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  • Changes in Kipling's Fiction Upon His Return to Britain
  • David Sergeant

Kipling's biographers generally agree that his return to Britain in late 1889 left him, as Andrew Lycett has put it, "lonely, homesick and suffering profound culture shock."1 For many years, however, the literary effects of this relocation were neglected. The stories that were written in Britain were, on occasion, lumped together with stories written in India, on the grounds that their subject matter, and occasionally the volume in which they were collected, were the same.2 Those critics who did detect a change in the writing frequently seemed to view it as a natural development with the passage of time, uninfluenced by context.3 More recently, however, the literary effects of Kipling's return have begun to be registered. Peter Havholm has recognised the changes that a British readership effected on Kipling's Anglo-Indian sensibilities and experience and has posited a shift in his technique during this period, leading to a concentration upon the "wondrous" after 1892.4 Similarly, Kaori Nagai has traced two alterations in Kipling's writing after his relocation: the disappearance of hot weather from the stories set in India, and the narrator becoming increasingly "omnipresent and all-knowing."5 This article will both build on and contest these observations, using a close reading of two London stories—"The Man Who Was" (1890, 18916) and "On Greenhow Hill" (1890, 1891)—to show how Kipling's removal from Anglo-India led to the separation and clarification of two narrative modes which until this point had been more diffusely mingled in his work. Like Nagai and Havholm, I recognise the significance of Kipling's return: however, this did not always result in an omniscient narrator and the significant developments in form and technique were already visible in the first stories he produced upon arriving in London. [End Page 144]

Before turning to the stories let us briefly consider how Kipling's "culture shock" upon his return to Britain necessarily impacted his literary practice: how his writerly identity was inextricably bound up with his identity as an Anglo-Indian. Kipling's life since the age of sixteen had been spent in India, and many of the years before that in a boarding school whose raison d'être was to produce the soldiers and administrators of the empire. Once in India, Kipling had become an enthusiastic affiliate of the conservative and individualist authoritarian Anglo-Indian ideological milieu whose heartland was the Punjab, where he spent his first five years.7 His journalism was no dispassionate reportage but involved him in self-conscious contributions to the Anglo-Indian cause. One letter mentions how as a journalist "your duty clearly is to combat that [native] paper with all your power"; how "there's no finer feeling in life than the knowledge that a year's work has really done some living good, besides amusing and interesting people, for a Province that you are genuinely interested in and love."8 Recent critics have also observed how closely embedded Kipling's Indian fiction was in his ideological identity and have connected the plain style of Plain Tales From the Hills to the conservative ideology Kipling endorsed.9 Upon returning to Britain Kipling did not suddenly jettison either this strong sense of Anglo-Indian identity or his equally strong sense of an Anglo-Indian purpose: what changed was not him, but his readership.

The problems this entailed for the Indian work he had already completed are enlightening. Upon the republication of Kipling's Departmental Ditties in Britain in 1890, Kipling wrote a new verse "Prelude" addressed to his "dear hearts across the seas" which made it clear that, although he might appear to have mocked them "in jesting guise," it was for a "sheltered people's mirth." He was still, as he had been before, one of them.10 This actually respins the truth, which was presumably too complex to be condensed into a pledge of allegiance: that this early poetry had relied for much of its effect on its circumstances of composition, with the poet-speaker maintaining an ambiguous position between insider-confidant and outsider-satirist. The Anglo-Indian...


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pp. 144-159
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