Harry Ricketts

Harry Ricketts is editing a collection of Kipling’s stories, poems and speeches. He is a senior lecturer in English at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

Beastliness

Harry Ricketts, 16 March 1989

Speculation, Leon Edel remarks in his one-volume life of Henry James, is ‘the stock-in-trade of all biographers’. But if all biographers speculate, some do so more scrupulously and convincingly than others. Edel, for instance, is both meticulous and plausible. The same can hardly be said of Martin Seymour-Smith in his new critical biography of Kipling. In addition to being one of the most lopsided lives ever written – 23 chapters on the first forty years, only two chapters on the last thirty – this is also one of the most incorrigible in its guesswork. Indeed, Seymour-Smith’s claim to have been ‘boldly speculative’ deserves to rank with Biography’s great understatements.’

In 1857, eight years before Kipling was born, Indian soldiers in the north of the country rebelled against the representatives of the East India Company. The uprising was known as the Sepoy...

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