On Rudyard Kipling's Loss of Ayah

by Cora L. Díaz de Chumaceiro

April 10, 2003


The life and works of Rudyard Kipling continue to be studied from different perspectives. In 1975, Leonard Shengold characterized as an attempt at soul murder the early trauma Rudyard and Trix Kipling experienced at Lorne Lodge, in Southsea, Sussex, when at barely five and-a-half and three years old, respectively, they were handed over by their parents to foster caregivers. The critical first five years of a child's life in the family system are indispensable for a deeper and expanded understanding of personality disturbances presented in adulthood, including lack of intimacy and limited capacity to love a partner. Taking into account childrearing practices of Anglo Indians during the British Raj, a vista of the overlooked trauma suffered as a result of the loss of Ayah as well as patterns of attachment in later life are presented and discussed. Kipling's short story, "His Majesty the King," is underscored.


    The child shall have a better time than his parents; he shall not be subject to the necessities which they have recognized as paramount in life. Illness, death, renunciation of enjoyment, restrictions on his own will, shall not touch him; the laws of nature and of society shall be abrogated in his favor; he shall once more really be the centre and core of creation--´His Majesty the Baby,´ as we once fancied ourselves.

    On Narcissism: An Introduction. S. Freud (1914/1957, p. 91).  

     Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Nobel laureate 1907, is memorable for celebrating British imperialism, his stories and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. His personal life also attracted the attention of many in the past, and at present has been rekindled. Biographers have uncovered additional data (Lycett, 1999; Nicholson, 2001; Ricketts, 1999) facilitating further psychoanalytic inquiries on different periods of his life and oeuvre. In a seminal study, Leonard Shengold (1975, 1989) characterized as an attempt at soul murder the traumatic experiences Rudyard suffered with his sister Trix at the "House of Desolation," in Southsea, Sussex, which began when they were five-and-a-half and three years old, respectively. The time has arrived to explore the critical first five years of life, essential to deepen and expand understanding of personality disorders in adulthood that impede finding genuine love, happiness, enjoyment, and satisfaction during the lifespan.

     The present article focuses on Rudyard Kipling's early childhood within the cultural context of traditional childrearing practices for Anglo-Indians during the British Raj, including the arrival of his sister Trix into the family system. Specifically, based on Hardin and Hardin's (2000) clinical studies on "Vicissitudes of Early Primary Surrogate Mothering," I will attempt to demonstrate that the early loss of Ayah needs to be viewed as significant earlier trauma, then compounded by parental abandonment and extreme negative experiences with 'foster parents' at Lorne Lodge.

     Alice Macdonald (1837-1910) and John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911) charmed each other at a picnic on Lake Rudyard, Staffordshire, in 1863. This middle-class English couple married in March of 1865, and after a one-month honeymoon, arrived in May to Bombay, India, for the first time. Lockwood (as called by acquaintances, and John, by his family) was a distinguished artist-artisan and teacher, contracted as head of the department of architectural sculpture at the Bombay School of Art and Industry. On the Esplanade, their home was a whitewashed bungalow across from the school's compound. Alice experienced morning sickness, and was also homesick (Ricketts, 1999). Louisa Macdonald, the god-mother, suggested the name Rudyard, to which John added Joseph, a traditional "Christian name" in the Kipling family, if the newborn was male (Lycett, 1999, p. 32). Frederic Macdonald, her brother, and John Griffiths, Lockwood's colleague at the Art School, were to be the god-fathers. On 30 December 1865, Joseph Rudyard Kipling, a wanted first child, was born after five days of labour. At St Thomas' Cathedral, Rudyard was christened on 22 January 1866 (Lycett, 1999).

     Alice Macdonald had been considered "a flirt" and had had several engagements prior to meeting Lockwood (Ricketts, 1999, p. 1). She had talent, wit, and a lively spirit; she knew how to write and publish poems, sing and make song arrangements, sew, and manage her household. Her gossip-filled letters, with phrases that alternated "mischief and malice," portrayed their "acquaintances and social situations" (p. 1). Her poetry revealed a deep melancholic vein which she had in common with three sisters and mother. Melodrama in the family was included in her traits, as she enjoyed startling them with her "talent for tableturning, an enthusiasm which led later in life to a more serious involvement with spiritualism" (p. 1). Alice belonged to a family of accomplished women who all married well; only her youngest sister Edith remained single. Edward Burne-Jones, a rising Pre-Raphaelite painter, wed Georgina Macdonald (1840-1920), and the artist Edward Poynter married Agnes Macdonald (1843-1906). Alfred Baldwin, ironmaster of Worcestershire, joined Louisa Macdonald (1845-1925) and their son Stanley Baldwin later became Prime Minister; these family connections played a role in the Kipling children's lives (beyond the scope of this article).

