The most one can say about this marriage is that it endured and, if Carrie contributed to Kipling’s growing isolation, she also ensured that he had the peace he needed for his work.
The loss through illness of their first-born, Josephine, in New York in 1899, and of their only son John in the First World War were tragedies that seemed to drive them further into themselves, rather than together Both suffered a great deal from illness, real or imagined. He became an increasingly isolated figure, the more so after his marriage to the American Carrie Balestier, whose funeral bak’d meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables, so to speak. He was still in his early twenties when he returned to London in 1889, via south-east Asia, the Pacific and the US, his fame having gone before him.Kipling made various attempts to escape the straitjacket of celebrity, seeking anonymity or an alternative way of life in different countries or parts of this country – the US, South Africa, even Torquay – before coming to rest (more or less) in Sussex. Considering the amount of his work which is based on his Indian experiences, Kipling spent remarkably few years in that country, though he later referred to his time there as “seven years’ hard”. But these were the years in which he first revealed his precocious talent and went on to achieve phenomenal success.
Lycett dwells at some length on Kipling’s unrequited love for Flo Garrard, which lies behind the depressed and depressing The Light that Failed, and on Flo’s lesbianism and later life as an indifferent painter.
Return to India and hard work as a journalist on, first, the Civil and Military Gazette and then the Pioneer helped Kipling to put this failed love affair in perspective, though it continued to haunt him for some years. When finally rescued from Mrs Holloway and her odious son Harry, he was sent to the new Westward Ho! public school, named after one famous novel and responsible for another when Kipling later transformed his experiences there into the larky Stalky & Co. A spoilt and sunny infancy in Bombay was brought to a sudden end when he was shipped home and left at Southsea in the unloving care of a Mrs Holloway – the equivalent in young Rudyard’s development to the blacking factory in Charles Dickens’s. Lycett goes more fully into Kipling’s relationship with Isabella Burton, the dedicatee of Plain Tales from the Hills, than any previous biographer, but in general adds little to an already familiar picture of a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary, not to say racist, redeemed by his “daemon” – his extraordinary capacity to transcend his prejudices in his best work.
The facts of Kipling’s life are well known. The most satisfactory part deals with the Indian years, in so many ways his best and most productive time. Kipling, personally the most reticent of writers, did not want to be “biographised”, entreating his readers “not to question other than /The books I leave behind.”
Never was there a more apt illustration of D H Lawrence’s injunction to trust the tale, not the teller.
Kipling the writer is altogether more admirable than Kipling the man, and it is a relief to turn from any life of him to the poems, stories (particularly the Indian ones) and to his masterpiece, Kim.
That said, Andrew Lycett has produced a thoughtful and thorough account of Kipling’s life and times, the emphasis on the latter being particularly welcome. In the case of creative artists a complicating factor is the relationship between the person and work. She lived in London from 1981 to 1995, but moved to Manchester in 1996, where she lectures part-time at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has edited a number of anthologies including Stopping for Death and Anvil New Poets Her Selected Poems were published in 1994..