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Book Reviews Kipling and Children's Literature Francelia Butler, Barbara Rosen, and Judith A. Plotz, eds. Children's Literature, 20: Annual of the Modern Language Association Division on Children's Literature and the Children's Literature Association. Special Issue on Rudyard Kipling. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. viii + 254 pp. Cloth $45.00 Paper $15.00 IT IS DIFFICULT TO JUDGE whether Judith Plotz, one of the editors of this anthology of specially commissioned articles dealing with Kipling's stories about children, is speaking for herself or for a long-since discredited assessment of Kipling: With his self-righteous appropriation of the Parsee's goods, his geographic expansiveness in the "Exclusively Uninhabited Interior," his hypermasculine but ultimately futile posturings, and his myopic unawareness of his crummy inner self, the Rhinoceros-Kipling may seem an anachronism. Surely he can no longer reasonably be commended as a friend to the children of our multicultural postmodern era. (The word "surely" is over-confident, and "reasonably" will raise more than one eyebrow.) I for one am becoming increasingly dubious that the cause of any artist is advanced by presentation, at the very beginning, of the prosecution's case. There seems to be some doubt, even in Professor Plotz's mind, that hers is the best way to proceed, for she admits, shortly afterwards, that "the contributors see Kipling less as a thickskinned rhinoceros than as a boundlessly curious and perennially empathetic Elephant's child who fills his texts 'with his'satiable curtiosities [sic] . . . about everything that he saw, or heard, or felt, or smelt, or touched." Those who write for this special issue have convinced themselves that Kipling, at least in the major works for children, is a very special artist, and not an anachronism. Perhaps the introduction, "Why the Kipling Issue Was Made," is also off the mark when it implies that Just So Stories, The Jungle Books, and Kim are the only works of Kipling that have avoided becoming anachronistic. It is troublesome to record these observations, because Plotz has written elsewhere to better effect than here. Indeed, she contributes an intelligent essay to this olL·, "The Empire of Youth: Crossing and 199 ELT 36:2 1993 Double-Crossing Cultural Barriers in Kipling's Kim." Even so, the prefatory note, which occupies a prominent place, seems to be (unnecessarily ) giving aid and comfort to Kipling's enemies. Kipling's brand of imperialism, as historians working on the wreckage of Queen Victoria's legacy have been telling us for half a century, may not have been a lovely thing to behold, but George Orwell's point must also be considered: it was in many ways superior to what replaced it. And most readers would have welcomed what is missing in her two-page summation of what her contributors discuss (a sentence or less to each essay): an overview of the critical trends dealing with some key questions, a perspective that would have looked back over a full century of the secondary literature, to identify the reasons why Kipling's fiction in this field occupied so much space in his imagination, and whether in fact readers welcomed these stories primarily because they were not stories illustrating a "thick skinned imperialism" (Plotz's phrase), one that was rapidly becoming obsolescent even in Kipling's lifetime. The larger picture is all the more needed because the essays focus on individual works. No one seems to have been asked to explain why Kipling, when he was not writing stories for children, seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time writing stories about children (Captains Courageous, Stalky & Co., Puck ofPook's Hill, and Rewards and Fairies ). This is precisely the question that concerns Dr. Thomas N. Cross, a psychiatrist, in his recent book, East and West: A Biography of Rudyard Kipling (Ann Arbor: Luckystone Press, 1992), and his answer, that Kipling's life illustrates the "Loss-Restoration Principle"—i.e., that his creativity is an heroic response to having been abandoned as a child with a white family in England, and to subsequent problems with his vision. This takes us a long way beyond Edmund Wilson's facile explanation of Kipling's "hatred" (in the notorious essay reprinted...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 199-204
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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