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Rudyard Kipling - RUDYARD KIPLING'S WEST: AMERICAN NOTES

Travel articles written by young Rudyard Kipling about his four month travels from west to east in north america

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"...I am hopelessly in love with about eight American maidens..."

  • Jul 23, 2012
Rating:
+4

 

Between late May and early October 1889 young Anglo-Indian journalist Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936) crossed North America from west to east. By prearrangement with his late employer, the PIONEER newspaper of Allahabad, India, he sent back "letters" (later published in 18 pirated and several authorized books as AMERICAN NOTES) for publication and to explain America to his thousands of Anglo-Indian and Indian English newspaper readers. He was young and he had nothing against the other sex. He wrote for the Allahabad PIONEER:

"...I am hopelessly in love with about eight American maidens -- all perfectly delightful till the next one comes into the room."

 

Curiously, University of Oklahoma History Professor Arrell Morgan GIbson is not the only commentator or biographer to think that Rudyard Kipling was talking about real crushes on eight real American girls all met and fallen in puppy love with in San Francisco in May-June 1889. In my opinion, the obvious interpretation of the "American girls" passages in Chapter IV of the AMERICAN NOTES is that when the author says he is "hopelessly in love," he is employing a literary  device to introduce eight different "types" of American girls that he had met.

Such girls, rich, poor, well read, barely literate, he had met during ten days spent in San Francisco. In that city of "300,000 white men and women" he first set foot May 28, 1889 after 20 days sailing from Yokohama in an American passenger vessel, "The City of Peking." After Chapter One describing shipboard life, young Kipling devoted Chapters Two through Four and a page or two of Five to that amazingly sophisticated American city. He would write of other places in the USA, but most ink was spilled on the already fabled city by the Golden Gate.

 

Here, for the record and for your reading enjoyment, are Kipling's eight "types" of American/San Franciscan "maidens":

 

-- (1) "a big Kentucky blonde who had for a nurse, when she was little, a negro mammy. This blonde had become Californian in her "Paris dresses, Eastern culture, European trips, and wild western originality, the queer dreamy superstitions of the negro quarters, and the result is soul-shattering."

 

(NOTE: born to English parents in Bombay, India December 30, 1865, most of young "Ruddy's" first six years were spent in the company of kind, dark-skinned Indian servants who taught him, in the common native Hindustani tongue, the lore and animal tales of the sub-Continent. Kipling could therefore easily relate to white Southerners largely reared by "black mammies.")

 

-- (2) "Item: a maiden who believes in education and possesses it, with a few hundred thousand dollars to boot, and a taste for slumming."

 

-- (3) "Item: the leader of a sort of informal salon where girls congregate, read papers, and daringly discuss metaphysical problems and candy -- a sloe-eyed, black browed imperious maiden."

 

-- (4) "Item: a very small maiden, absolutely without reverence, who can in one swift sentence trample upon and leave gasping half a dozen young men."

 

-- (5) "Item: a millionairess, burdened with her money, lonely, caustic, with a tongue keen as a sword .... chained to the rock of her vast possessions."

 

-- (6) "Item: a typewriter maiden earning her own bread in this big city, because she doesn't think a girl ought to be a burden on her parents. She quotes Theophile Gautier, and moves through the world manfully, much respected for all her twenty inexperienced summers."

 

-- (7) "Item: a woman from Cloudland who has no history in the past, but is discreetly of the present, and strives for the confidences of male humanity on the grounds of 'sympathy.'"

 

-- (8) "Item: a girl in a 'dive' blessed with a Greek head and eyes that seem to speak all that is best and sweetest in the world. ... But ... she has no ideas in this world beyond the consumption of beer (a commission on each bottle)."

 

From many sources we know that American women had long fascinated Rudyard Kipling. In his final two years as Assistant Editor of the Allahabad, India, PIONEER daily newspaper, Rudyard was generously housed by Samuel Alexander Hill, an English professor of meteorology and his American wife Edmonia Hill nee Taylor, perhaps eight years older than Kipling. He soon became Edmonia's ardent admirer and life-long friend.