     Eventually, the delighted grandparents in England received a "carte de visite" photograph of baby Rudyard, showing him "asleep in the lap of a dark-skinned Madras ayah, an upright, dignified woman, with a bare head and thick black hair coiled on her neck" (Birkenhead, 1978, p. 11). In Anglo-Indian child development during the British Raj, British mothers entrusted the care of their children from birth to ayahs or nannies that overindulged them. In affluent homes, there was an ayah for each child, plus a male servant with the only job of wheeling the baby in the carriage. Children developed accustomed to being granted their wishes and whims. After becoming adults, both genders fondly remembered their beloved ayah--typically, a gentle, plump woman of small stature, with shining hair, robed in a white sari, who had given them comfort, sung songs to them, and narrated fascinating Indian stories (Macmillan, 1988). It was an early life that on the surface appeared to be idyllic. According to Tomb (1925), by the age of three or four, Anglo-Indian children had already picked up several languages--e.g., speaking to parents in English, to ayahs in Bengali, to servants in Hindustani, and to garden-coolies in Santali, in sharp contrast to their parents who had minimally succeeded in acquiring a sufficient grasp of Hindustani to be able to impart simple orders to house-servants. (On household guides for middle-class women on managing servants and raising British children in India, 1886-1925, see Blunt, 1999.)

     Kipling's (1890) short story, "His Majesty the King," describes an overindulged male child's experiences in the nursery and his deep wish for his distant royal parents to openly show their love. His governess, Miss Biddums, was a young European obliged to grant all royal desires. Going to bed was always a long process due to His Majesty's convenient forgetfulness of the list of friends he had already prayed for [Kipling's two grandfathers were ministers]. His spaniel dog, Chimo, slept in his room [the family had 3 dogs]. His authority, however, stopped at the nursery's door. The empire of his parents was beyond--"two very terrible people who had no time to waste upon His Majesty the King" (¶ 3). When he went from his territory to theirs, he lowered his voice, controlled his behavior, and had his soul full of awe, due to "the grim man who lived among a wilderness of pigeon holes and the most fascinating pieces of red tape, and the wonderful woman who was always getting into or stepping out of the big carriage" (¶ 3). To the first, he attributed "the mysteries of the 'dufter-room';" to the second, "the great, reflected wilderness of the 'Memsahib's room,' where the shiny, scented dresses hung on pegs, miles and miles up in the air, and the just-seen plateau of the toilet-table revealed an acreage of speckly combs, broidered 'hanafitch-bags,' and 'white-headed' brushes" (¶ 4). His Majesty the King had no space "either in official reserve or worldly gorgeousness" (¶5). [Kipling remembered his mother going to dinners]. He had learned his "simple theology" from Miss Biddums "and welded it to the legends of Gods and Devils that he had learned in the servant's quarters" (¶ 6). His confidant was Miss Biddums, and he equally trusted her with his robes and his sorrows of a more serious nature. She fixed everything. "She was the most powerful person with whom he was brought into contact--always excepting the two remote and silent people beyond the nursery door" (¶7).  

    Morning and evening it was his duty to salute his father and mother--the former with a grave shake of the hand, and the latter with an equally grave kiss. Once, indeed, he had put his arms round his mother's neck, in the fashion he used towards Miss Biddums. The openwork of his sleeve-edge caught in an ear-ring, and the last stage of His Majesty's little overture was a suppressed scream and summary dismissal to the nursery.

    'It is w'ong,' thought His Majesty the King, 'to hug Memsahibs wiv fings in veir ears. I will amember.' He never repeated the experiment (¶ 10-11).

     Miss Biddums "spoilt him as much as his nature admitted, in some sort of recompense for what she called 'the hard ways of his Papa and Mama'" (¶ 12). Every once in a while, however, Miss Biddums implored they have "the rare pleasure" of spending a day with the daughter of the Commissioner--the strong-willed "four-year-old Patsie, who, to the intense amazement of His Majesty the King, was idolised by her parents." After turning this issue at length in his mind, in ways unknown to adults, he concluded that Patsie was affectionately hugged as a result of wearing "a big blue sash and yellow hair" (¶ 15). He told no one about his discovery, but definitely wanted a similar sash for himself--about the hair, he could do nothing. 

     Clearly, Kipling created this creative work based on his early years in India. It is included in the Wee Willie Winkie collection (1890) following the more known autobiographical "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep," which refers to the severe Lorne Lodge experiences (see Simmons, 2002).  

Soul Murder 

      In 1975, Shengold explored the vicissitudes of the childhoods of Rudyard and Trix Kipling and the attempts at soul murder. The Lorne Lodge experience was so terrible that Rudyard called the place the "house of desolation;" the American poet Randall Jarrell (1962) referred to it as "one of God's concentration camps" (in Shengold, p. 146). Soul murder characterizes deliberate crimes by adults against children--events that destroy their dignity and individuality, affect their ability for rational thought, and shatter the capacity for the emergence of normal feelings of joy, love, and hate in life.

     When Rudyard was two and a half years old he experienced a sharp break from his early Eden-like life; the family returned to England in April of 1868 for his pregnant mother's delivery of the new baby. Alice (nicknamed Trix by her father) was born on 11 June 1868. On this visit, the family stayed with relatives, but Rudyard's uninhibited, aggressive behavior, and screaming temper tantrums, shocked them. They were glad to see them depart to India (Green, 1965). "He is remembered as charging down the streets of a country town, yelling: 'Out of the way! Out of the way, there's an angry Ruddy coming'" (Stewart, 1966, p. 1; in Shengold, p. 695). Furthermore, when Rudyard was five years old, a third child was born, but died a few days later--a short time before his unexpected, definite exile. Although primary data on the effects of these births on Rudyard are missing, their impact must have been a profound threat that maybe, as compensation, increased his narcissism and added force "to his aggressiveness (and his hostility toward the betraying mother)" (p. 695). His first six years of indulgence and magic, however, were remembered as absolutely great in his fragmented autobiography, Something of Myself (1937) published posthumously.

