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PETER HINCHCLIFFE Coming to Terms with Kipling: Puck ofPook's Hill, Rewards and Fairies, and the Shape of Kipling's Imagination For more than a generation critical studies of Rudyard Kipling have begun or ended with the admonition that surely it is now time for readers to come to terms with his work. Coming to terms in this context seems to imply that with the demise of the British Empire the imperialist content of Kipling's writing has been neutralised. After all, W.H. Auden assured us as long ago as 1939 that time had already pardoned Kipling and his views, although this may have been a premature judgement. A book like Jonah Raskin's The Mythology of Imperialism (1971), for all its special pleading and polemics, shows that Kipling's work can still act as tinder to a new generation's ideological sparks. He is not yet a safe man to read. There is another sense in which we can speak of coming to terms with Kipling. Whatever our political response to reading Kipling may be, we might reasonably expect that, almost forty years after his death, some consensus would have been reached about the total shape of his work, but this has not happened either. There are two continuing and, I think, misleading trends in Kipling criticism. One is the attempt to construct a selective canon from the whole mass of his writing. The other is the tendency for critics of Kipling to write in complete isolation from each other, and often with the assumption that opinion about Kipling is inevitably polarised - inevitably, at least, for everyone except themselves.1 A selective canon might seem a practical necessity in discussing an author whose complete works run to nearly forty volumes. However, what marks the selectors is not the desire to reduce discussion to manageable form but an act of faith that if only the proper selective criteria are applied 'the good Kipling' in the form of a few stories and poems of unalloyed purity will emerge from the dross. This phrase, 'the good Kipling,' has recently been adopted as the title of a book by Elliott 1. Gilbert in which half a dozen of Kipling's stories are analyzed, not to claim that they are the six best, but to stake out the area of Kipling's work in which the good Kipling is to be found.2 Many of the most interesting pieces of Kipling criticism build their case through selection, like Edmund Wilson's 'The Kipling that Nobody Read' or T.S. Eliot's introductory essay to his Choice of Kipling's Verse, in which he attempts to distinguish Kipling's great 'verse' from his indifferent 'poetry,' and this kind of selection can be found as early as Andrew Lang's reviews in the 1880s.3 The UTQ, Volume XLV, Number 1, Fall 1.975 76 PETER HINCHCLIFFE oddity of such attempts is that the various good Kiplings bear so little resemblance to each other. Instead of consolidating critical opinion about Kipling, the selective canonists' work seems destined to perpetuate a fragmented view of him. A perfect example of the other misleading tendency is to be found in the opening sentences of C.s. Lewis's 'Kipling's World': Kipling is intensely loved and hated. Hardly any reader likes him a little. Those who admire him will defend him tooth and nail. ... The other side reject him with something like personal hatred.... For the moment, I will only say that my sole qualification, if it is a qualification, for talking about him is that I do not fully belong to either side.4 But it is precisely this qualification that makes Lewis a more typical critic of Kipling than he thought himself. A lot of Kipling criticism is rancorous or defensive, but remarkably little of it shows the kind of polarization that Lewis accepts as the norm. Much more common is an attitude of 'Yes, but -,' an ambivalence that seizes Kipling's critics quite suddenly, as the hostile ones remember aspects of his writing that they must praise and his admirers remember things that they must condemn. The locus classicus of this ambivalence is Henry James...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 75-90
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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