KIPLING, Rudyard (1865–1936)
Plaque erected in 1957 by London County Council at 43 Villiers Street, Charing Cross, London, WC2N 6NE, City of Westminster
RUDYARD KIPLING 1865-1936 poet and story writer lived here 1889-1891
Replaces a brown LCC plaque of 1940
Journalist, poet and story-writer Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular British authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, best known for his collection of fictional stories The Jungle Book (1894), later filmed by Walt Disney (1967).
While his children’s stories remain popular today, Kipling has been criticised for his imperialist views and romanticising colonialism in his writings. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 43 Villiers Street, where he lived between 1889 and 1891.
Kipling was born in Bombay in 1865 to John Lockwood Kipling (1837–1911), a professor of architectural sculpture, and his wife, Alice Kipling (1837–1910). His name came from Lake Rudyard in Staffordshire, where his parents had first met. In 1871 young Kipling and his sister came to live in England with paid guardians in Southsea. At the time it was not unusual for children of English parents in India to be separated in this way, though Kipling later described the experience as traumatic.
Growing up, Kipling displayed advanced literary ability, and his earliest collection of verse, Schoolboy Lyrics, was published in 1881. He returned to India the following year, where he became a highly successful journalist and writer, publishing such works as Plain Tales from the Hills (1888).
Return to England
In 1889, aged 24, Kipling returned from India and settled in London at 43 Villiers Street, Charing Cross – a second-floor apartment with three rooms above an establishment of Harris the Sausage King. Kipling rose to fame almost immediately, with editors already aware of his previous work and wanting to publish him.
He remained living at Villiers Street until 1891, the year before his marriage to Caroline Balestier. While living there he wrote The Light that Failed (1890), a novel with passages recording his early impressions of London.
In his autobiography, Something of Myself (1937), Kipling recalled his time in London:
My rooms were small, not over-clean or well-kept, but from my desk I could look out of my window through the fanlight of Gatti’s Music-Hall entrance, across the street, almost to its stage. The Charing Cross trains rumbled through my dreams on one side, the boom of the Strand on the other, while, before my windows, Father Thames under the Shot Tower walked up and down with his traffic.
After his marriage, Kipling and his wife moved to the United States where he wrote the works for which he is most widely remembered, The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895). In 1896 the Kiplings, now with three children, moved back to England, first living in Devon, and eventually settling in Sussex.
In the first decade of the 20th century Kipling was at the height of his fame, producing such works as Stalky & Co. (1899), Kim (1901) and the Just So Stories (1902). In 1907, he became the first Englishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Imperialism and War
Today, Kipling’s political views, expressed through his then popular writings, have been widely criticised for their racist and imperialist sentiments. Kipling believed in British superiority over the people of colonised nations and he became known as the ‘Poet of the Empire’. Works such as The White Man’s Burden (1899), with its offensive description of ‘new-caught, sullen peoples, half devil and half child’, sought to portray imperialism as a mission of civilisation.
During the First World War, the British government used Kipling’s popularity for propaganda, asking him to write pamphlets and stories that glorified war and the British military. Kipling readily took this on, but after his only son, John, aged 18, died in combat, he became bitter towards the war. His volume of poems The Years Between (1919) is by far the darkest of all Kipling’s collections.
After the war, and with the British Empire on the decline, Kipling’s writings and values were seen as out of tune with the times. While he continued writing into the early 1930s, his output and success decreased. George Orwell found Kipling’s attitude to instances of colonial brutality ‘morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting’, but admitted the importance of his work to him in his younger life. Kipling passed away in January 1936 at the age of 70.