     In 1871, the Kiplings returned to England with Rudyard and Trix. Then the terrible drama in these young lives occurred with the parent's decision to leave both children (with no preparation or explanation) in a foster home in England, as a result of a newspaper advertisement. The parents deposited them in the hands of complete strangers, Captain and Mrs. Holloway, at Lorne Lodge, Southsea, Sussex, and disappeared, returning to India. For the children, it was agonizing not to know the reason for losing their parents. Later, Rudyard was told by his mother that the advice she had received was "that it was kindest to spare the children the torment of a good-bye" (Shengold, p. 696). Although her motives are unknown,  

    at the least she shared the lack of empathy for the child that seems to have been so prevalent in Victorian times, and that was frequently passed down from one generation to the next as part of a compulsion to repeat the past--sowing misery even in the homes of the wealthy and privileged (Shengold, p. 696; italics added). 

     Six years passed before they saw their parents again. It is a case of desertion by good parents to be replaced by guardians who were bad and persecutory. A major human tragedy, even for adults, is the loss of parental caring that occurs suddenly and without any preparation. Brain washing techniques alternate the use of over stimulation and deprivation of the senses thereby increasing the desire and need for loving care and at the same time destroying the hope of obtaining it. In Anna Freud's (1965) view, children's ability for tolerance of hatred directed at also-loved parents depends on parental presence and reassurance. When soul murder was attempted, during the period when Rudyard was six to twelve years old at Lorne Lodge, he was faced with three serious psychological dangers: a) parental loss; b) soul murder (overstimulated and overwhelmed with rage); and c) anxiety of castration, as six-year-old Rudyard was at the pinnacle of oedipal development. Domination by a totally powerful woman, with a distant yet needed protective father characterized his situation at Lorne Lodge (and maybe also in his initial years in India). 

     Rudyard was better able to face the desertion trauma than Trix, as for him both parents' images and those of the mainly loving servants were already strongly established in his mind (object constancy). His parents would not be totally lost, as long as he was able to remember, think, and apply his mind and creative imagination in the fight against that piece of himself that identified with, turned towards, and caved in to Aunty Rosa Holloway and her son Harry--parental substitutes who specifically attacked these abilities (power to know and remember). Reading (after Rudyard learned to read there) turned into the topic of conflict and symptomatology. (The children's memories received reinforcement from their parents' occasional letters.) The mechanisms Rudyard found for fighting his passive state of entrapment was to actively order and play with memories, in fantasy, sharing them with Trix who eagerly was his participating audience. At a very young age in India, a nursery rhyme written by his father had been a consolation after a hen attacked him; at Lorne Lodge, identification with the humor and creativity of his protective father served to attempt warding off the Woman's attacks. After becoming nearly blind and experiencing a breakdown, Kipling's creative writing bloomed in school. "He emerged as a writer and poet (specifically as a master of rhyme)" (Shengold, p. 684).  

      Summarizing, Shengold stressed that mental splits cannot be totally explained by the needed defense to protect the mental representations of his good parents from his hatred and fear. Previous to the bad Holloways having assumed substitute parental roles, in India, Kipling already had lived the intense experience of "having two sets of parents--white and black, light and dark" (p. 686). The existence of complex, split mental representations, however, are not indicative of pathology--dependent on how such splits are used. Thus, some crucial questions emerge: Is it possible to synthesize the contradictory mental representations? Can they be united and dis-united again in order to work with them in the flow of thoughts and feelings? Or, as in Kipling's case, do they have to exist in isolation and beyond criticism all the time or for most of it (Shengold, 1974)? "Beneath the fragile, seeming clarity of the bad 'Aunty Rosa' and Harry, and the good mother and the good father, there was a terrible ambivalent fragmentation and confusion" (p. 687). Jarrell (1962) described this situation elegantly, when he opined that both Kipling's world and himself, had been torn into two parts: "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; in Shengold, p. 687). Shengold concluded that at surface level, Rudyard's childhood is pictured as six blissful years followed by six years in hell. The strengths that allowed him to overcome the efforts at soul murder in the House of Desolation must have been provided for during "the crucial first six years of life" (p. 688). Kipling himself so declared later. Shengold raised a then unanswerable question:


    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 (p. 688).


      In her memoirs, Trix revealed her feelings about the parental desertion. In retrospect, she thought that in those early days at Lorne Lodge, aside from Mrs. Holloway's unkindness to Ruddy and her "terrible temper," the real tragedy was based on their not being able to comprehend the reason for their parents' desertion. They were not prepared for it, nor were they given any explanation. Thus, it seemed "like a double death, or rather, like an  avalanche that had swept away everything happy and familiar... We felt we had been deserted, 'almost as much as on a doorstep', and what was the reason?" (Fleming, 1939, p. 171). Aunty used the rationale that they "were so tiresome," and thus due to pity had admitted them. Ruddy, desperate, had asked Uncle Harrison, but he replied that Aunty was just teasing and Papa had handed them over to their care due to the excessive heat in India, inadequate for little ones. Trix elaborated that they knew such explanation was untrue because they had visited (cool) Nassick (located in the India Hills). The real reason? Mother was not sick. Father did not go to war. Their money had not been lost. No excuses. "They had gone happily back to our own lovely home, and had not taken us with them. There was no getting out of that, as we often said" (p. 171). Harry, on discovering this vulnerability, teased them with no mercy, assuring them that charity was the reason and therefore must obey him. "We were just like workhouse brats, and none of our toys really belonged to us" (Fleming, p. 171; in Shengold, pp. 701-702). 

