July 7th, 2019

The Higher Cannibalism

Biography, pah!

Rudyard Kipling called it "the higher cannibalism"- and did all he could to discourage and discommode anyone seeking to dig around in his life. His autobiography, Something Of Myself, is a brilliant book, which tells you all you could possibly want to know about how he arranged his writing desk but nothing about the deaths of his children.

Because what can one ever really know about another human being- and especially about that flickery, febrile thing, their emotional life? How far can you trust any witness? They all have an angle. Some of them lie. The subject may even lie about him or herself- in fact nothing is more likely. They may not even realise they're lying.

Elsewhere online I've been participating in an online conversation about Kipling's relationship with Wolcott and Caroline Balestier- brother and sister- one of whom he wrote a book with and one of whom he married after the other's death. Was he in love with Wolcott? Was he in love with Carrie? Was he in love with both of them? Was he in love with neither? But it's all conjecture and interpretation and wishful thinking- and when you chase down the evidence you find it's all tenuous, he said-she said stuff. A complicating factor is that everyone seems to have liked Wolcott and disliked Carrie. In the end the only trustworthy facts are the ones already stated: the book, the death, the marriage.

It's been a fascinating conversation which- like so many fascinating conversations- has simply muddied the waters. Kipling wouldn't have thanked us for having it.