On the 30th of December 1865, a boy was born to John Lockwood Kipling and his wife Alice in the city of Bombay, India. They named the child Joseph Rudyard, Rudyard being the name of the lake in Staffordshire where they first met. The family had recently arrived in Bombay where John who was a gifted sculptor, was selected to head the department of architectural sculpture in the Jeejeebhoy School of Art.
India proved to be a wonderland for the young boy, where he explored the local markets with his sister Alice and his nanny, taking in the various exotic sights and learning the local language. This, however, was short-lived; when Rudyard turned six his mother insisted that he be sent back to England to begin his formal education.
The boy was sent to school in Southsea where he boarded with the Holloway family. This was a very difficult time for Rudyard as Mrs. Holloway despised him and both physically and emotionally abused him. Later on in life this would color much of his writing. In addition to, or perhaps as a result of this, he did not fit well into school and had very few friends, if any. Thus, books came as a welcome escape to the young boy, and he read all that he could, delighting particularly in the works of Daniel Defoe and Ralph Waldo Emerson. At times, however, Mrs. Holloway would confiscate his books, and he learned to evade her in such ways as moving things around while reading, pretending that he was playing instead. Aside from the world of literature, his only other break came in December, when he would go to his aunt’s house in London for the month, though he never said a word to anyone about the torment he underwent in Southsea.
When Rudyard was eleven, someone visited the house and was shocked at his conditions. Alice was promptly notified, and immediately rushed to England to rescue her son, who was at that point close to a nervous breakdown. After taking him on an extended vacation to help him get over his ordeal, Alice sent him to the United Services College in Devon to continue his education. Though he still had difficulty in the social arena, he learned to ignore the taunts of his peers and promptly began to flourish. He began editing the school paper, and in his second year there started work on his first book, Schoolboy Lyrics.
In 1882, Kipling returned to India where his father assisted him in obtaining a job as the assistant editor for a local newspaper. This kicked off a career as a traveling reporter and writer that would last for 54 years and over 20 books and countless short stories and poems, until his death in 1936. In 1892, Kipling was wed to Carrie Balestier, younger sister of Rudyard’s good friend Wolcott Balestier. The wedding over, the couple set off on a honeymoon that would take them across the globe from England to Canada, and then across the Pacific to Japan.
While in Japan, the couple was struck with the news that the New Oriental Banking Corporation had failed, leaving them destitute. Somehow they made their way back to the United States where they lived for four years, there giving birth to two of their three children: Josephine (1893) and Elsie (1896). Their youngest, John (1897), was born shortly after their return to England. In 1896, Rudyard had a dispute with his brother-in-law and publisher Beatty Balestier and moved back to England, which remained his permanent residence for the rest of his life.
In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first ever in English and still the youngest person to have done so.
Kipling was a outspoken proponent of England’s efforts in the first World War, and in 1915 he traveled to France to report from the front. He encouraged John to join the military, and when John failed the medical exam both for the Navy and Officer’s School, he used his connections to get him into the Irish Guards. John died in the battle of Loos, prompting his father to write: “If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied” in his Epitaphs, indicating his feelings of guilt.
Kipling continued to write until his death at the age of 70. His body was cremated and the ashes were buried in Poet’s corner next to the grave of Charles Dickens.