      What new data are available about this thorny issue? In Ricketts' (1999) view, the date for the decision is unknown. The parents' reasons for sending the children, however, would hardly have surprised their Anglo-Indian peers. If the need for explanations surfaced, the usual one was that, when white children reach a particular age, they can be affected by the rigorous Indian weather--"A convenient euphemism, a broad-spectrum rationale, masking other concerns" (p. 12). Two of these underlying concerns were that Anglo-Indians: a) did not desire their offspring to mature regarding India as their home because England was 'Home;' and b) they did not want their offspring to speak with the English accents spoken by servants. Additionally, however, more hidden anxieties and fears about the servants' influence initially were expressed by Maud Diver in The Englishwoman in India (1909). In her view, Anglo-Indian children needed to be sent 'Home' so that they could be removed from "the promiscuous intimacy of the Indian servants, whose propensity to worship at the shrine of the Baba-log [the children] is unhappily apt to demoralise the small gods and goddesses they serve'" (in Ricketts, p. 12). Evidence abounds, inclusive in Kipling's stories that supports the notion that the children usually were indulged to an extreme and became little tyrants. Diver's term "promiscuous intimacy" hints at sexuality, at discovering the facts of life and knowing too much at a tender age, due to the extended, close contact with servants. This concern is also seen in Kipling's later personal testimony, "and he certainly came to feel that in India 'it was inexpedient and dangerous for a white child to be reared through youth' " (p. 13). Thus, it is probable that his parents, after living in India for five years, gave their endorsement to such issues. Nevertheless, two additional factors played a role in their decision: first, a premature son who did not survive had been born on 18 April 1870, and second, with the children away, Alice was better able to focus "her very formidable social skills" to help advance the career of her husband (p. 13). 

      The reason for sending their children to a stranger's home, instead of to any of their many relatives in England, remains puzzling, and this responsibility falls on Alice's head: to a friend she expressed that sending them to her family resulted in complications. Ricketts suggests memories of Ruddy's bad behavior in the 1868 visit, sibling rivalry and envy among the sisters, and raised the question if Alice may have feared that her children, over time, could transfer their main allegiance to them. Thus, to separate from the children by sending them to strangers may well have seemed a solution that threatened her less than taking the risk of a loss due to their transfer of primary affection to any of her siblings. Trix, who suffered many breakdowns, near her life's end opined that her father's family would have been the best solution, but that would also have led to problems after Alice discounted her side of the family. Pryse and Sara Holloway of Southsea were selected as the 'foster parents' for Rudyard and Trix by their parents. It remains undiscovered how the original contact was effected--via an advertisement in English or Indian newspapers, or by other means. The exchange of satisfactory letters and references can be presumed, and the needed arrangements made, well before they all departed for England in April of 1871 (Ricketts, 1999).  

      Instead, Lycett (1999) uncovered that when Lockwood Kipling's contract needed to be renewed in April 1871, he made the decision to accept an offer for a leave of six months "to treat his family to a traditional English seaside holiday" (p. 44). He rented a house in Sussex, Littlehampton, recommended by the Burne-Jones. On October 1, the Kiplings made a thirty-three-mile trip to Southsea. 

     They came because they had read a newspaper advertisement placed by a local couple offering to look after children whose parents were stationed in India. Lockwood soon had to return to India and Alice was determined to accompany him. So references were taken up, feelings of guilt bottled up, and, thinking hygienically of the 'birthright of English air,' they decided to leave their tender-aged son and daughter in the care of these foster parents (pp. 45-46). 

     In the (English-language) Pioneer, 9 May 1870, Lockwood, who had a part-time job as journalist, had written: "We are willing slaves to our small emperors, feeling that the best we can give them is but poor compensation for the loss of their birthright of English air" (in Lycett, p. 43). Similar to other biographers, however, Lycett wondered about the reasons for sending the Kipling children "to this hell-hole" and for allowing them to stay there "so long." They could have lived with any of their families, "and, more to the point, [with] cousins of their own age, in London, Yorkshire and Worcestershire" (53).  

     So, apparently, an unfortunate chance event--reading a newspaper advertisement--triggered the new destiny of Rudyard and Trix's life path (see Bandura, 1982). (They must have been thinking about sending them to England but had not decided where.) The impact of the loss of the children's loved ayah, however, to date has remained overlooked in psychoanalytic accounts of this traumatic period of their lives.

Impact of the Loss of Ayah 

     In 1985, psychoanalyst Harry T. Hardin persuasively argued that alienation between infant and biological mother may result when a close bond develops between an infant and its early primary surrogate mother--nannies, nurses, maids, or relatives. To end the surrogate caregiving is usually a trauma for the child; the development of interpersonal difficulties, in particular fear of intimacy, is one of several consequences of the loss of the substitute mother. Hardin also discussed developmental consequences when parents fail to validate the child's traumatic experience of loss of the early surrogate mother, and subsequently applied his clinical findings to Freud's loss of his Kinderfrau (1987, 1988a, 1988b). For over twenty years, Hardin has linked the loss of early substitute mothers to later incapacity for intimate relations, fears of loss, and heightened separation anxiety, as observed in adult clinical cases. More recently, Hardin senior and sociologist Daniel H. Hardin (2000) pleaded for recognition of the vicissitudes of the loss of the early primary surrogate mother and the arrest of mourning, and proposed that "a formal, impersonal relationship between parents and caregiver has no place in successful primary surrogate mothering" (p. 1254; italics in original).  

