Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, in Bombay, India, where his father Lockwood Kipling was Professor of Architectural Sculpture at the Jeejeebhoy School of Art.
Following a short stay in England in 1868, during which his sister Alice was born, the Kiplings returned to Bombay until 1871, when Rudyard and his younger sister travelled to England with their parents. The two children were left at the house of a retired naval officer named Holloway in Southsea while their parents returned to India. Rudyard’s early childhood without his parents left deep wounds upon him which were exacerbated by the bullying he suffered at the hands of his foster mother. Unable to communicate his suffering to a family member, he found solace in books and devoted his time to reading authors like Wilkie Collins and Daniel Defoe. But even then, Mrs. Holloway took his books away from him and brought the young Rudyard close to a nervous breakdown.
Rudyard remained at Southsea until March 1877 when his mother, averted of her son’s condition, returned to England. She took the two children and moved to a farm near Loughton in Epping Forest. Soon, the carefree life in the farm and the presence of his mother and younger cousin Stan Baldwin helped Rudyard erase the memories of his earlier abandonment. After recovering, he moved to a new school in Devon where he began developing his talent as a writer and poet. His first work Schoolboy Lyrics was published in 1881 with the help of his father.
Kipling returned to India in 1882 and took a position as a copy editor for the Civil and Military Gazette before moving to the Allahabad Pioneer where he wrote satirical verses, the Departmental Ditties in 1886. Kipling continued writing, and in 1888, he published a total of seventy short, satirical stories on life in British India as seen through the eyes of the British military and the native Indian.
During the next year, Kipling net with American agent Walcott Balestier, and together they travelled to America and settled in Brattleboro, Vermont. The place inspired him to document his first impressions of America, the American Notes in 1891. During his stay at Vermont, Kipling met Wolcott’s sister Carrie, and they became emotionally involved before he returned to India. Towards the end of the same year, Wolcott died suddenly of typhoid fever. Shocked at her brother’s death, Carrie wrote urgently to Rudyard asking to meet him in London where they got married soon after his arrival in a private ceremony attended by the American writer Henry James.
Their honeymoon took them around the world, but bad luck continued to follow Rudyard. His bank went bankrupt and the couple moved back to Brattleboro where they purchased some land from Carrie’s brother, Beatty, and built their ranch, Naulahka.
The next few years are amongst the most successful in Rudyard’s writing career. He published The Naulahka: A Story of East and West (1892), Many Inventions (1893), and the now famous pair of Jungle Books in 1894 and 1895 respectively. The couple had three children. Josephine was born in 1893, Elsie in 1894, and John in 1897 when the couple had already returned to England following a significant fallout between Rudyard and Beatty that made its way to newspapers across the United States.
1899 was another tragic year for the Kipling family. During a transatlantic boat trip to America, both Josephine and Rudyard became severely ill with pneumonia. Rudyard survived, but Josephine didn’t. Carrie, unable to break the news to Rudyard asked his publisher, Frank Doubleday, to do so instead.
The Kiplings returned to England and settled early in 1902 at Bateman’s, a Sussex Estate dating from the 1630s. His prolific writing career continued with the publication of Kim (1901), Puck of Pook’s Hill (1902), Just So Stories (1902), a group of stories that Kipling invented while putting Josephine to sleep.
Actions and Reactions was published in 1906, and a year later, Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
When the Great War erupted, Kipling became an enthusiastic supporter of the British war efforts against Germany, and in early 1915, he convinced his son to enlist with the Irish Guards. Unfortunately, John went missing in action in France and his body was never recovered, despite his father’s immediate travel to France upon notification of the devastating news.
Kipling returned to England in a state of deep mourning. He continued to write, publishing Debts and Credits (1926), Thy Servant a Dog (1930) and Limits and Renewals (1932), but his mood had permanently changed.
In 1935, his health started to deteriorate, and he died on January 18, 1936, following a painful ulcer. His ashes were interred at Poets’ Corner, in the South Transcept of Westminster Abbey, next to the graves of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens.