Summer Projects: Victorian Lahore

I have long had a particular interest in Rudyard Kipling's early work -- especially his years in Lahore (1882-1887), where he worked as a journalist while living with his parents and, some of the time, his sister.  This summer I am doing a project on him, and using a sister blog, which I am calling "In the Library," as a kind of white-board where I am posting bits and pieces of research. 

The main project is described below. From time to time I may use this space to synthesize what I am learning through my research. 

Rudyard Kipling is a disliked, sometimes reviled figure in postcolonial literary studies in large part because of his uncomplicated support for British Imperialism – but there is more to him than the familiar image of him as an arch-Imperialist might suggest. As is widely known, in his later years Kipling authored quite a bit of jingoistic war-related poetry, much of it inflected with overtones of racial superiority. I am not interested redeeming or apologizing for that Kipling; the charge that he would become one of the prime advocates of British Imperialism is not under question.

But what about the younger Kipling? What about the young man who spent seven enthusiastic years (1882-1889) as a journalist in Lahore and Allahabad, who wrote playfully and even affectionately about the country in books like Plain Tales From the Hills (1888), The Jungle Book (1894), and Kim (1901)? Before he said that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,” Kipling, in Kim, movingly and compellingly described the Mughal-built Grand Trunk Road as a “wonderful spectacle” and a “river of life as nowhere else exists in the world.” The early Kipling was deeply fascinated by India, though he was always uneasy and limited in his relationships with actual Indians as well as Eurasians.

I am interested in two factors that seemed to shape the young Kipling as an India enthusiast: 1) Kipling’s Indian journalism, especially his work at the Civil & Military Gazette, and 2) Lockwood Kipling’s role in shaping his son Rudyard’s ideas about race and religion in Punjab, as expressed in his journalism and early short stories from the 1880s.

Biographers such as Charles Allen (Kipling Sahib, 2009) have indicated that one of the key sources of much of Rudyard’s passion for the country, and much of his primary knowledge, was likely his father, John Lockwood Kipling. After teaching as a professor at the Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay for a decade, Lockwood and Alice Kipling moved to Lahore in 1875, where Lockwood worked as the Principal of the Mayo School of Arts, and where he was appointed as curator of the Lahore Museum. Lockwood was also a prolific illustrator of Indian animals. His collection of his sketches and stories about Indian animals (Beast and Man in India, 1891) is of as much interest as a work of ethnography as it is of zoology, and one surmises – though no biographer has confirmed it – that his son’s unforgettable anthropomorphizing of jungle life in The Jungle Book may have been inspired by the imaginative world represented in his father’s drawings. But while Lockwood Kipling, as the curator of a Museum largely devoted to Indian artifacts, was committed to understanding and preserving pre-British Indo-Islamic culture in a way that his son never would be, biographers have also suggested that his benevolence had its limits: Lockwood had a clear sense of the rightful separation of white (“British”) and “Oriental” (non-white) races that his son would also embrace and then, later, amplify. Allen, in his biography, pins Rudyard’s first awareness of the power of racial ideology to the fallout from the Ilbert Bill of 1883, where Viceroy Ripon tried to allow Indian judges and magistrates to try British subjects. Kipling, writing for the Civil and Military Gazette, initially wrote approvingly of the change only to face withering ostracism at the Punjab Officers’ Club; in letters and in his memoir Something of Myself, Kipling reflected that it was this experience that forced him to become an “Anglo-Indian” with the strong racial ideology that usually entailed, rather than merely an unattached young reporter free in India with a penchant for nocturnal visits to the “Lal Bazaar” (i.e., the red-light district), and who occasionally experimented with opium in these early years.

Though a growing number of critics and biographers have explored the formative role of Kipling’s years as a journalist in India, few have looked closely at his specific essays and journalist output from the period, or situated them in a detailed account of the life and culture of Punjab that existed beyond the Kiplings (and yes, there was more to Lahore in the 1880s than just the Kipling family). The goal is not to fixate solely on the Kipling family but to use the Kiplings of Lahore as a starting point for a broader exploration of the way colonialism was changing Indian life in Punjab in the 1880s and ‘90s. I am interested in the status of religion and ideas of racial identity as they were interpreted by the students and Indian faculty members at Lockwood’s school of art, as well as at the newly founded University of the Punjab in Lahore (some of these Indian students and professors are in fact mentioned by name in both Lockwood’s and Rudyard’s respective writings, and one aspect of my research will entail exploring whether any of these figures have their own archives).

See my research-in-progress: In the Library.

This project is supported by a grant from Lehigh's Center for Global Islamic Studies