      Of relevance to the Kipling case, the authors called attention to the comprehensive Nanny study by novelist and journalist Gathorne-Hardy (1972). In his preface, the British Nanny institution was described as "a unique and curious way of bringing up children, which evolved among the upper and upper-middle classes during the nineteenth century, flourished for approximately eighty years and then, with the Second World War, disappeared forever" (p. 7). Nannies simply arrived, stayed for a few important years, and left. Maybe most of them departed before the child's fifth birthday--due to being fired or fed up, or to finding a better job. "If this loved figure (loved even if unworthy) departs, the child's despair is terrible. . . . The symptoms can resemble those of babies deprived of food. The effects are permanent." Thus, it is hardly surprising that the Nanny literature is full of "desperate descriptions of these incomprehensible and brutal partings" (1972, pp. 216-217; in Hardin and Hardin, p. 1235).  

     Hardin and Hardin (2000) reviewed the psychoanalytic and developmental literature with examples showing consequences of loss of the early primary surrogate mother--called "surrogate" to clearly differentiate her from the biological mother--and presented clinical cases (beyond the scope of this article). John Bowlby (1958), for instance, stressed: "For a child to be looked after entirely by a loving nanny and then for her to leave when he is two or three, or even four or five, can be almost as tragic as the loss of a mother" (p. 7). Comments of Karen's (1994) discussions with Bowlby in 1989 followed:  

    [Bowlby] was not in the least opposed to the live-in nanny . . . as long as it was recognized that she may become the true mother figure in the child's eyes, and--this he emphasized--as long as she stayed. For by the time the child reaches six months of age, his primary caretaker becomes a crucial and irreplaceable person who must be there fairly continuously for the next two and a half years" (1994, p. 109: emphasis added). [Karen] added: "Even many of his own followers would part company with Bowlby over the contention that the full-time nanny becomes the primary attachment figure, supplanting the parents in the child's affections . . . . But that the nanny is still an important figure to the child, in many cases an attachment figure, and that her early loss or abrupt replacement can sometimes be traumatic would find little argument (pp. 325-326: emphasis added; in Hardin and Hardin, 2000, p. 1235). 

     In Spring 2001, Hardin and Hardin's (2000) work was discussed on the JAPA PsaNetCast. The authors referred to the taboo and resistance their theory had encountered in the psychoanalytic community which delayed publication for a number of years. In their view, relegating the early surrogate mother to the dark, "appears to be associated with a universal constraint against accepting her as a psychological or de facto mother" (2000, p. 1233). In this interchange of ideas, as could be expected, many agreed while a few remained skeptical. (With modern variations, however, the nanny system is alive and surviving in many countries, as evidenced by nanny organizations on the Internet.)  

     After witnessing a small child's inconsolable reactions to loss over departure of a loved nurse-maid, the starting point of the theory is undeniable and can be applied to the Kipling case, shedding light on their first traumatic separation from ayah experienced as toddlers, and in Rudyard's case, repeated on his definite separation when he was five-and-a-half years old (see also Díaz de Chumaceiro, 2002, in press). To date, retrospective studies have emphasized the obvious traumatic loss of the parents when the children were deposited at Lorne Lodge. In their infancy, however, as previously discussed, Rudyard and Trix were exclusively cared for by an ayah from birth onward. Also, a distant relationship with their busy parents during this period has been reported by many, and can be gleaned in his writings--e.g., "His Majesty the King." The traumatic consequences of the loss of their loved ayah and the arrest of mourning have remained confounded and hidden under the loss of the parents. This confounding situation has its parallel in transference reactions of patients in analysis who have experienced early loss of a primary substitute mother. The mother screens the surrogate image--an eclipse. Thus, Hardin (1985) warned: "Biological mother and, in the countertransference, the analyst, play a significant role in perpetuating the concealment of the surrogate" (p. 609). 

     From this fresh vista, Rudyard, at two-and-a-half years old, experienced his first traumatic loss, as a result of his first trip to England with his mother for the birth of Trix, when his ayah remained in India. It is unknown, however, if the same Madras ayah of the photograph was in service until this trip, or if there had been caregiver turnover, which is also traumatic for the infant. (Also note that the evidence in his memoirs pertains to a Portuguese ayah after he returned to Bombay). Thus, the hypothesis rests on the assumption that the toddler was attached to his ayah. On arrival in England, Rudyard was placed at the home of his maternal grandparents in Bewdley, Worcestershire, with Aunt Louie living close by at Wilden; his mother went to live at her sister Georgina Burne-Jones' home until the end of the pregnancy and delivery of the baby. To complicate matters, grandfather George Macdonald was sick in bed and slowly dying, and grandmother Hannah, who had a melancholic nature, was depressed (Ricketts, 1999). So young Rudyard suddenly found himself living in an unknown milieu with strangers. Lycett (1999) reported that soon enough Ruddy's "truculent nature" asserted itself (p. 37). He shared Aunt Edie's bed--"uncomfortable for both" (p. 37). One day, after straying into the bedroom of his grandparents, he returned and announced, "They've gone and tooken the best rooms for themselves" (p. 37). Sometimes, when his exasperation peaked, he would escape from "this geriatric household and march down Bewdly Street exclaiming, 'Ruddy is coming; Ruddy is coming!' And when on at least one occasion someone had the audacity to get in his way, the refrain became more threatening: 'An angry Ruddy is coming'" (p. 37). 

