‘Fascinating Story of India’

In the 1901 review of Kim published in The New York Times, high praise for Mr. Kipling…

Rudyard Kipling is what Stockton might term a Discouragerof Prophesy. Easily within the memory of the youngest of them the critics were inclined to apply to him Prof. Wilson’s luckless prediction concerning Macaulay, and to declare that, while evidently ‘a clever lad,’ a clever lad Kipling ‘would remain, depend ye upon that, a’ the days of his life.’ And lo, the clever lad proceeded to grow apace into an intellectual manhood as remarkable for its strength and ripeness as it had been for its precocity.

…if not his treatment of women and romance…

Without doubt Mr. Kipling has his limitations. He does not love a lover; the atmosphere of romantic emotion is foreign to him. He tells us that ‘there are two sorts of women in the world – those who take the strength out of a man and those who put it back,’ but his pen recognizes the former class only.

…and a firm endorsement of the novel’s dual artistic and ethical value:

When without a didactic hint, he sets his readers thinking of the great problems of life, and makes them shy of the easy verdict of ignorance, he fulfills an ethical mission – and this Mr. Kipling does. And when he shows the loveliness, the aseptic quality of simple goodness, the power that comes from faithfulness to high ideals, he has done much toward teaching the lesson of Christ, that the world can be saved only through holy lives lived in it – and this Mr. Kipling does.

Both this review and another one from The Atlantic are worth reading in full, because they contrast so strikingly with appreciative but apologetic contemporary commentary and offer a superb window into (what appears to be) a dominant mindset of the time in which Kipling wrote.

It seems, to me anyway, impossible to read such historical texts and not wonder: What published work that now evokes approving nods in readers will make our future counterparts wince in shame and wonder at our failings of imagination and compassion?


Tags: , , , , ,