‘All like and yet unlike the old country’

Kipling in Cape Town 1891-1908: A reappraisal.



Through the figure of Rudyard Kipling, this piece explores Cape Town as a seat of high empire at the turn of the nineteenth century.  It traces the vexed attempts of those in his circle to justify the British imperial presence there as a continuation of an earlier colonial stewardship, and to invent the tradition of ‘Cape Dutch’ which remains prevalent today.  Kipling holidayed and wrote on the slopes of Table Mountain for over a decade as a guest of Cecil Rhodes, yet was never able to create British South Africa in the way he had Anglo-India.  Paying close attention to his correspondence and lesser known writings from those years, this account explores the reasons for that failure, its local dimension and its consequences for a literary history of the city.  Throughout, one is able to discern the stresses attending the transfer of a poetics shaped in one sector of the British Empire (in this case, northern India) to an entirely different colonial situation.  Nonetheless, the overdetermined, unexpected quality of Kipling’s prose yields images of the Cape that now seem strangely prescient.

Hedley Twidle, 2009.