Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) to John Lockwood Kipling and his wife Alice. At the tender age of five, the young Rudyard was sent to live with a foster family in Southsea, a home which he later referred to in his memoirs as 'The House of Desolation'. Dispatched to a boarding school, the United Services College in Devon, Kipling sought solace in literature, encouraged in part by his headmaster.
Aged sixteen, Kipling returned to live with his parents in Lahore, where he cut his teeth as a roving reporter, travelling to various regions of India and the United States. During this time he wrote dozens of poems, essays and short stories, among them “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888) and “Gunga Din” (1890).
After seven years in the Punjab, Kipling bid goodbye to India once more. Having met his wife Carrie Wolton in London, he eventually settled down with her in America. By 1896 Kipling was back in Sussex, England, with three children in tow – two daughters and a son – having achieved literary celebrity with such works as The Naulahka: A story of West and East (1892), The Jungle Books (1894-1895), and Captains Courageous (1896).
Kipling was now widely hailed as a people's poet and a champion of the British Empire. Kim was published in 1901 in serialized form, followed by the Just So Stories (1902) and Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906). Having refused many awards and honours, including that of England’s Poet Laureate, Kipling deigned to accept the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907.
The First World War saw Kipling as a reporter on the Western Front, and the conflict was to inspire much of his subsequent work. In 1915 his only son John died in action aged eighteen, a tragic incident which later became the basis for the play My Boy Jack (1997).
Kim was first published as a serial in McClure's Magazine (December 1900 to October 1901) as well as in Cassell's Magazine (January to November 1901). The novel was published in book form for the first time by MacMillan & Co. in October 1901. Considered by many to be Kipling's masterpiece, it is seen as the most autobiographical of the author’s fictional works.
With the collapse of the British Empire, Kipling’s critical reputation fell into decline. George Orwell's 1942 essay was influential in painting the author as compromised by a racist and imperialist agenda. The changing tide of public opinion saw Kim fall in status from a firm British favourite to a source of national embarassment. While Kipling is still regularly denounced in critical circles today as a ‘poet of the Empire’, enslaved to colonial bias (see links below), there has been a recent revival of interest, represented by works such as Charles Allen’s Kipling Sahib (2007).
Historians have proposed Kim as one of the great myth-makers of the Great Game. Arguably the first modern spy novel, Kipling's classic is nevertheless determinately allusive as to the machinations of the novel's British Secret Service. A body of historical material has grown up around the mystery, notably John Murray’s Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling’s Great Game (1996).
Since the success of a 1950 film adaptation (starring Errol Flynn as Mahbub Ali), Kim has largely fallen out of favour in popular culture circles, perhaps due to the controversy over its perceived moral standing. The last mainstream cultural reference occured in Jamyang Norbu’s novel The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years (1999).