Thursday, 17 May 2012

Hitchens on Kipling

Christopher Hitchens' writing has the gift, among others, of making me think again about writers I have read, and wanting to read some I have not.  Like many children of my generation I read, or had read to me, Kipling's "Jungle Book" and "Just So Stories", but did not really read him other than that.  And his reputation is not a good one, these days.  But Kipling was all-get-out interesting, as Hitchens shows us.  He praised Indians as equal human beings, not a fashionable view in his time and milieu, but opposed independence.  Hitchens notes that in the first fourteen years of the twentieth century British politics was almost completely remade by the forces of organised labour, Irish nationalism, and female suffrage.  This, I suspect, is right, and Kipling understood it as few others did.  He cites here George Dangerfield "The Strange Death of Liberal England", published in 1935.  Which I have not read, but surely must one day soon.  Hitchens notes too that as a boy he saw bound volumes of Kipling in his school library, with a left-handed swastika on the covers, and as I was informed in the comments on a previous post this was not uncommon before 1939 - but Kipling insisted in the mid-1930s that the symbol be removed from all editions of his work, in which too he was ahead of his time.

I have posted previously about this symbol, as I found it on a book given as a Sunday school prize to my late great-uncle Ridley, always known as Tigs, when I recently helped begin to clear my aunt's house after she died in February this year.  Another thing we found was a diary that Tigs kept of a trip he made to southern Africa, by sea, in 1959.  This is being serialised as the Tigs' Trip blog, and you can read it here.  Fascinating social history.


Jonny said...

"For there is neither East nor West
Nor Colour, Creed, or Birth,
When two strong men come face to face,
Tho' they come from the ends of the earth!"
I love Kipling (have you ever Kippled?). I think the fact that his view of Empire was more nuanced than was previously assumed is an idea that has been gaining ground over the last twenty years or so.

And do read "The Strange Death of Liberal England". It's particularly good in its analysis of how and why people turn to to "left-field" ideas when they see a ruling political class as sclerotic, and the interpretation of how the Liberal Party failed to understand the suffragettes and the Trades Unions is a great example of how political parties can fail.

Anonymous said...

Visited his house once and saw his car.

Just can't get past all that Mowgli stuff and looking on those twop imposters just the same etc etc etc.

And the fact that he forced his kid to join up for WW1 despite fact the boy couldn't see properly.