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'Superb, beautifully written, touching and occasionally very funny' Andrew Roberts
David Gilmour's superb biography of Rudyard Kipling is the first to show how the life and work of the great writer mirrored the trajectory of the British Empire, from its zenith to its final decades. His famous poem 'Recessional' celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, but his last poems warned of the dangers of Nazism, and in those intervening years Kipling, himself an icon of the Empire, was transformed from an apostle of success to a prophet of national decline. As Gilmour makes clear, Kipling's mysterious stories and poetry deeply influenced the way his readers saw both themselves and the British Empire, and they continue to challenge us today.
'A fine, fair and generous work ... Gilmour's celebrated life of Curzon demonstrated his mastery of imperial nuance and esoteric character, and he brings to this book just the right combination of empathy, distaste and
fastidious detachment ... there is never a flaccid line, and never a hasty judgement' Jan Morris, New Statesman
'Every now and again a book comes along that sheds new light on a life we thought we knew. David Gilmour's beautifully-written biography of Rudyard Kipling is just such a work ... This is literary biography at its very finest' George Rosie, Sunday Herald
'An enthralling biography of a mind ... essential reading for anyone who cares about how a writer finds, and passionately lives, his subject' Ruth Padel, Daily Telegraph
'The best Kipling biography yet written ... Gilmour's account of this driven man shines with intelligence' J. B. Pick, Scotsman
Gilmour attempts the difficult task of distinguishing Kipling's (1865 1936) concepts of English patriotism and the civilizing mission of the British empire from those of his jingoistic contemporaries. This biography is liveliest when recounting Kipling's early successes as a chronicler of Anglo-Indian society in the short stories of Plain Tales from the Hills and Soldiers Three. In analyzing Kipling's work, Gilmour employs the efficacious strategy of looking first to the reactions of the writer's contemporaries, finding, for example, that the sentimental favorite "Mandalay" was initially excoriated by old Malay hands for its inaccuracies. While Gilmour (Curzon) gives convincing readings of such warhorses as the cautionary "Recessional," he can't meliorate the paternalism of "The White Man's Burden" (in passing, he dismisses "If" as an "unintended parody of public school" stoicism). The hortatory verses to which Kipling turned after settling permanently in England reached their apex in the Boer War fund-raising ditty "Absent-Minded Beggar," which Kipling himself thought awfu, though he was proud of its receipts for war widows and orphans. If Kipling warned against "the Hun" before the Great War, the bitterest irony of his last phase was that after the Tommy Atkinses he celebrated in Barrack-Room Ballads had been wiped out in Flanders, as Gilmour keenly observes, Kipling's only lasting literary contribution to the war was the War Graves Commission's official epitaph for unknown soldiers. By the 1930s, Kipling's Germanophobia seemed prescient, but Gilmour builds his case for Kipling's pessimistic political insights into the future of Europe and the dissolution of the empire solely on Kipling's intuitions which don't carry the same moral weight compared to his early meritocratic, optimistic "The Ballad of East and West."