If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years
“It would be difficult to think of a writer as firmly out of fashion as Rudyard Kipling,” said Stacy Schiff in The New York Times. But the popularity and influence Kipling once enjoyed can’t be denied, and author Christopher Benfey has generated fresh insights into the Bombay-born Englishman’s legacy by focusing on a crucial four years when the already renowned writer made his home in America. Shortly after marrying a woman from Vermont in 1892, the 26-year-old Kipling settled in Brattleboro, where he proceeded to produce the bulk of his most popular work, including The Jungle Book and Captains Courageous. Though Kipling’s imperialism isn’t forgiven, “Benfey eloquently argues not only that Kipling’s engagement with the United States made him the writer he became, but that he lavishly returned the favor.”
Kipling experienced both bliss and sorrow in this period, and Benfey “recounts it all with a fine touch,” said Paul Kennedy in The Wall Street Journal. Kipling loved Vermont’s snow, described marriage as blissful, and worked productively while hobnobbing with William James and Theodore Roosevelt. But whatever happiness Kipling found in America ended abruptly when he clashed with his brother-in-law and the public took sides. Kipling returned to Britain in 1896, and when he visited the U.S. two years later, his 6-year-old daughter died in New York of pneumonia. He never returned.
He had, however, already made a lasting mark, said Charles McGrath in The New Yorker. Benfey depicts Kipling as deeply conflicted about America—keen on the nation’s ideals but less so about its rowdy inhabitants. But his worldview remained influential here for decades, with his spy novel Kim becoming almost a bible to CIA agents operating in 1950s Vietnam. Benfey doesn’t even have to reach that far to prove that Kipling and the U.S. had a symbiotic relationship. If you reread The Jungle Book, written in a state its author considered an anarchic wilderness, “you begin to suspect that Kipling, though terrified of lawlessness and disorder, was also half in love with it.” ■