3/22/13 - young rudyard kipling and his sister "trix"

In today's selection -- in 1870, five-year-old Rudyard "Rud" Kipling -- who rose to become one of the most famous authors in the world -- and his three-year-old sister Alice "Trix" Kipling, were sent by their parents back to England from India. The father, Lockwood, accompanied by his wife and Alice, was busy establishing a new career among the British in India, and had the racist attitudes typical of the British towards India during that era. So they hired an English family they had never previously met to care for their children. When they finally saw their children again five long years later, they discovered the children had suffered years of extreme emotional abuse:

"It is not known exactly when Lockwood and Alice decided that Rud and Trix should be sent to live in England. Why they chose to do so would not have surprised any of their fellow Anglo-Indians; in fact, the reason would have seemed too obvious to mention. If an explanation had to be given, it was usually that, at a certain age, white children became particu­larly susceptible to the rigours of the Indian climate. This, however, was a convenient euphemism, a broad-spectrum rationale, masking other con­cerns -- since, medically, there was no reason why children of five and three, like Rud and Trix, should have been more at risk from the climate than children even younger.

"What were those other concerns? Two at least seem straightforward enough. Anglo-Indians did not want their children to grow up thinking of India as home: home, or 'Home' as they usually referred to it, was England. Nor did they want their children to acquire sing-song, chi-chi accents, the almost inevitable consequence of prolonged exposure to the servants' English. In addition, there were less obvious anxieties, again involving the influence of the servants. Maud Driver in her 1909 book The Englishwoman in India was one of the first publicly to express these less mentionable fears. According to her, it was necessary to send Anglo-Indian children 'Home' in order to remove them from 'the promiscuous intimacy of the Indian servants, whose propensity to worship at the shrine of the Baba-log [the children] is unhappily apt to demoralise the small gods and goddesses they serve'.

"In other words, while Anglo-Indian parents were happy enough for their children, when very young, to be cosseted and worshipped by the servants, they did not want them to grow up unmanageable and, in the case of their sons, unmanly. And, strictly in its own terms, such an atti­tude makes sense. There is plenty of evidence, not least among Kipling's stories, to support the idea that the little sahibs were often extremely indulged and tyrannical. In his own case, his sister Trix remembered how the servants used to treat him as one of themselves, calling him (as he was later to call his character Kim) 'Little Friend of all the world'. She added that he was also 'rather noisy and spoilt'. More obliquely, Maud Driver also hinted at something more problematic than simple over-indulgence. Her phrase 'promiscuous intimacy' suggests that the real demoralisation she had in mind was of a sexual nature: that, through such close and extended contact with the servants, white children ran the risk, at an early age, of finding out about the facts of life and of knowing more than was good for them. Kipling's own testimony bears this out, and he cer­tainly came to feel that in India 'it was inexpedient and dangerous for a white child to be reared through youth'.

"After five years in India, Lockwood and Alice probably fully shared and endorsed these concerns. But in their case two other factors con­tributed to their decision to send Rud and Trix to England. On 18 April 1870 Alice had given birth prematurely to another son who did not sur­vive. Whether as catalyst or corroboration, that loss must have played its part. The other reason was more pragmatic: without the children, Alice would be better able to concentrate her very formidable social skills towards the advancement of Lockwood's career. So, in the circumstances, the decision to send Rud and Trix to England was nothing out of the ordinary. What seems puzzling, and requires some explanation, is why the couple should have decided to send the children to live with strangers and not with any of their numerous relations. ...

"Neither [parent] saw the children again for over five years. ...

"Kipling wrote a number of accounts of [these] years -- the earliest being the fictional 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' in 1888, the latest the opening to his autobiography Something of Myself in 1935, only months before his death. ... Trix, who stayed at Southsea even longer than her brother, also produced her own versions of their time at Lorne Lodge. Both told a story of extreme emotional abuse. ...

"Why had it taken so long for Rud's problems to come to light? ... There is the explanation that Kipling offered in his autobiography:

" 'Often and often afterwards, the beloved Aunt [Georgie] would ask me why I had never told any one how I was being treated. Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established. Also, badly-treated children have a clear notion of what they are likely to get if they betray the secrets of the prison-house before they are clear of it.' "


Harry Ricketts


Rudyard Kipling: A Life


Carroll & Graf/Da Capo


Copyright 1999 by Harry Ricketts


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