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Letters of Marque

by Rudyard Kipling
262 pages, Biography/History
Reviewed by Jenny

An engaging tour of Rajuputana, India, by the ineffable Englishman himself.

Plot

For a month Kipling, referring to himself as “The Englishman,” journeys unfettered through Rajputana, India, chronicling his adventures as a wayfarer through a world where British imperialism and Indian culture come together, sometimes mingling, sometimes not.

Morality

In general, the Englishman upholds a good sense of morality, often holding up the various governmental dealings to this standard. But on occasion, especially when recounting historical narratives, the Englishman does not make a value judgment on people’s actions. The Englishman himself remains a fair moral example in the letters.

Spiritual Content

The Englishman will on occasion refer to Providence and is not ill-disposed to Christianity, but he seems closer to and deals more with the Indian religions. Since he visits quite a number of temples, these references are unavoidable. On several occasions the eerie atmosphere of these places will get to the narrator, and anyone who has witnessed the paganism of India will know this is often more than mere superstition. But, in general, while the Indian religions are unavoidable, the Englishman sticks to narrations of temple architecture.

Violence

A group of people go out pig-hunting and shoot several types of animals. India’s history is very bloody, and the Englishman recounts several pitched battles and sieges that occurred in some of the cities he visits. Several times the Englishman threatens to beat uncooperative people over the head with a stick. Sati (suttee) is mentioned, the practice in which a woman grieving after the death of her husband will burn herself along with her husband’s body on his funeral pyre.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Alcohol and drugs are consumed — drunks are mentioned, though usually only in their affable states, and there is otherwise nothing untoward mentioned about either substance.

Sexual Content

It is mentioned that the women go down to the river to bathe, and implied that one shows off, but it is not described.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

It is mentioned on rare occasions that people swear. “D—n” is printed thus.

Conclusion

This is the first of Kipling’s non-fiction works that I have read, and at first I read it only for the author’s sake, having no notion if I would enjoy a tour of Indian state Rajputana at all. I was amply rewarded. Kipling’s light, engaging style picked me up and carried me along from city to city by railway and tonga-cart. The Anglo-Indian’s love for and understanding of the strange country of India makes each chapter, each letter, a gem of knowledge. Not only is Kipling’s India worth reading about, his passages are easily understood and he is careful only to skim the surface lest he lose his readers, making Letters of Marque an excellent work with which to study British India at a glance.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 4
Written for Age: 13+

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