Kipling’s Sister

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Today, LitCors looks at yet another neglected female writer with local connections.

Rosie ?Bell left a pleasant comment on my last post about Nan Shepherd, letting me know about Alice “Trix” Fleming (1868 – 1948), who lived at 6, West Coates for a number of years. Trix was the sister of Rudyard Kipling, and like him spent some of her life in colonial India. The two of them appear to have collaborated on some early work, so it is fair to assume some level of mutual influence. Trix also had a number of her own pieces published in both India and the UK. The Kiplings seem to have been a very talented family – both Trix’s mother and her father were also notable in their own right.

The Scottish Connection

Alice Beatrice MacDonald Kipling was named after her mother Alice Kipling, née MacDonald. Like her children, Alice Sr. was a keen poet. She also had a Scottish family background, which was perhaps influential in bringing Trix to Edinburgh. At 21, Trix married Colonel John Fleming – I suspect from his surname he may have had a Scottish background too, but I would have to look this up.

Trix and her husband tried to move to Edinburgh in 1910, but the visit was brief. Her mother had died back in India, and her father died three months later. The stress brought on by the bereavement appears to have affected Trix quite severely.

She came back to Edinburgh in 1932, and lived here for the rest of her life. She was visited Edinburgh Zoo regularly, and spoke to the elephants there in Hindustani (the Indian lingua franca, before it divided into Hindi and Urdu). Rather like Arthur Conan Doyle, Trix took an interest in psychic phenomena and was said to have the second sight. Back in those days, this was a far more mainstream viewpoint.

Novelist

As well as being a poet, Trix also produced several novels and short stories. These include:

  • The Heart of a Maid (1890)
  • A Pinchbeck Goddess (1897)
  • Her Brother’s Keeper (1901)

Trix in fiction

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Mary Hamer has written a novel about Trix and you can read a piece she wrote about the novel here.

Apparently some of the later scenes take place in Edinburgh including the zoo.

Further Reading

I’ve only skimmed over a few pages on the internet to write this post, but there appear to be at least two major works which discuss Trix’s life and work a bit more fully.

One of them is Trix: Kipling’s Forgotten Sister, which includes a number of her pieces, plus some biographical notes.

The other is Judith Flanders’ A Circle of Sisters, which also discusses Trix’s mother and her three aunts, the MacDonald Sisters.

Online resources

Acknowledgements

I would of course like to thank Rosie ?Bell for telling me about Trix.

The two book covers above are used in good faith and to promote the works in question.

Into the Mountain

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Nan Shepherd has achieved some posthumous celebrity in Scotland in the last few years thanks to her appearance on a five pound note. Into the Mountain probably exists partly because of this new found fame and indeed bears the self-same striking image on the cover. Whatever the reason, Charlotte Peacock’s new biography is welcome, and gives a detailed account of her life and writings.

I am not very familiar with her fiction or poetry to be honest and am not even aware if it is currently in print. Like many people I mainly know her for the Living Mountain, a beautiful work which ranks alongside John Muir’s as a classic of Scottish nature writing.

Shepherd, like Helen Cruickshank was a product of the north east and indeed the two knew each other. Shepherd often visited Cruickshank at her home at Dinnieduff in Corstorphine. Into the Mountain contains copious references to Cruickshank, and thus has a lot of local interest as well.

If I may make one criticism of the book, it is that Peacock often conflates Shepherd’s fiction with autobiography. While it is true that Shepherd left little in the way of memoirs, and there appears to be a flavour of roman à clef about The Quarrie Wood (which I’ve not read) it is dangerous to rely on such works. As a would be fiction writer myself, I occasionally draw on my own life but often change many significant details – someone else would be hard pressed to guess which parts I had changed. I suspect Nan Shepherd did the same.