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This report is taken from PN Review 152, Volume 29 Number 6, July - August 2003.

A Short Walk on the Wilde Side: Kipling's First Impressions of Japan Harry Ricketts

As one of Kipling's biographers, I am fascinated by the Kiplings we have chosen to preserve, those we have allowed to slip away. I am fascinated too by how much of his work continues to be underread or ignored. A single poem or short story - often the same poem or story - will be routinely trotted out as evidence to support some predetermined argument or position. I am no gung ho apologist for Kipling - like George Orwell, I admire him well this side of idolatry - but it seems worth reaffirming that he could be a subtle and complex writer, the inclusiveness of whose work, read at large and without too many preconceptions, can still surprise. Few who readily quote, as evidence of his racial and cultural essentialism, his younger self's confident claim `Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet' would think to qualify it by also quoting the older self's more challenging observation:

All good people agree,
    And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
    And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
    Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
    As only a sort of They!

Few, unless told, would imagine that in his fifties Kipling read Lytton Strachey with keen, if guarded, attention, and expertly parodied Ezra Pound's ...


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