Rudyard Kipling's Selected Stories is one of Cornflower's upcoming book group reads. It's a hefty book weighing in at just over 500 pages and containing something like 40 short stories. I'd like to read all of them, so I thought I had better start now in order to have any chance of finishing by early September. That's probably something like a story every other day or so, so we'll see how well I do. I've got a small but growing pile of short story collections littering the floor by my bed at the moment.
It appears that Kipling is an important writer to read when it comes to short stories. The introduction begins with "Rudyard Kipling is beyond question the greatest short-story writer in the English language, and this collection illustrates the richness and variety of his achievement." Kipling was born in Bombay, India in 1865. He worked as a journalist in India, and it was during these early years that he wrote his first story, which I read, "The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows." He was an author and poet and probably best known for his children's books. In 1907 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature becoming the first English language author to do so and apparently still the youngest ever recipient.
The story of the Gate of the Hundred Sorrows is told to the author by a friend and half-caste, Gabral Misquitta, six weeks before Misquitta's death. Gabral is an opium addict and the Gate of the Hundred Sorrows is an opium den in Lahore where he spends increasingly longer periods of time and money. The opium den was owned by a Chinaman who took fine care of his customers. Gabral tells of how when he fist smoked opium it scarcely affected him, but after a steady five years of the stuff he knows it will be the death of him and he wants nothing more than to die a happy death on his clean, cool mat. We never really find out why Gabral starts smoking opium. He had a wife and a good job, but he just sort of fell into it. He goes into great detail describing the other addicts and the den.
"Already we see here, in 'The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows', Kipling's eager interest in mankind in all its varieties and his willingness, as he himself once put it, 'to think in another man's skin'. Gabral Misquitta is the first in a long series of Kipling narrators--Pathans, Sikhs, Hindus, Anglo-Indian officials, loafers, private soldiers, Scots engineers, English peasants, characters from past ages as well as from the present--who offer their unique perspectives on life to us in their own authentic idiom."
Something that I expect might come up in my reading, which I've already experienced in a small way in the story I read, are the colonial and racist attitudes that were prevalent at the time. Although it can be uncomfortable to a modern reader, I want to keep things in perspective. The editor also cautions the reader:
"In the vulgar mind indeed he has been typecast as the spokesman for Anglo-India (in the sense of the British community in India) and the propagandist for the Empire. The political views which he shared with many millions both before and after him should not, however, be made a stick with which to beat his literary reputation. Historically considered, British imperialism of the later nineteenth century was a complex phenomenon defying simplistic condemnation, and there are many Credit as well as Debit entries in the moral balance-sheet of British rule in India. Furthermore, Kipling's attitude to his material is more varied than the stereotype would suggest. Anglo-Indian life, that strange mutation from Victorian norms, is described both sympathetically and satirically: its vices, vanities and follies are exposed, yet its achievements and its ethic of self-sacrifice and service are finely celebrated in stories which now stand as records of a vanished world."
In any case I'm interested to see how he develops as a short story writer, and am willing to keep an open mind as to content. I don't always agree with every detail that I read, but it's also a good way to recognize how much things have changed over time.