Excerpt from “Captains Courageous” Introduction
by Professor Leonee Ormond
[Oct 27 2003]
Kipling and the Critics
In December 1897 Rudyard Kipling was in low spirits. The weather was inclement, he had an atrocious cold, and a review of Captains Courageous in the Atlantic Monthly (LXXX Dec 1897, pp 856/7) had left him smarting. The Atlantic critic complained that, although the book achieved `relief from the go-fever and insistence of Kipling’s earlier work, `it is relief procured at the cost of life…. There is an almost incredible lack of significance in parts of it, as if it were a steamer underengined for its length.’ Kipling was startled by the reviewer’s strictures. These were, he said, exactly the qualities which he associated with the United States. Interpreting `relief’ in his own way, Kipling explained his position to an American friend, Charles Eliot Norton:
Had I gone about with a lantern to describe America I could not have hit on a more splendid description than `relief at the cost of life’. Relief from the material cares of the Elder Peoples at the cost of what the Elder Peoples mean by life! And again `There is an almost incredible insignificance in parts of it, as if it were a steamer underengined on its length’. Why, hang it! that’s his own very country and in half a dozen words he gets at the nub of the thing I was laboriously painting in C. C.
`For this’, went on Kipling, `did I change my style; and allegorize and parable and metaphor.’