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Shengold, L. (1975). An Attempt at Soul Murder—Rudyard Kipling's Early Life and Work. Psychoanal. St. Child, 30:683-723.
(1975). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 30:683-723
An Attempt at Soul Murder—Rudyard Kipling's Early Life and Work
Leonard Shengold, M.D.
During the time of the attempt at soul murder (ages 6 to 12), Kipling had to face three terrible psychological dangers: the loss of his parents; the soul murder itself (the overstimulation and overwhelming rage); and castrationanxiety, since Rudyard, at 6, was at the height of his oedipal development. At Lorne Lodge there was the situation (perhaps true of his first years in India too) of domination by an all-powerful woman, with the much-needed protective father at a distance.
The trauma of the desertion was made more terrible by the boy's being completely unprepared for it. Suddenly, the children were in hell. Their fate resembles that of children who were suddenly separated from their parents during the emergency evacuations from London in the blitz of World War II. Anna Freud(1939–45), who cared for and studied these children, concludes:
Rudyard, at 6, was more able that the 3-year-old Trix to face the loss, since the images of both parents and the predominantly loving servants were firmly established as part of the structure of his mind. He had achieved object constancy; as long as he could remember and think, his parents could not be completely lost. He could use his
mind and his creative imagination to fight against that part of himself that turned toward, gave in to, and identified with "Aunty Rosa" and Harry. Yet his power to know and to remember was specifically attacked by them. Reading and writing were crucial skills, and reading (tied to the forbidden seeing) became the subject of conflict and symptoms. (Apparently, there were occasional letters from his parents which helped reinforce the children's memories.) Rudyard could fight his passive entrapment with an active ordering of, and playing with, the bad reality in fantasies and memories (with Trix as his eager listener-participant). When Rudyard was very small, his father had written a nursery rhyme that had consoled him after the attack by a hen. In Lorne Lodge, he could identify with his protective father's humor and creativity, to try to ward off the attacks by the Woman. There was, after the near-blindness and the breakdown, a flowering of Kipling's creative writing in the predominantly male atmosphere of school. He emerged as a writer and poet (specifically as a master of rhyme). The ambition to become a writer crystallized in adolescence—at a time when there must have been a renewal of conflict over masturbation. He was using the writer's hand to keep away (to use the metaphor from his childhood memories) the severed child's hand. In his struggle with his fear of and fascination with castration, he needed to identify with his father to try to conquer the bad Woman—to conquer her in himself, and outside himself.
The 6-year-old boy in the midst of his oedipal development was subject to intense shifting ambivalence toward both parents. The desertion and subsequent sadomasochistic overstimulation made for libidinal regression and a terrifying access of rage—enhancing parentocidal (and probably especially parricidal) impulses at a time when the boy needed good parents desperately to fight off his inner imagos of the bad parents. Anna Freud(1965) is describing children of about 6 when she speaks of the causes underlying homesickness and school phobias:
This need to save the internal images of good parents, intense enough for the wartime evacuees at the Hampstead Nurseries where the parental substitutes were good and understanding, becomes desperate under conditions of sould murder, where hatred is deliberately cultivated. Devastation is perpetuated if the parental substitutes, with the fanaticism of the religiously righteous, and the power of concentration camp commandants, can prevent the child from registering the feeling of what has happened to him.
The subjection to "Aunty Rosa" as the Woman—with Harry as her phallic extension—threatened Rudyard's masculinity. He needed a strong father to take her away. Kipling continued to seek for fathers and older brothers in his work and in his life. The fear of the Woman, the need to submit to the phallic parent, the need to deny his parricidal urges, made homosexuality a continuing danger. The ongoing good external relationship with his father in later life must have helped him stave off his strong latent homosexuality. (One can see in his life and work a conflict-ridden range of wishes involving wanting to be, and to have, a man, a phallic woman—the ranee-tiger from childhood—and a woman.) Kipling did manage a heterosexual life with a loving relationship to a masculine, domineering woman. He was a loving father to his children, and suffered terribly when two of them died. His capacity for love was not destroyed. But he had a definite aversion to the sexual woman who is never treated as loving in his early fiction. Sex is not depicted as joyous; at best it is guilt-ridden pleasure followed by punishment.
I have speculated that there may have been sexual play between Trix and Rudyard which had some saving effect on his manhood; certainly her presence at Lorne Lodge helped preserve his sense of identity. Toward her he was able to feel and act like the protective parent that both so needed. Trix was grateful for and craved his care. She was the living link to his home, his parents, and the past. His memory and his gift for storytelling allowed him to become the
author of, and Trix his primal audience for, a family romance based on real events. Trix's devotion continued the love from and for a female that was not swept away by the hatred for the Woman. Together the two children could retreat from the desolation and persecution of their daily life to the sanctuary created by the boy's imagination. (In Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies, Kipling shows a brother and sister, Dan and Una, meeting people from the past who have observed and participated in historical events; the two travel through history together—and master the primal scene together.) Kipling was able to create a wonderful and sometimes a terrible world for abandoned children, to reward the deserving and punish the wicked. What began with Trix continued in his books.
