Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Still Controversial After All These Years

Kipling is in the news because someone decorated the students union in Manchester with a mural rendition of Kipling's "If" and the student politicians (who hadn't been consulted) painted it out and substituted Maya Angelou's "And I Rise"- because Kipling was "a racist" and "an imperialist".

This revives a controversy that has been going on since Kipling's own day. And those of us who love Kipling should probably welcome it on the grounds that there's no such thing as bad publicity. If he has survived the satire of Max Beerbohm, the wilful misinterpretation of G.K Chesterton and the patronage of T.S. Eliot he will most probably survive the disapproval of Manchester Students Union.

As Orwell notes in his 1942 review of Eliot's snooty edition of Kipling's "Selected Poems", most of Kipling's critics- and perhaps many of his admirers too- haven't actually read him.  Those of us who have read him know he has many voices-  many personae. 

I re-read Orwell's essay this morning- and I don't believe he'd read Kipling either- or at least, not the whole of him. He's perceptive about the imperial Kipling of the 1890s (which isn't to say I agree with all the points he makes) but ignores anything that isn't about Empire or the army- and that's a large body of work. Kipling didn't go into a sulk after the Great War and no-one who had read the great stories about love, healing and forgiveness that date from those years could possibly claim that he did. 
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