Ki­pling ac­cused of pla­gia­rism in 1918 war text

Re­search re­veals that au­thor copied let­ters from In­dian se­poys al­most word for word in book

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Dalya Al­berge search­ing a book, ti­tled

RUDYARD KI­PLING once con­fessed, in a let­ter of 1895, that “it is ex­tremely pos­si­ble that I have helped my­self promis­cu­ously” from other sto­ries when writ­ing The Jun­gle Book. Now, more than 120 years af­ter he penned his en­dur­ing mas­ter­piece, the No­bel lau­re­ate is fac­ing a new charge of pla­gia­rism re­lat­ing to a later book.

In his 1918 war text, Asia, Ki­pling imag­ined him­self as a se­poy – an In­dian soldier serv­ing un­der Bri­tish or­ders – writ­ing back home from France. New re­search re­veals that he not only had ac­cess to ac­tual cen­sored let­ters of In­dian se­poys, but he lifted whole para­graphs ver­ba­tim from them.

One pas­sage, de­scrib­ing a lady of the house where an In­dian se­poy had bil­leted, is vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to a let­ter writ­ten by an ac­tual se­poy.

Ki­pling wrote of an imag­i­nary char­ac­ter: “Of her own free-will she washed my clothes, ar­ranged my bed, and pol­ished my boots daily for three months ... Each morn­ing she pre­pared me a tray with bread, but­ter, milk and cof­fee. When we had to leave that vil­lage the old lady wept on my shoul­der.

“It is strange that I had never seen her weep for her dead son, but she wept for me. More­over at part­ing she would have had me take a fi­farang [five franc] note for the ex­penses.”

A 1916 let­ter writ­ten by an ac­tual se­poy is al­most word-for-word iden­ti­cal.

The dis­cov­ery has been

made ma by San­tanu Das, pro­fes­sor fesso of English lit­er­a­ture at King’s King’ Col­lege Lon­don.

He told The Sun­day Tele­graph that Ki­pling had changed barely a cou­ple of words: “Oth­er­wise er­wis it’s ex­actly the same.”

Prof Das made the dis­cov­ery while por­ing over the let­ter in the Bri­tish Li­brary.

He did a dou­ble-take, recog­nis­ing it im­me­di­ately from The Eyes of Asia, which he had just been read­ing.

He stum­bled across it while re-

In­dia, Em­pire and First World War Cul­ture, which is pub­lished this week by Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press.

He told The Sun­day Tele­graph: “To­day it would be classed as pla­gia­rism. Those lines are ex­actly taken from the let­ters. But the whole idea of pla­gia­rism was very dif­fer­ent in the early 20th cen­tury.”

Ki­pling spent eight idyl­lic years in Mum­bai but, like many chil­dren from the colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tive class, he was sep­a­rated from his mother and sent off to Eng­land.

Prof Das said: “Ki­pling had quite a hor­ri­ble child­hood.

“He was shipped across to Eng­land, and he missed his mother who was in In­dia. The In­dian se­poys were hav­ing ex­actly the same sit­u­a­tion.

“The pas­sages Ki­pling is at­tracted to in the let­ters are those where the sol­diers speak about miss­ing their moth­ers in In­dia.”

Prof Das ac­knowl­edges that The Eyes of Asia is jin­go­is­tic and pro­pa­gan­dist, but points out that it is “deeply re­veal­ing of the com­plex emo­tional his­tory of the writer him­self ”.

Dur­ing the Great War, more than a mil­lion In­di­ans served the Em­pire, tak­ing part in some of the fiercest bat­tles and suf­fer­ing ter­ri­ble losses.

More than 1,000 of their let­ters home have sur­vived and Das iden­ti­fied fur­ther pas­sages that in­spired Ki­pling.

Ki­pling was com­mis­sioned to write The Eyes of Asia, his fi­nal fic­tional work on In­dia, as war pro­pa­ganda.

In 1916, the In­tel­li­gence Depart­ment engi­neered a meet­ing with Ki­pling on “how best to give in­tel­li­gence to neu­trals at home”.

Days later, Ki­pling was given ac­cess to the cen­sored let­ters of In­dian sol­diers who had been at the front.

Prof Das said that, on the one hand, it is pro­pa­ganda, de­pict­ing the se­poy as over­whelmed by the sup­posed su­pe­ri­or­ity and gen­eros­ity of the Raj.

But he added that Ki­pling’s use of the let­ters re­veals how much “he re­ally feels for these men”.

Ki­pling had an un­happy child­hood in Eng­land


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