     Think for a moment about the infant's distress in this new milieu. Who did he miss most? Lycett (1999) hypothesized that it was his father (who had stayed in India) and (for a little time) his mother. Clearly, there was no one he trusted and loved here to validate the loss of his ayah--besides, such an idea simply would not have occurred to anyone in Victorian times. Thus, an arrest of a normal mourning process also can be hypothesized, reflected in his protesting behavior ("temper tantrums"), due to which his relatives were so glad to see him leave after six months.  

     Trix, born on 11 June, had a difficult birth, "apparently stillborn, with a broken arm and black eye, and remained so for an alarming time till the doctor whipped her alive with a towel wrung out of iced water" (Birkenhead, 1978, p. 12). A month later, mother and infant returned to the Macdonald home, and were reunited with Ruddy. Now, however, he had a rival for his parents' affection! Being dethroned is also a loss; so, in this short period, Ruddy experienced two losses. Alice took her children to visit Lockwood's mother during August and September, and returned to Bewdley in early October. They started their trip back to Bombay on 2 November. George Macdonald died on 13 November. Aunt Edie opined, and Louisa Baldwin appeared to be in agreement, that Ruddy's screaming had hastened the death of George. "The wretched disturbances one ill ordered child can make is [sic] a lesson for all time to me" (in Lycett, 1999, p. 38).


      Succinctly, when Ruddy and infant Trix arrived home in India, they were placed in the care of a Portuguese Catholic ayah from Goa, and Meeta was the pram bearer. Together with the other household servants, they constituted the center of the children's internal world. Ruddy, who spoke Hindi, was Rud-baba for them and they lulled him to sleep with their songs and tales. From hearing the servants' conversations he acquired life's basic facts, which normally children in the west were not privy to, within a warm and safe cocoon of unconditional love. His parents existed on the perimeters of this world, and they communicated with the children in English (Ricketts, 1999). In his memoirs, Kipling (1937) recalled that during the hot afternoons, before sleeping,  

    she [ayah] or Meeta would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution 'Speak English now to Papa and Mamma.' So one spoke 'English,' haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in. The Mother sang wonderful songs at a black piano and would go out to Big Dinners (Something, Chap. 1¶ 5). 

(Note how he wrote "The Mother," capitalized, instead of "My" or "Our mother".) Intermittently, Rudyard's aggressiveness surfaced, as when he pulled "his ayah's hair (once he bit her to avenge some imagined wrong to Trix), or he would throw stones at the chokra, or youngest in the retinue of eight servants" (Lycett, 1999, p. 43). 

     In April of 1870, Alice's third child, John, died a few days after birth. Lycett (1999) comments that "for Rudyard too, this had been a disturbing event: one that he buried deep on his unconscious and never mentioned." Consequently, "along with its vibrancy," in his mind, Bombay was a death-place (p. 44). The Towers of Silence, exposing dead Parsees as food for vultures, was near his home. In his memoirs, he recorded the distress his mother showed when at the bottom of the garden she found the hand of a child. She told him to not ask about it--his ayah gladly disregarded her prohibition. A theme in his later writings was his view of India as "built on dead men, ghosts and illusions" (p. 44). 

    On 15 April 1871, the life in India was left behind when the Kipling family boarded "the old P & O paddle-wheel Ripon" (Birkenhead, p. 14) to England. By the time Rudyard was abandoned by his parents in the foster home, he already had a vulnerability to loss that was then compounded.


      A brief glance at the outcome of Trix's life reveals much suffering: She became engaged to Jack Fleming, a Captain in the Scottish Borderers, and then broke the engagement alleging "incompatibility of temper" (Ricketts, p. 111). When the two meet a year later, she was unhappy about his visits, and consulted her brother on the matter. Trix then decided that she did love him anyway, and married a year later. Her father, however, had been against this match, and his anxiety about it became a reality. Fleming died in 1942, and she became a widow. "The relationship does not seem to have brought either of them much happiness" (p. 112). They had no children. Throughout her life, she suffered many (schizophrenic) breakdowns, for which Lockwood blamed Fleming.

     John Lockwood Kipling and his wife Alice were responsible for the origins of Trix's mental illness as a result of suddenly sending her to Lorne Lodge so young, for whatever reasons, with no explanation, and then leaving her there for a couple more years after they removed Rudyard. As Shengold (1975) pointed out: "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'" (Fleming, 1939, pp. 168, 170; p. 722; italics added). One cannot but wonder with amazement, what kind of parents send a female toddler abroad to strangers? Why need to get rid of a toddler who was cared for by fulltime hired help? This was not British or Anglo-Indian tradition for a girl. Was it, as Ricketts proposed, that these parents wanted more time for them to advance his career? Or was the marriage having problems then, as suggested in the story of "His Majesty the King"? Lycett (1999) pointed out that by the time the marriage was twelve years old, it was having problems of attraction to third parties. A study on the mother might clarify the whole issue, if sufficient data are available. "His [and her] Majesty the Baby" deserved better, but like all innocent young children in any era, they survived the best they could from their parents' disturbances.

