Scholars visit Vermont birthplace of ‘Jungle Book’
MARLBORO, Vt. – Mention the name Rudyard Kipling, and images of tropical forests, mongooses and cobras come to mind – not the snowy vistas of Vermont. But that’s exactly where many of the British writer’s best-known tales, including “The Jungle Book,” took shape.
In honor of his connections to Vermont, a group of scholars known as the Kipling Society is holding its symposium outside the United Kingdom for the first time – and touring a home the author built in the shape of a ship, high on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River.
During the four years he lived there, one of the greatest chroniclers of 19th-century British imperialism snowshoed in winter, went to barn dances and made friends with his neighbors.
“I found the neighbors were flattered to have Kipling among them. They were keenly interested in his work, that they respected rather than resented his apparent, and only apparent, wish to keep to himself,” said Thomas Pinney, a retired professor from California’s Pomona College who gave the keynote address Monday at the two-day symposium, “Kipling in America,” at Vermont’s Marlboro College in Marlboro, not far from Kipling’s home in Dummerston.
Kipling lived in Dummerston from 1892 to 1896 when he wrote “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” the story of a mongoose that battled two vicious cobras in India while protecting his human family from harm. While in Vermont, he also wrote the other stories in his collection “The Jungle Book”; “Captains Courageous”; the poems of “The Seven Seas”; and many of the stories in “The Day’s Work” and “Many Inventions.”
He was drawn to Vermont because of his wife, the sister of one of Kipling’s literary collaborators, who was from Brattleboro. Part of the draw for the 60 scholars visiting this week from the United Kingdom and the U.S. will be a tour on Tuesday of Naulakha, the home he built in the shape of a ship.
They are also viewing some of the college’s Kipling holdings, such as the contents of a safe deposit box that was discovered untouched in the early 1990s after almost a century in a bank in Brattleboro. Among the items in it were a copy of his marriage license, a will and other personal documents.
Organizers hope the meeting will serve to revive Kipling’s reputation, which among scholars declined through the middle years of the 20th century as the British imperial era lost esteem.
“We will hear something about Kipling the ideologist of imperialism, because he was that, as a spokesman; he saw the British empire as the great force for spreading law and progression,” said Professor Janet Montefiore, the editor of the Kipling Journal and director of the symposium. “But also he was this wonderful tale teller and also, the thing that is so nice about Kipling, he is so interested in people.”
Kaori Nogai, a Japanese scholar who has studied Kipling while earning her doctorate at the University of Kent, said many of the topics Kipling wrote about a century ago remain relevant today, in the age of globalization.
“He talked about empire, how different people from different continents and different races have to live together. I think he will become even more relevant now,” Nogai said. “It’s not just that he’s a brilliant writer; he has a vision for the future.”