The effects of the attempted sould murder on Kipling's life after Lorne Lodge were intermittently present and complicated by a struggle against them. There was a need to repeat the sadomasochistic experiences in the House of Desolation. Kipling's predominant position as victim had enforced an identification with the persecutors—out of the child's need for rescue. The destructive hatred had to be turned toward others; he required and found enemies: strangers, Boers, Boches, "the lesser breeds outside the law." But he could also remember what it was to have been the victim, and in some of his best work his empathy for the underdog catches the reader's emotions. He is successful in bringing to sympathetic life the Indians and the Lama in Kim; the natives in many of the early stories; the British enlisted men in his prose and verse; above all, the abandoned and neglected children.
But the persecutor part raged against the victim part of himself so that he was subject to attacks of depression. Just as he split the images of himself, he needed to split the mental pictures of his parents into good and bad. With the intolerable rage aimed against those he loved and needed, he was forced to deny his hatred. The denial—the need not to know—existed alongside his driving curiosity. The denial made the split registration possible: contradictory images and ideas could exist side by side in his mind without any blending, as with Orwell's doublethink. This kind of compartmentalization is a way of dealing with overwhelming feeling, but it is paid for by sacrificing the power of synthesis that is needed for
joy, love, and the feeling of identity. The capacity for mental splitting is not entirely explainable by the defensive need to ward off hatred and fear from the mental images of Kipling's good parents. Even before the assumption of parental roles by the bad Holloways, Kipling had lived through the intense experiences involved in having two sets of parents—white and black, light and dark—as a child in India. It was common in the British colonies for the servants in the family to be closer to the children than the natural parents. The mere existence of the complicated, split mental representations of self and parents does not involve pathology. That depends on how the splits are used. The crucial questions are—can the contradictory mental representations by synthesized; can they be brought together and taken apart again so that they can be worked with in a flow of thought and feeling? Or, must they exist for most or all of the time isolated and beyond criticism, as with Kipling (Shengold, 1974)? Beneath the fragile, seeming clarity of the bad "Aunty Rosa" and Harry, and the good mother and the good father, was a terrible ambivalentfragmentation and confusion. This is beautifully described by Jarrell (1962): "As it was, his world had been torn in two and he himself torn in two: for under the part of him that extenuated everything, blamed for nothing, there was certainly a part that extenuated nothing, blamed for everything—a part he never admitted, most especially not to himself" (p. 144).
Kipling was most comfortable when the separation of the split representations operated to suppress hatred. This could happen when he was active and in control, at one with his "Daemon" (his name, implying dissociation, for his creative powers perhaps unconsciously linked with "that Devil-Boy," Harry) with creative energies flowing. It was necessary above all to achieve discipline in his work and in his life—that perfect ordering of things that ruled out sudden desolation so that the good could not suddenly become the bad. Here is the image with which he ends the Jungle Books (he had begun them with Mowgli abandoned to the mercy of the tiger): animals and men take part in a magnificent review before the Viceroy, and a native officer responds to a stranger's asking how it was done. The animals "obey, as the men do. Mule, horse, elephant, or bullock, he obeys his driver, and the driver his
sergeant, and the sergeant his lieutenant, and the lieutenant his captain, and the captain his major, and the major his colonel, and the colonel his brigadier commanding three regiments, and the brigadier his general, who obeys the Viceroy, who is the servant of the Empress. Thus it is done" (1894p. 421). In such a well-regulated world, the Empress, the Great Mother, watches over all. The Jungle has lost its terror.
The psychoanalyst who is only a reader has no special source of insight. His view of an author's childhood has to be superficial. From the surface, Kipling's childhood is portrayed as six years of bliss followed by six years of hell. The crucial first six years of life must have provided the strengths that enabled Kipling to survive the efforts to kill his soul in the House of Desolation; he says so himself. How much did these early years also provide the seeds of his undoing? The reader can only speculate, reconstructing from what Kipling wrote, and basing his shaky structure on a general knowledge of human development. In his memoirs and stories, Kipling depicts the narcissistic vulnerability that can accompany the grandiosity of the overindulged child. It would be important to know more about the early relationship with his parents, especially with his mysterious mother. It must be meaningful that Trix writes of herself in Lorne Lodge as having had "no least recollection of" her mother, while "remembering that dear ayah known and loved all my short life in India" (1937pp. 168, 170). Fears about his anger and his sexual feelings must have been evoked in Rudyard by the births of his sister and the stillborn sibling. These births were probably linked to fantasies about parental intercourse and the first trip to the "dark land," England. The lifelong obsessive metaphors of light and darkness, vision and blindness, show the importance of primal scene fantasies for Kipling, fantasies that had exciting and terrifying connotations. Another evidence is Kipling's intense curiosity and need to know how everything works and is related; this fixation on curiosity is mysteriously transmuted into his creative gifts as an observe and describer and an evoker of realistic detail.
More is known about the second six years, the years of the attempt at sould murder, the effects of which continued to inhibit Kipling's ability to feel joy and to love and sometimes flawed his art. The soul murder was far from completely effected: Kipling
preserved his identity, and he became a great artist. Paradoxically the struggle to fight off the soul murder (and its aftereffects) strengthened him, and gave him motive, subject matter, and perhaps even creative powers for his writing. I have connected those terrible years of his childhood to his flaws and to his greatness. Kipling's story touches on the mysteries of the origin of mental illness and of creativity; the explorer must be prepared for contradiction and complexity.
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