When the Hills sailed from Calcutta for San Francisco en route to Beaver, Pennsylvania to visit Edmonia's ill mother, Rudyard sailed with them. In Beaver he became briefly engaged to Edmonia's younger sister Caroline Taylor. Scholars are indebted to Edmonia Hill for keeping every scrap that Rudyard ever wrote in her presence (e.g. verses on restaurant napkins), books he inscribed for her and for the letters home about how she first met the young journalist and how he immediately, shamelessly wrote up the confidences of friends in his short stories. She also gives early glimpses of Kipling's way of writing verse, pacing up and down humming familiar tunes until he found the perfect meter.

In 1892 Kipling wed in London Caroline "Carrie" Balestier. She was the sister of his recently deceased, very close American friend and collaborator on the novel THE NAULAHKA, Wolcott Balestier. Mr and Mrs Kipling then lived for four years in Carrie's native Vermont where their first two children were born.

 

There are, of course, many more reasons to read AMERICAN NOTES than Kipling's love of American women. Still, he found American girls far more independent and trusted by their parents before marriage than their British or Anglo-Indian sisters. American maidens were very happy in the company of other young women, gave teas for one another to which no men were invited, treated most agreeable young men as their brothers and knew how to make men do what they wanted. And another things about those girlish sisterhoods: if the wealthy father of one of the girls suddenly lost his money, his daughter without complaint learned typing and went to work. And her friends would not think of "dropping" her from the club. Why? They knew that in chaotic San Francisco it might be their own turn any day.

 

Kipling disliked American men's addiction to chewing tobacco and discharging their "chaws" into the large spittoons in all hotel lobbies, bedrooms and even bathrooms. He found too many Americans living only for wealth and boasting that their nation's high protective tariffs forced them to pay twice as much for the same goods that Kipling had previously enjoyed in India and England -- but Americans gloried in paying top prices. He noticed that Americans loathed Irish immigrants but were soon enough being ruled by Irishmen politically, notably in the San Francisco of saloon-keeper "Boss" Chris Buckley.

 

Follow Kipling's travelogue through California, Oregon, Washington Territory, Vancouver, British Columbia, five days enjoying a package tour of Yellowstone National Park and brief visits to Salt Lake City, Omaha and Chicago. He spent two months with the Taylors in Beaver, Pennsylvania, with excursions to Boston and Elmira, New York for a reverent two-hour interview with his favorite American writer Mark Twain. (Later Kipling and Twain would be photographed receiving honorary doctorates together at Oxford University.)

Learn how San Francisco and California meant most to Rudyard Kipling for having earlier been immortalized by the pen of his second most favorite American writer Bret Harte. Kipling also especially admired Joel Chandler Harris (composer of "Uncle Remus" tales) and poet Walt Whitman.

 

Wherever he went Kipling unfolded the reportorial and travelogue skills developed in seven years with two newspapers in Lahore and Allahabad. Thus in San Francisco at night he visited Chinatown alone, went below ground there to observe opium dens, brothels, high stakes poker games and saw an Mexican and a Chinaman draw pistols and shoot each other dead. He talked to American cavalrymen guarding Yellowstone Park against tourist depredations. Quite a few of those army men had earlier been soldiers in Queen Victoria's far-flung Empire. Kipling had known many British officers and men in British India and used these interviews and their comparisons of Anglo-American military practice to make America come alive through the series of AMERICAN NOTES that he sent back from the USA to readers of the Allahabad PIONEER.

 

The Kipling part of AMERICAN NOTES merits a five star evaluation. The editor's contributions are, by contrast, at times weak and in some cases factually wrong. Still, Professor Arrell Morgan Gibson rightly stresses that Kipling was an important early observer of the rapidly evolving American scene, especially of the recently settled lands between San Francisco and Omaha -- at a critical time when the American Frontier, cattle drives and cheap land lived out their final picturesque years.

 

-OOO-

 

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About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
Ranked #96
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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