Rudyard Kipling, American Imperialist

Maya Jasanoff:

If a writer harbored bias, shall we never speak his name? Or when he wrote with insight, might we read him all the same? Christopher Benfey opens his book about Rudyard Kipling with the inevitable questions. He answers by coming neither to praise Kipling nor to bury him, but to explore him as more than the author of some now-notorious couplets. A boundlessly prolific spinner of verse, stories, and novels for adults and children alike, Kipling managed to be “the most popular and financially successful writer” of his era, as well as one of the most acclaimed—becoming the first English-language author to win the Nobel Prize, at just 41. And though he may by now have become the “most politically incorrect writer in the canon,” he impressed many postcolonial writers, too. Born in Bombay in 1865 and beginning his career as a journalist in Lahore and Allahabad, Kipling knew India more intimately than any other British writer, giving his work, says Salman Rushdie, an “undeniable authority.” Michael Ondaatje weaves Kipling’s novel Kim into The English Patient, likening Kipling’s pages to “a drug of wonders.” Maya Angelou herself said that she “enjoyed and respected Kipling.”