General Characteristics.—Kipling has carried to their highest development the principles of the Bret Harte School of short story writers. His style possesses those qualities necessary for telling a short tale,—directness, force, suggestiveness. Rarely has any writer so mastered the technique, the craftsmanship of this particular literary form. He has the gift of force and dramatic power, rather than of beauty and delicacy.
He excels in suggestive vivid description, and he draws wonderful pictures of all out-of-doors, especially of the sea; but nature remains merely the background for the human figures. Much of his vividness lies in the use of specific words. If he should employ the phraseology of his jungle laws to frame the first commandment for writers, it would be: “Seven times never be vague.” Few authors have at the very beginning of their career more implicitly heeded such a commandment, obedience to which is evident in the following description from The Courting of Dinah Shadd:—
“Over our heads burned the wonderful Indian stars, which are not all pricked in on one plane, but preserving an orderly perspective, draw the eye through the velvet darkness of the void up to the barred doors of heaven itself. The earth was a grey shadow more unreal than the sky. We could hear her breathing lightly in the pauses between the howling of the jackals, the movement of the wind in the tamarisks, and the fitful mutter of musketry-fire leagues away to the left. A native woman from some unseen hut began to sing, the mail train thundered past on its way to Delhi, and a roosting crow cawed drowsily.”
Abundant and vivid use of metaphors serves to render his concreteness more varied and impressive. We find these in such expressions as “the velvet darkness,” “the kiss of the rain,” “the tree-road.” His celestial artists splash at a ten-league canvas “with brushes of comet’s hair.” Five words from Mulvaney explain why he does not wish to leave his tent: “‘Tis rainin’ intrenchin’ tools outside.”
Kipling’s spirit is essentially masculine. He prefers to write of men, work, and battle, rather than of women and love. Since his interest is mainly in action, he shows small ability in character drawing. His people are clear-cut and alive, but we do not see them grow and develop as do George Eliot’s characters.
Above all, he stands as the interpreter of the ideals and the interests of the Anglo-Saxons of his time. Those tendencies of the age, which seem to others so dangerously materialistic, are the very causes of his zest in life. In an age of machinery, he writes of the romance of steam, the soul of an engine, the flight of an airship.
His is a work-a-day world; but in work well done, in obedience to the established law, and in courage, he sees the proving of manhood, the test of the true gentleman—
“Who had done his work and held his peace and had no fear to die.”