Arts, From the Archives, History, Jan/Feb 2017, People

Kipling’s Winters in Vermont

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the author of classics The Jungle Book and Kim, Rudyard Kipling is most closely associated with colonial India. Less well known is his connection to rural New England, particularly the Brattleboro, Vt. area. Below is an excerpt from the February 1974 issue of UpCountry Magazine, written by Howard C. Rice Jr., describing Kipling’s time as an unlikely Vermonter.

Kipling’s first winter in Vermont as a householder was spent in the Bliss Cottage, in sight of Wantastiquet, if not of Monadnock. “The sun and air and the light are good in this place and have made me healthy as I never was in my life,” he wrote an English friend. “I wish you could see the place. It’s three miles from anywhere and wondrous self-contained. No one can get at you and if you don’t choose to call for your mail, you don’t get it.”

As the upcountry summer flamed into autumn, Kipling piled spruce boughs round the draughty cottage sill and helped put up a small veranda “for future needs.” “We were,” as he recalled years later, “extraordinarily and self-centeredly content… When winter shut down and sleigh bells rang all over the white world that tucked us in, we counted ourselves secure.” The Kiplings’ own sleigh, according to one local observer, was a Maryland sleigh of wicker drawn by a dark bay horse “from whose bridle nods a gold-colored plume.” One Main Street wag called it “that new-fangled sleigh, exactly like a big baby carriage.”

The snow lay level with the window sill of Kipling’s small workroom from December until April. It was here, in the “stillness and suspense of the winter of 1892,” that Kipling’s pen took charge and he “watched it begin to write stories about Mowgli and animals, which later grew into the ‘Jungle Books’.” As he recollected in tranquility those “very warm evening” in the hills of India, the well-known characters took shape: not only Mowgli and his brothers, Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Kaa the python, Shere Khan the tiger, and the Monkey-Folk, but also Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose cobra-killer, and Toomai, the boy who saw the elephants dance.

In 1893, Kipling moved from Bliss Cottage to his new home in Dummerston, which he named Naulahka. Naulahka is now a National Historic Landmark managed by the Landmark Trust USA, and is available to rent for overnight stays.

imag0035-edit
A note sent by Kipling from Naulakha, explaining his absence from the Oriental Evening of the Aldine Club. Image from the author’s collection.
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