The Long Recessional by David Gilmour

The first book on my summer reading list that I’ve finished is David Gilmour’s The Long Recessional:  The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling.  Knowing very little about Kipling’s life, it was interesting to put the man with the writing.  At the turn of the twentieth century, much of his writing took the form of political analysis and opinion, even many of his stories and poems.  Being British, but living in India as a child, gave him a somewhat “unique” perspective on the world.  He could be a hateful person and knew it; he was even proud of it at times.

His imperialistic beliefs would make him controversial by today’s standards.  In spite of being a staunch supporter of the British empire, he leveled much of his hatred and political criticism at the British government itself when he felt they were not bettering the world and the lives of those living in their colonies.  At the same time, he frequently referred to those native to the empire’s colonies as though they were children who did not know any better and needed the empire to bring “civilization” to their countries.  Gilmour does an outstanding job at presenting Kipling as the complex person that he was as opposed to presenting him as either all good or all bad.

Kipling and his wife, Carrie, lived in Vermont for a number of years when their children were born.  He was a friend of and greatly respected by Mark Twain.  In addition,they “hung out” with Thomas Hardy and his wife when they lived in England.  When Kipling won the Nobel Prize, many thought Thomas Hardy should have received it.  Gilmour does not say whether this caused any “bad blood” between the two authors.  If I was to award the Nobel to one of these men, I probably would have given it to Hardy, also.

Kipling’s knowledge of world politics led him to predict in the 1890’s that Germany would rise up to cause problems and start a Great War sometime around 1914.  His son, John, died fighting in the Battle of Loos during World War I.   He railed against the United States for not getting into the war sooner.  He personally knew Theodore Roosevelt, whom he admired greatly and Woodrow Wilson, whom he did not.  What came as a surprise to me was his great dislike for Winston Churchill.  Kipling lived to see Hitler come to power, but died before Germany’s European invasions.

His daughter Josephine died at the age of 6 of pneumonia.  His only surviving child, Elsie, never had children.  Kipling seemed to very much enjoy children and would play endlessly with his own and the children of friends and neighbors.  Not having any grandchildren was a huge disappointment to him.

The book concentrated mostly on Kipling’s involvement in politics, discussing his literary work as it related to world events occuring during his life and his opinions thereof.  I realize that literature and history go hand in hand, but I would guess that history buffs would find the book more intriguing than literary buffs.

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