The Art of Rudyard Kipling

By J. M. S. Tompkins | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER ONE
Kipling and the Novel

It was one of Kipling's disappointments that he did not prove a novelist. In India he had worked on a novel that was never completed, and within a few months of his arrival in London he had set himself down to another, drawing a good deal on his own experiences (as Something of Myself clearly shows) and expressing at full and eloquent length the relation of a young artist to his art. The Light that Failed was not the complete success that he must have hoped for, and sooner or later he saw that it was not the novel he hoped to write. In Something of Myself he calls it 'that conte' and puts it in its place as 'not a built book', while taking some comfort in the fact that the French liked it. The ambition to proceed novelist did not, however, desert him for a long time, and he tells us that it was often discussed in the family. For some ten years he made various approaches to it, but after Kim he gradually accepted his restriction to the short story, and learnt in the end to make it carry the weight of a novel.

There is no need to dwell on his next long book, The Naulahka. It is a matter of obvious incentives and readily available resources. Much of it parallels 'Letters of Marque', the newspaper articles he had written on his tour in Rajputana, and in his collaboration with the American Wolcott Balestier he may have looked primarily for the impulse of a substantial, continuous story, in the turns of which he could stow the memories of his travel. The writing of the Indian scenes is in the main better than that in the original articles, but it is impossible to think that much effort went to this book. No doubt, however, pleasure did, a rare taste of partnership in writing, perhaps a pleasure in letting the collaborator have his head, perhaps a glee in angling for the American public with a book of which hero and heroine were American. It resulted, however, in artistic confusion and nullity. At the end the reader can have it all ways at once. Kate's missionary zeal is

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