February 15th, 2005

Me And Rud

I have a personal link with Rudyard Kipling.

During WWI my grandmother- not the one I've posted pictures of but my mother's mother, who hated having her picture taken- was enrolled in the Women's Land Army. The Women's Land Army existed to fill the jobs vacated by male workers, mainly agricultural workers, who had gone off to fight. She was offered a posting to Kipling's farm at Burwash in Sussex. "Don't take it," she was warned, "Mrs Kipling is a tartar," but my Grandmother was a big fan and she went.

So far as I know she had an easy ride and I don't think she had much contact with the Kipling family, or if she did, it wasn't the stuff of anecdotes.

But one thing she did do was get Kipling to sign one of his books for her. A modern author would have put an inscription, "To Mary Allen, with respect and affection" or something like that. Kipling just crossed through his printed name and signed beneath it. I'm told he was chary about handing out autographs and that Carrie Kipling signed all the cheques to stop them being bought and sold by autograph hunters.

Kipling was a god in my mother's family. Not as big a god as Winston Churchill but not far behind. I was introduced to the Just So Stories and the Jungle Books and after that I was hooked and could find my own way.  There are many writers I admire and a handful I love and Kipling is at the head of the second list. I enjoy everything he did, from the children's stories to the "difficult" quasi-modernist stories of his old age.  When I grew up I collected Kipling first editions. Back then Kipling was as far out of favour as it's possible for a major writer to be and they could be had for a few shillings each.

When I was about twelve my Grandmother said she'd give me the signed copy of The Seven Seas provided I learned several verses of Kipling's poem "Sussex" by heart. No sweat.

God gave all men all earth to love
But since our hearts are small
Ordained to each one spot should prove
Beloved over all;
That as he watched creation's birth,
So we in godlike mood
Might of our love create our earth
And see that it was good."

Yup, I still know it.

Thanks, Granny.