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Penguin: Adult Hardcover & Trade Paperback Summer 2019

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The Untold Story of Kipling's American Years
By (author): Christopher Benfey
9780735221437 Hardcover English General Trade BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Literary Figures Jul 09, 2019
$37.00 CAD
Active 6.25 x 9.25 x 0.88 in 256 pages 14 B&W IMAGES THROUGHOUT Penguin Press
A captivating new exploration of Rudyard Kipling’s life in Gilded Age America, and the essential work he did here, from a celebrated author and scholar of American literature

Rudyard Kipling once towered over not just English literature, but indeed the entire literary world. In 1907, at just forty-two, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming its youngest winner and the first in the English language. Today, however, when he is read, if indeed he is read at all, it is regarding the history of colonial India, his birthplace and the setting of some his most famous work, and to a lesser extent England, his ancestral home. But, in fact, Kipling’s most prodigious and creative period took place in America, which was also his preferred home. It was here, on the crest of a Vermont hillside overlooking the Connecticut River, that Kipling wrote both The Jungle Book and Captains Courageous. And here where his ascent to fame was most rapid. Almost certainly, he would have stayed in the United States, understanding himself not just to be an American but a particularly American artist, had a family dispute not forced his departure in 1896.

Steeped in the history of the Gilded Age, Christopher Benfey brings to life in fresh revelatory detail American Kipling, tracing a great but today deeply unfashionable writer’s intense personal, political, and artistic involvement with the United States. He offers an overdue reminder of Kipling’s extraordinary influence in his own lifetime, as well as a compelling portrait of the American artists and writers he both influenced and was influence by, including William James and, in particular, Mark Twain—who Kipling sought out specifically as kindred spirit when he first arrived, and before long had eclipsed in literary fame and critical estimation. Intertwining biography, criticism, and history, IF restores judiciously a true story of great American artistry.

NEW TERRITORY FOR AMERICAN LITERARY HISTORY FANS: Few people, even in New England, are aware of Rudyard Kipling deep bond to America and, in particular, Vermont. Benfey focuses on Kipling’s American decade, his most productive, and happiest, period. Kipling’s intense feeling for the United States-on a personal, political, and artistic level-has never received the attention it deserves.

ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL, AND DIVISIVE, LITERARY FIGURES: Kipling was one of the most popular and esteemed writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the first English-language writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His unpopular rightwing political views late in life, and his support of British imperialism, causes his work to be neglected, but Benfey proves there is room for an appreciation of his distinctly American creativity.

RENEWED INTEREST: Never-before-seen Kipling poems were recently discovered and published, and his books are being reissued in new editions for new readers. A fresh response to and understanding of his life, as well as his writing, is timely.

EXPERT MIX OF LITERARY BIOGRAPHY AND HISTORY:A leading scholar in the field, Benfey draws us into both the world of Rudyard Kipling and the American Gilded Age, a fraught era in American history, during which Kipling advised leaders, influenced writers, and sought to adopt a home for himself and his family.

CLASSIC LITERARY CHARACTERS: Mark Twain, Henry James, Conan Doyle, and more. The narrative is nothing short of star studded in literary terms. A feast for bibliophiles.

Christopher Benfey is Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College. A frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, and The New York Review of Books, he has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Benfey’s most recent book, A Summer of Hummingbirds, won the Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Author Residence: Amherst, Massachusetts

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"Benfey eloquently argues not only that Kipling’s engagement with the United States made him the writer he became, but that he lavishly returned the favor…Benfey reminds us of our debt to a category-demolishing, globe-striding man who indeed contained multitudes, the author of an immortal ode to equanimity.” The New York Times Book Review

“Benfey tells it well, catching nuances that some biographers have missed. He argues that Kipling was profoundly altered by his experience of America, and that America, in turn, was altered by its experience of Kipling.” — The New Yorker

“These years were joyous and then dire ones for Kipling, and Mr. Benfey recounts it all with a fine touch.” — The Wall Street Journal 

[Benfey] draws on correspondence, memoirs and ‘patterns of suggestion and implication’ in poems, essays and stories to assess the impact of Kipling’s decadelong sojourn in the United States on his literary legacy.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Mount Holyoke professor and Amherst resident Christopher Benfey’s focused and illuminating new biography of Kipling, If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years (Penguin), looks at the decade Kipling spent in New England, calling these years “the key creative period in his entire career.” Kipling’s literary luminance was unparalleled (he won the Nobel Prize in 1907 at age 41); but with the rise of post-colonialism, Kipling’s reputation began to shift, and he fell out of favor, understood as ’a jingoist of Bard of Empire, a man on the wrong side of history.’ Benfey, whose award-winning A Summer of Hummingbirds (Penguin) looked at the intersection of Dickinson, Twain, Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, steers his attention here on the ways in which the United States impacted the author, and the ways the author impacted the United States, arguing that Kipling’s influence spanned literature and politics, and altered perceptions of masculinity and the supernatural. Benfey does a masterful job detangling a complex figure.” — Boston Globe
“Rudyard Kipling is considered a British literary icon, but between 1889 and 1899, he lived in the United States. His time in America deeply shaped his writing. Kipling’s attitudes toward race and empire have complicated his legacy, but Christopher Benfey points to the continuing relevance of an Englishman who was also a fan of America.”Christian Science Monitor, “10 Best Books of July”

“An engaging account of the years Rudyard Kipling spent in the United States considers how America shaped him and his work—and how he shaped America.” — BookPage 

“This biography will urge those unfamiliar with Kipling’s works (e.g., If, Kim, The Jungle Book) to read the classics that solidified his reputation here and abroad, earning him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901. Highly recommended.” — Library Journal

“Intelligent and well-researched…An accessible and enlightening biography.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Christopher Benfey’s wise and spirited If arrives at just the right moment.  His canny account of Rudyard Kipling’s years in America—when, surprisingly, this exemplar of British empire wrote or conceived his best remembered works—and of Kipling’s long-lasting impact on American political and cultural life resonates powerfully in our vexed and virulent present.  Whether or not you grew up on Kim and The Jungle Book, Benfey skillfully proves in this essential study of imperial influence through the written word, you are living in their long shadow.” —Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast

“This is the tale of how Rudyard Kipling and America changed one another on the brink of the twentieth century. We see the young writer talking shop with his idol, Mark Twain, and debating empire with his friend Teddy Roosevelt. We discover how The Jungle Book  and Just So Stories were nourished in Vermont. The Kipling in If is more complex than we expect, and Christopher Benfey is the perfect guide through the unexpected.”—Kevin Birmingham, author of The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses
“Christopher Benfey conjures a life and a period through the canny arrangement of vivid and illuminating perspectives. If: The Untold Story Of Kipling’s American Years gives us that “at last” feeling we get locking in the final pieces of a long-fought jigsaw puzzle. Kipling steps out from behind his official portrait and we are straightaway in the company of a brilliant and conflicted artist.” —Sven Birkerts, author of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age
“Kipling’s India is familiar to us—but his America? That’s an undiscovered country, or it was until Christopher Benfey found a way to put it on the map, reminding us The Jungle Book was written in Vermont and should stand as an American classic. If shows us Kipling in all the fizz of his early genius, meeting Mark Twain and sitting up late with Theodore Roosevelt: a vivid and beautifully crafted portrait of this always-odd and ever-controversial artist. “ —Michael Gorra, author of Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece

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