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Kipling the Trickster

Knowingness, Practical Jokes and the Use of Superior Knowledge in Kipling's Short Stories

John Coates

This book is an exploration of the way in which the characters in Rudyard Kipling’s short stories use superior knowledge, which often involves deception and the playing of practical jokes. There was early critical hostility to the stance adopted by Kipling’s characters, that of a superior knowledge acquired by friendship with a small male circle. This book engages with a long-standing critical tradition which treats the jokes as acts of vicarious revenge or symptoms of supposed defects in Kipling’s personality, instead setting his use of the practical joke in the wider social context of his time.

In this book Kipling’s writing is examined for what it reveals about a complex, self-conscious but powerful range of values rather than what it is supposed to disguise or conceal. Although he endorsed British colonial rule, Kipling was frank about the slackness, endemic rule-breaking and second-rate nature of British rule in India. He also criticised some of the widespread cultural, religious and moral phenomena of his time, which he thought harmful. Many of his short stories contain an implied but serious criticism of Victorian beliefs, from attitudes to death-beds, and schoolboys to Positivism.

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Foreword

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John Coates died suddenly in January 2020 leaving this manuscript. In 2014 he suffered a rare neurological illness from which he recovered but which stalked him to the end and from the effects of which he died six years later. I would like to thank Harry Ricketts, Michael Murphy and Criss Sandom for their work in getting the manuscript ready for publication. I would also like to thank The Kipling Society for their financial support and Peter Lang for publishing it. A version of Chapter 6 was published as ‘Deceit and Kindness in ‘A Bank Fraud’’ in The Kipling Journal Vol. 90, no. 363. It would have been a pity if John’s last work had been left unread.

Carole Coates

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