There are moments – moments mind you, and in the memory they are few and far between – when I feel like I’m not a complete schmuck as a father. I had one this week.
For LittleDavyOne’s birthday MrsDavy and I bought her a Kindle. And, following MrsDavy’s instructions, I had pre-loaded it with a swathe of the out of copyright free titles made available by Amazon: Austen and Dickens and Thucydides and so on.
What MrsDavy maybe didn’t know is that I’d also slipped in a whole lot of Rudyard Kipling. I don’t think MrsDavy has ever read Kipling, but Ned has.
And now LittleDavyOne has, too. And she loves it. Loves it, and I almost feel that my job is done.
The key thing about Kipling is his hard graft over many years: a prodigious output of poems and stories and novels. None of them individually ever rises quite to the top in literary terms, but they are always well-written and easy to read, and collectively they are a wonderful expression of time and place. And always sitting just below the surface is his complicated relationship with his subjects: an arch-imperialist with more sympathy for the ruled than the rulers, for example.
My favourite Kipling is Stalky & Co, a reminiscence of his time at the United Services College in Westward Ho! which prepared young Englishmen to go out and rule an empire. It’s a book that can be read at many levels – ripping yarns, schoolboy anarchy, imperialist manifesto – but it is first and foremost an encomium of youth.
It is the fictionalised youth of three real boys: Beetle is Kipling, Stalky is Lionel Dunsterville (who commanded Dunsterforce in the Caspian theatre in the latter part of World War One) and M’Turk is George Charles Beresford (engineer, artist).