Empire builder or bard?

Did Rudyard Kipling “incarnate the late Victorian sense of Empire” or did he create it? David Gilmour asks in his biography:

An ingenious theory suggests that officers who read Kipling somehow managed to mould their men so that they became like his soldiers. General Sir George Younghusband had served in India for many years without hearing the words or expressions used by the fictional men; puzzled, he asked his brother officers, who confessed that they too were ignorant of the diction. But a few years later he discovered that ‘the soldiers thought, and talked, and expressed themselves exactly like Rudyard Kipling had taught them in his stories…Kipling made the modern soldier.’

…While serving in Ceylon in 1907, Leonard Woolf observed that the British there were ‘astonishingly like characters in a Kipling story’. But he could never make up his mind ‘whether Kipling had moulded his characters accurately in the image of Anglo-Indian society or whether we were moulding our characters accurately in the image of a Kipling story.’ Sometimes he wondered whether he was a real person with a real job or simply living a story from “Under the Deodars.”

Gilmour ultimately concludes that the answer to his question and the quandaries presented by Younghusband and Woolf must be “a bit of both.”


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