     For the rest of his life, in a classic case of denial, Rudyard outwardly idealized his parents, hiding his hostility. He blamed his mother for sending him to Lorne Lodge. Although in "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" his hostility is overtly directed at Mrs. Holloway, according to Trix, their parents were devastated because they comprehended that he was voicing his secret resentment towards them (Lycett, 1999).  

     How did Rudyard's capacity for intimacy and love develop? The deficit pattern gleaned from Ricketts` biography is telling. In 1880, when Rudyard was fourteen years old and visited Trix at Lorne Lodge, he became infatuated with the new boarder, sixteen-year-old art student Florence Garrard, and for the following four years, considered that he loved her. It was, however, platonic love at a distance. In October of 1881, he returned to India and joined his parents now at Lahore. Flo broke off the relationship sometime during the first semester of 1884. Rudyard felt despair and devastation, and for him 1885 was a year of "emotional turmoil" (Ricketts, p. 71). At some point he went to a brothel and then worried about having contacted a venereal infection. Marriage seemed the best solution and began to search for a mate, but he was obsessed with Flo and convinced his cousin to spy on her whereabouts. 

     In 1889, Rudyard traveled to America and became engaged to Caroline Taylor--another love at a distance--and it was broken off in 1890. He had a breakdown. (His first hallucinations occurred at Lorne Lodge in 1876; he also suffered on and off from depression.) By chance, again he met Flo and was hooked into slavery. Ricketts asks if due to Caroline's breaking of the engagement he then felt the freedom to turn into "Flo's slave," or was it instead the realization that he was unable to wed Caroline due to "unresolved feelings for Flo and himself?" It is similarly unknown if "Kipling's breakdown was caused by, or a cause of, his passion for Flo. Whatever the actual sequel of events, the fragmentary evidence from these two months presents a picture of a very confused and unhappy time" (Ricketts, p. 160). 

     In 1890, Flo was living in Paris, and Rudyard went to visit her for the last time. In 1891, he became engaged to Caroline (Carrie) Balestier, and following his previous pattern, it was broken off for a short time and then renewed. He repeated his pattern with Flo when he was leaving for India, and similarly with Caroline on returning to England, as for Kipling to propose it was easier when facing imminent separation--"and emotionally reassuring to be engaged when he was venturing into the unknown" (Ricketts, p. 182). Separation anxiety is evident.  

     Carrie called Rudyard back from his trip because her brother (and his dear friend) Wolcott Balestier had died. On route, he went "to Bombay where my ayah, so old but so unaltered, met me with blessings and tears" (Something, Chap. 5 ¶1). He married Carrie in January of 1892. It is said that he demonstrated proper loyalty and devotion for Carrie, and only occasionally was it sensed that "he ever found her difficult to live with" (Ricketts, p. 216). May Cabot, a neighbor and frequent visitor, described her as a practical woman, not a very good housekeeper, stingy, complaining, domineering, super-efficient, and protective. In his memoirs, the chapter titled the "Committee of Ways and Means" describes their relationship (Ricketts, 1999). They were married for 44 years; like Trix, he did not seem to have found much happiness in marriage. Rudyard and Carrie had three children: Josephine, born 29 December 1892, died at age seven of pneumonia, on 6 March 1899, during a short visit to the U.S. with her parents; Elsie was born 2 February 1896; John, born 17 August 1897, at age eighteen died in action in Paris on 27 September 1915. Elsie married Captain George Bambridge, escaping from a hostile home, and had no children. In Nicolson`s (2001) recent study of Carrie Kipling he uncovers in their marriage detachment and malignancy--she was lonely, and a survivor of the many family tragedies as best she could.  

     Kipling's narcissistic disturbances reaped havoc in his marriage with a wife he ended up hating; she had her own disturbances which interlocked with his, forming a sado-masochistic relationship (see Kernberg, 1991). What comes to mind is the hated "Woman" of his Lorne Lodge days and his abandoning mother--the return of the repressed. Although he identified with mother's poetry writing, he hated her. A study of his attitudes about women in his works may shed some light on the dynamics of his marriage. From "The Female of the Species" (1911), for instance: 

    Man's timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say, 
    For the Woman that God gave him isn't his to give away; 
    But when hunter meets with husband, each confirms the others' tale - 
    The female of the species is more deadly than the male (¶ 4). 

     Kipling, however, loved his ayah and felt reciprocated by her during his reign of "His Majesty the Baby." Ayah can be viewed as his saving grace. Her unconditional love and pampering in his early childhood was a positive force that contributed to his survival in the years of hell, to the positive aspects of his creative powers, and to his love for children. A benevolent woman is the one who teaches the infant to love. Recorded history points to his last ayah, a psychological de facto mother, and not to his biological one.  

     The catastrophic loss for a young child when an early primary substitute mother suddenly disappears from his or her life is well documented in the psychoanalytic and developmental literature. The early loss of Ayah and the arrest of mourning can be viewed as an early risk factor that contributed to Rudyard Kipling's later undoing in his life--in addition to all the previously identified variables that contributed to the development of pathological narcissism as defined in contemporary times. Accumulated cases by Hardin and Hardin allow for re-examination of Kipling's life and works. Future psychological studies of Anglo-Indians, who invariably lost a loved Ayah when sent back to England, may shed further light on this long-overlooked developmental-transcultural variable and its impact on their lifespan, specifically, on intimate relations and creative literary oeuvre.  


