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Delanceyplace: Rudyard Kipling

In 1870, five-year-old Rudyard "Rud" Kipling -- who rose
to become one of the most famous authors in the world -- and his three-year-old sister Alice "Trix" Kipling, were sent by their parents back to England from India. The father, Lockwood, accompanied by his wife and Alice, was busy establishing a
new career among the British in India, and had the racist attitudes typical of the British towards India during that era. So they hired an English family they had never previously met to care for their children. When they finally saw their children again five long years later, they discovered the children had suffered years of extreme emotional abuse, writes Harry Ricketts.

It is not known exactly when Lockwood and Alice decided that Rud and Trix should
be sent to live in England. Why they chose to do so would not have surprised any
of their fellow Anglo-Indians; in fact, the reason would have seemed too obvious
to mention. If an explanation had to be given, it was usually that, at a certain
age, white children became particularly susceptible to the rigours of the Indian
climate. This, however, was a convenient euphemism, a broad-spectrum rationale,
masking other concerns -- since, medically, there was no reason why children of
five and three, like Rud and Trix, should have been more at risk from the climate
than children even younger.

"What were those other concerns? Two at least seem straightforward enough. Anglo-Indians
did not want their children to grow up thinking of India as home: home, or 'Home'
as they usually referred to it, was England. Nor did they want their children to
acquire sing-song, chi-chi accents, the almost inevitable consequence of prolonged
exposure to the servants' English. In addition, there were less obvious anxieties,
again involving the influence of the servants. Maud Driver in her 1909 book The
Englishwoman in India was one of the first publicly to express these less mentionable
fears. According to her, it was necessary to send Anglo-Indian children 'Home' in
order to remove them from 'the promiscuous intimacy of the Indian servants, whose
propensity to worship at the shrine of the Baba-log [the children] is unhappily
apt to demoralise the small gods and goddesses they serve'.

In other words, while Anglo-Indian parents were happy enough for their children,
when very young, to be cosseted and worshipped by the servants, they did not want
them to grow up unmanageable and, in the case of their sons, unmanly. And, strictly
in its own terms, such an attitude makes sense. There is plenty of evidence, not
least among Kipling's stories, to support the idea that the little sahibs were often
extremely indulged and tyrannical. In his own case, his sister Trix remembered how
the servants used to treat him as one of themselves, calling him (as he was later
to call his character Kim) 'Little Friend of all the world'. She added that he was
also 'rather noisy and spoilt'. More obliquely, Maud Driver also hinted at something
more problematic than simple over-indulgence. Her phrase 'promiscuous intimacy'
suggests that the real demoralisation she had in mind was of a sexual nature: that,
through such close and extended contact with the servants, white children ran the
risk, at an early age, of finding out about the facts of life and of knowing more
than was good for them. Kipling's own testimony bears this out, and he certainly
came to feel that in India 'it was inexpedient and dangerous for a white child to
be reared through youth'.

"After five years in India, Lockwood and Alice probably fully shared and endorsed
these concerns. But in their case two other factors contributed to their decision
to send Rud and Trix to England. On 18 April 1870 Alice had given birth prematurely
to another son who did not survive. Whether as catalyst or corroboration, that
loss must have played its part. The other reason was more pragmatic: without the
children, Alice would be better able to concentrate her very formidable social
skills towards the advancement of Lockwood's career. So, in the circumstances, the
decision to send Rud and Trix to England was nothing out of the ordinary. What seems
puzzling, and requires some explanation, is why the couple should have decided to
send the children to live with strangers and not with any of their numerous relations.

Neither [parent] saw the children again for over five years. ...

Kipling wrote a number of accounts of [these] years -- the earliest being the fictional
'Baa Baa Black Sheep' in 1888, the latest the opening to his autobiography Something
of Myself in 1935, only months before his death. ... Trix, who stayed at Southsea
even longer than her brother, also produced her own versions of their time at Lorne
Lodge. Both told a story of extreme emotional abuse. ...

Why had it taken so long for Rud's problems to come to light? ... There is the
explanation that Kipling offered in his autobiography:

"Often and often afterwards, the beloved Aunt [Georgie] would ask me why I had
never told any one how I was being treated. Children tell little more than animals,
for what comes to them they accept as eternally established. Also, badly-treated
children have a clear notion of what they are likely to get if they betray the
secrets of the prison-house before they are clear of it. "

Author: Harry Ricketts
Title: Rudyard Kipling
Publisher: Carroll & Graf/Da Capo
Date: Copyright 1999 by Harry Ricketts
Pages: 12-13, 15, 18, 28

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