Thursday, 21 June 2001

Rudyard Kipling: Plain Tales From the Hills (1888)

Edition: Wordsworth, 1992
Review number: 846

Kipling's first collection, of stories published in journals, contains a large number of quite short stories. They are all about India, and nearly all about the British in India. He establishes the subject which inspired so much of his work right at the beginning; that is, how India affected the British soldiers and officials who worked there. (Of course, the British changed India too, but that is not what Kipling chose to write about, and in many of his stories the subcontinent is portrayed as so vast, so alien and so primordial that these changes were superficial, hardly touching the real India.)

The social breadth among the British pictured by Kipling is quite wide, though mainly confined to young officers and clerks. Several stories are about how India educates young men sent out from a sheltered life in England. Among the best of these are the ones involving the scheming Mrs Hawksbee, but the collection is evenly good. As a début, it had quite an effect, and it is not surprising that Kipling went on to become one of the best short story writers in English.

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