I am indebted to Gerald M. Fishbein, Ph. D., for his critical reading and invaluable feedback of this manuscript, and to a reviewer of PSYART for suggesting the title. 


Bandura, A. (1982). The psychology of chance encounters and life paths. American Psychologist, 37, 747-755. 

Birkenhead, L. (1978). Rudyard Kipling. New York: Random House. 

Blunt, A. (1999). Imperial geographies of home: British domesticity in India, 1886-1925.  Transactions of the Institutes of British Geographers, 24 (4), 421-440. 

Bowlby, J. (1958). Can I leave my baby? London: National Association for Mental Health. 

Díaz de Chumaceiro, C. L. (2002). Babes in [Surrogate] Arms: A plea for recognition. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 15, 213-226.  

Díaz de Chumaceiro, C. L. (in press). The secret garden: On the loss of nannies in fiction and life. Journal of Poetry Therapy

Diver, M. (1909). The Englishwoman in India. London: Blackwood.  

Fleming, A. (1939). Some childhood memories of Rudyard Kipling by his sister. Chambers Journal, 2/10, March, pp. 168-173. 

Freud, A. (1965). Normality and pathology in childhood. New York: International Universities Press. 

Freud, S. (1914). On narcissism: An introduction. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 14, pp. 73-102) London: Hogarth Press, 1957. 

Gathorne-Hardy, J. (1972). The rise and fall of the British nanny. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Green, R. L. (1965). Kipling and the children. London: Elek Books. 

Hardin, H. T. (1985). On the vicissitudes of early primary surrogate mothering. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 33, 609-629. 

Hardin, H. T. (1987).On the vicissitudes of Freud's early mothering. I: Early environment and loss. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 56, 628-644. 

Hardin, H. T. (1988a). On the vicissitudes of Freud's early mothering. II: Alienation  from his biological mother. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 57, 72-86. 

Hardin, H.T. (1988b). On the vicissitudes of Freud's early mothering. III: Freiberg, screen memories, and loss. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 57, 209-223. 

Hardin, H. T. & Hardin, Daniel H. (2000). On the vicissitudes of early primary surrogate mothering II. Loss of the surrogate mother and arrest of mourning. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48, 1229-1258.  

Hardin, H. T. & Hardin, Daniel H. (2001). Japa Discussion. On the vicissitudes of early primary surrogate mothering II. Loss of the surrogate mother and arrest of mourning. Spring 2001. At http://www.psychoanalysis.net/JAPA_Psa-NETCAST/hardinandhardin.html. 

Jarrell, R. (1962). On preparing to read Kipling. In E. Gilbert (Ed.), Kipling and the  critics, pp. 133-149. New York: New York University Press. 

Karen, R. (1994). Becoming attached: Unfolding the mystery of the infant-mother bond and its impact on later life. New York: Warner. 

Kernberg, O. (1991). The psychopathology of hatred. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 39S, 209-238.

Kipling, J. R. (1890). His majesty the king. In Wee Willie Winkie. Retrieved October 15, 2002, from http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/ prose/Wee Willie. 

Kipling, J. R. (1911). The female of the species. Retrieved November 23, 2002, from http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/verse/p1/femalespecies.html. 

Kipling, J. R. (1937). Something of myself for my friends known and unknown. In T.  Pinney, Thomas (ed.) Something of myself and other autobiographical writings  Cambridge: London, 1990. Retrieved November 23, 2002, from http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au. 

Lycett, A. (1999). Rudyard Kipling. London: Phoenix, 2000.

Macmillan, M. (1988). Women of the Raj. London: Thames & Hudson. 

Nicolson, Adam (2001). The hated wife. Carrie Kipling 1862-1939. London: Short Books. 

Ricketts, H. (1999). Rudyard Kipling: A life. New York: Carrol & Graf Publishers. 

Shengold, L. (1974). The metaphor of the mirror. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11, 725-751. 

Shengold, L. (1975). An attempt at soul murder--Rudyard Kipling's early life and work. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 30, 683-723. 

Shengold, L. (1989). Soul murder. The effects of childhood abuse and deprivation. New Haven/London: Yale University Press.  

Simmons, Diane (2002). Black sheep: Rudyard Kipling's narcissistic imperialism. PsyArt: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts, article 020529. Retrieved December 2, 2002 from http://www.clas.ufl.edu/ipsa/journal/2002/simmon01.htm. 

Stewart, J. I. M. (1966). Rudyard Kipling. New York: Dodd & Mead.  

Tomb, J. W. (1925). On the intuitive capacity of children to understand spoken language.  British Journal of Psychology, 16, Part I. Abstract: Low, B, 1926, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 7, 87-88. 

To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Cora L. Díaz de Chumaceiro "On Rudyard Kipling's Loss of Ayah". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available http://psyartjournal.com/article/show/de_chumaceiro-on_rudyard_kiplings_loss_of_ayah. June 18, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: February 4, 2003, Published: April 10, 2003. Copyright © 2003 Cora L. Díaz de Chumaceiro