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May 11

wtf moments rereading kipling #7

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Something of Myself was Kipling’s fragmentary autobiography, unfinished and posthumously published in 1937. It’s evasive and abrupt by turns: Almost Nothing of Myself would also have been a good name, and it may be that his death is not the only reason for this strangeness. [SERIOUSLY GORY TRIGGER ALERT]: “Once I faced the reflection of my own face in the jet-black mirror of the window-panes for five days. When the fog thinned, I looked out and saw a man standing opposite the pub where the barmaid lived. Of a sudden his breast turned to dull red like a robin’s, and he crumpled, having cut his throat. In a few minutes — seconds it seemed — a hand-ambulance arrived and took up the body. A pot-boy with a bucket of steaming water sluiced the blood off into the gutter, and what little crowd had collected went its way.”

This particular anecdote, set near the Strand, is from 1889 or just after, when RK was just 23 and already pretty famous — and it reminds you, more than a bit startlingly, that he arrived in a Victorian London bookended, as it were, by Jack the Ripper and Oscar Wilde. However dated Kipling seems to us (and he was already considered a fossil in the 1930s), he was an amazing modernist monster to his contemporaries, a child prodigy bringing news of a potently unsettling world — the colonies before him being little more than occasional exotic noises off now and then, in literary terms — and riding the waves this news made until the Great War, when everything he believed in went smash.

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