Wednesday, 30 September 2009

John Major and Rudyard Kipling

The guest on Radio 4's Great Lives this week was John Major, who, supported by Andrew Lycett, chose Rudyard Kipling as his exemplary figure. You can listen to the programme here.

Kipling might have been my choice, too, so it was fascinating to hear John Major justify his reasons. Major referred to Kipling as a 'poet' primarily. Much as I love Kipling's poetry, I love Kim and the short stories more. There are stories in The Jungle Books and Debits and Credits which seem flawless. Is there a better short story writer in English than Kipling? If you're sceptical, read this, this, or this.

Of course, half an hour is insufficient time to give Kipling anything like his due. He was the cousin of Stanley Baldwin, the nephew of Edward Burne-Jones, and the friend of (inter alia) Cecil Rhodes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Baden-Powell and Theodore Roosevelt. Kipling was the last British writer whose opinions mattered. Not only did he whisper into the ears of emperors, he thrust his own arguments noisily into the public forum, and was listened to, enthused about, admired and loathed by a world-wide audience of which modern writers can only dream.

P.S. Still on the subject of Kipling: yesterday this site received a record number of hits, mostly thanks to South Africans searching for the phrase 'flannelled fools'. Can anyone tell me why?


  1. South Africa's cricket loss to the England one day team?

  2. I think you must be right. Losing a one-day international against this England team is certainly foolish.

  3. Thank you Tim for alerting me to the Kipling broadcast. I was fascinated to hear of Kipling's concern for the vet and how poorly they were treated by their country after the ça change... it is one of society's great challenges, what to do with the man (and now woman) we have asked to do the unthinkable in our name, after they return to the greater society.

    The Padres believe it is their job to return the soldier to life. Perhaps it is the poet's as well. More than once I've been thanked for bridging the cultural gap between civilian and military society, and while I have no illusions that I can help the vet, nor should I, or should that be my raison d'être, I am grateful I am trusted with their stories.