Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kipling’s legacy touches New Zealand

Writer Rudyard Kipling’s influence cuts across cultures and political persuasions, with shades of it even reaching New Zealand.

In his inaugural professorial lecture, Victoria University of Wellington Professor Harry Ricketts will explore how Kipling’s legacy lives on in modern usage and culture, sometimes in unexpected places.

“In Taupo, there’s a very steep rock climbing route called ‘Gunga Din’ named after one of Kipling’s poems—that’s just one small example,” says Professor Ricketts.

A range of artists across the political divide have been influenced by Kipling, including singer-songwriter and protester Billy Bragg, filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, Argentinian short story writer Borges, Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht and English right-wing novelist Anthony Powell.

Professor Ricketts says there’s something in Kipling for everyone because his work—spanning 50 years—is so various.

“He is able to represent many different kinds of people and make you feel they’re real—that’s an extraordinary gift.”

Professor Ricketts (right) has been interested in Kipling ever since he was a child, partly because his father was in the British Army.

“I grew up in the fag-end of the Empire world,” says Professor Ricketts.

“I have had a love-hate relationship with Kipling—I don’t always find his personal opinions sympathetic, but I find his work transcends his opinions.” 

In 1999, Professor Ricketts published an acclaimed biography of Rudyard Kipling, The Unforgiving Minute. He has also authored journal articles, book chapters and conference papers, and edited books on the world-renowned writer.

He says that Kipling visited New Zealand for 18 days in 1891 and continued to correspond with friends he made on that trip for most of his life. Kipling’s short story One Lady at Wairakei imagines the future of New Zealand literature, and the central character in his famous story Mrs Bathurst is based on a woman he met in New Zealand.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh says Victoria University’s inaugural lecture series is an opportunity for professors to share insights into their specialist areas of study with family, friends, colleagues and the wider community.

“Inaugural lectures are also an excellent way for the University to celebrate and acknowledge our valued professors,” says Professor Walsh.

Professor Ricketts is a Professor of English in the School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies. He teaches and researches 19th and 20th century poetry, children’s literature, creative non-fiction and literary biography. For many years he has run a popular modern poetry course that compares the work of British, American and New Zealand poets. He has written or co-written 16 books, including literary biographies, personal essays and several collections of poems.

What: From Brooke to Borges, Brecht to Billy Bragg: Kipling’s Legacy
When: 15 October, 6pm
Where: Maclaurin Lecture Theatre 101, Gate 6, Kelburn Parade

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