art in Kipling,” by Peter Havholm, Kipling Journal, December 2002, pp. 22-35. Orde faces death courageously, as does Dravot in “The Man Who Would Be King.” But Kipling describes both men in a casual tone, with no lofty phrases. back|
|55.|| “Kipling and Hemingway: The Lesson of the Master,” American Literature, vol. 56, Number 1, March 1984, pp. 88-99 back|
|56.|| The essay is called “Thoughts on ‘Without Benefit of Clergy’,” Kipling Journal, December 1969, pp. 8-11 back|
|57.|| See the notes on this story by John McGivering, on the Kipling Society website. back|
|58.|| p. 47 back|
|59.|| p. 53 back|
|60.|| p. 55 back|
|61.|| Detecting the Nation: Fictions of Detection and the Imperial Venture, by Caroline Reitz, ch. 4, p. 71 back|
|62.|| p. 64. Strickland appears in “The Mark of the Beast,” “The Return of Imray,” “Miss Youghal’s Sais,” “The Bronckhorst Divorce Case,” and perhaps other Kipling stories. back|
|63.|| p. 65 back|
|64.|| p. 65 back|
|65.|| p. 74 back|
|66.|| p. 74. Reitz says that Strickland was based on an actual detective, John Paul Warbuton, an acquaintance of Kipling’s. Warbuton used a method developed by William Sleeman, who made a name for himself by suppressing the Thugs, an Indian cult that murdered and robbed. back|
|67.|| p. 69 back|
|68.|| Doyle’s The Sign of the Four deals with the Indian Mutiny, A Study in Scarlet deals with the U.S., and international intrigue is the subject of “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” “His Last Bow,” “The Naval Treaty,” “The Second Stain,” etc. (The Holmes canon consists of 56 stories and 4 novels; the novels are A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear.) back|
|69.|| p. 67 back|
|70.|| “Kipling’s View of ‘Society’,” by Noel Annan, Kipling Journal, March 2001, pp. 28-30. In the essay in the Norton edition, Annan writes, “Just as Tolstoy’s characters in War and Peace find rest when they realize their essential being and their place and duties, so Kim has to discover the exact slot into which his own tiny personality must fit in the bewildering variety of human beings who pass their transitory lives in the Indian sub-continent.” back|
|71.|| This quote is from an essay by Annan in the Kipling Journal (“Rudyard Kipling as a Sociologist,” October 1954, pp. 4-8). back|
|72.|| “Weber did not consider whether religion was true or good. He accepted it as a social fact and argued that different religions produced different codes for conduct which affected the politics and economy of the society in which they flourished.”(Norton Critical Edition, Annan essay) back|
|73.|| “Kipling prided himself... on despising talk of individual rights, sanctions, contracts.”(Norton Critical Edition, Annan essay) back|
|74.|| In his later work, Annan says, Kipling dealt with shell-shock, combat stress: “He is searching for ways and means of alleviating the burden which men and women in their folly, and life in its cruelty, create, ways of nursing them back to strength, and for some universal religion such as Freemasonry which will transcend race and creed.” Is Kipling really searching for a “universal religion”? We noted above that “The Man Who Would Be King” alludes to Freemasonry, but these allusions are light-hearted. Do Kipling’s later works express a more serious aspiration toward a new religion? In his last paragraph, Annan mentions “The Gardener” and “The Wish House” among Kipling’s “greatest triumphs,” and says that these stories express a “vision of life.” When I read “The Gardener,” however, I didn’t find a search for a universal religion. back|
|75.|| p. 323 back|
|76.|| Quote is from the Mahoney-Anderson introduction to Main Currents in Sociological Thought: Durkheim, Pareto, Weber, by Raymond Aron back|
|77.|| More specifically, Montesquieu seems to have influenced Herder, who influenced Hegel, who influenced the development of the philosophy of history. back|
|78.|| Comte believed that social science should start by gathering facts, then try to find patterns in these facts, establish laws based on these facts, as the observation of nature led to scientific laws. Is this the origin of Tolstoy’s quest for historical laws, expressed in War and Peace? Was Tolstoy influenced by Comte? We know he was acquainted with some contemporary French thinkers; the phrase “war and peace” comes from Proudhon’s book War and Peace. back|
|79.|| Wikipedia back|
|80.|| This quote can be found in an earlier issue. back|
|81.|| Wikipedia. When I describe my theory of history, I say that “A society that is completely undeveloped and hasn’t reached the organic level, such as European society during the Dark Ages, doesn’t seem to have either renaissance-type or decadent eras.” Likewise, Durkheim views “organic solidarity” as a later stage than “mechanical solidarity.” back|
|82.|| Wikipedia back|
|83.|| Wikipedia back|
|84.|| Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Oxford World’s Classics, translated by Caroline Cosman, “lightly abridged” with an Introduction and Notes by Mark S. Cladis back|
|85.|| One might contrast Durkheim’s collective consciousness with Jung’s collective unconscious. My theory of history speaks of shared instincts, which are also unconscious. back|
|86.|| Invertebrate Spain, ch. 1 back|
|87.||Consider, for example, the following sentence: “Durkheim saw the population density and growth as key factors in the evolution of the societies and advent of modernity.” I would remove “the” before “population” and before “societies,” and I would add “the” before “advent.” back|