The Light
that Failed



Chapter III

Notes on
the text


by Geoffrey Annis

These notes are based on those prepared for Vol. V of the ORG, published in 1970. They have been augmented and edited by Geoffrey Annis in 2006. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of The Light that Failed, first published in 1899 and frequently reprinted since.



[Nov 27 2006]

[Page 30, Heading] a five-line verse from ‘A Dutch Picture’ by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) whom Kipling much admired , and who is best-known for the poem "Hiawatha". The epigraph, with its rollicking adventurous tone, is in keeping with the male camaraderie of Dick’s vagrant journeying years, especially in the East. It foreshadows Ch VIII, after Maisie’s rejection of Dick, when he longed to 'go away and taste the old, hot, unregenerate life again ... to take ship and know the sea once more'. (page 140 lines 4-6).

[Page 31, line 2] all the vices ... Port Said Since its opening in 1869, Port Said, at the north end of the Suez Canal, had acquired a reputation as a den of iniquity and vice, which both repelled and fascinated the late 19th Century imagination. (See the Introduction for the significance of this in the novel).

[Page 31, line 5] Bitter Lakes Lake Timsah (or Timseh), and the Great and Little Bitter Lakes, occupy part of the ancient beds of the Red Sea. Their saltwater content gives them a beautiful blue colour.

[Page 31, line 12] Shepheard’s Hotel a Cairo hotel famous as a meeting place for the English-speaking Middle East and visitors to Egypt. It was burnt down by a mob in the 1952 uprising against the Monarchy.

[Page 31, line 13] contract troop-ships In Kipling’s day, troops were transported by the Admiralty-run Sea Transport Service, augmented by chartered merchant ships or hired transports. By the turn of the Century, the Admiralty was solely responsible for arranging all sea transport for Government service, and chartered passenger vessels to carry troops to and from South Africa, India, Egypt and other overseas garrisons.

[Page 32, line 7] Zanzibar dance Zanzibar was also synonymous in the late Victorian imagination with exotic Oriental wickedness (see Main Essay and Note above) It is the capital of the island of the same name off the coast of Tanzania, and was the headquarters of the Arab-dominated slave trade. An Arab proverb says: 'when you play on the flute at Zanzibar, all Africa, as far as the Lakes, dances...'

[Page 35, line 28 and following] 'It is not easy for a man of catholic tastes...' this whole passage and the rest of page 36 are clearly autobiographical, and closely resemble Chapter IV pages 80-81 of Something of Myself. Kipling says that on his return to London his Villiers Street rooms were 'above an establishment of Harris, the Sausage King, who for tuppence, gave as much sausage and mash as would last from breakfast to dinner.' (page 80 lines 17-20).

[Page 37, line 16] accursed horse-flesh. At the time horse-meat was not part of the diet of working people in Britain, as it was in continental Europe. Better quality sausages would be pork, the poor would be beef.

[Page 39, line 4 and following] 'This place is a big box-room really, but it will do for you.' Torpenhow’s description,and the next paragraph, also almost certainly refer to Villiers Street at Charing Cross, where Kipling had rooms.

[Page 39, line 21] Ishmael an 'Ishmael' is an outcast; one at war with society. (see Genesis 16,12) It us an appropriate term, perhaps, for Dick, who was a tragic outsider-figure.

[Page 39, line 26] Young Men’s Christian Association The 'YMCA', a social and religious organisation founded by George Williams in 1844.

[Page 40, line 28] In the absence of any specified agreement
This refers to the lack of fair and coherent copyright laws at the time, which the Head of the Syndicate is exploiting here.

Dick’s outburst reflects Kipling’s own strong feeling at this injustice to fellow authors. The Copyright Act of 1911 eventually banned unauthorised reproduction of an author’s work.

Literary copyright had hitherto been protected in England by the 1842 Act, but there was no such protection for artists and photographers, who had to wait for the Fine Arts Copyright Act of 1862, which provided protection for life and 7 years after, though not if, in selling the original, the artist had failed to obtain a written reservation of copyright from the purchaser.

The Syndicate representative appears to have the law on his side, therefore, since Dick sold his work without reservation. One might assume, however, that a Court of Law would judge in favour of Dick, citing Common Law, the artist's moral right to possession, and the confused circumstances of the original transaction. (See the Introduction for the wider significance of this episode)

[Page 42, line 27] Esneh or Esna, a town in Upper Egypt on the west bank of the Nile. It is now a frequent stopping-point for Nile cruises.

[Page 43, line 23] Imshi (Arabic) ... Vootsak (Afrikaans); both mean 'Go away!'

[Page 44, line 12] wild saraband a slow, stately 16th Century Spanish dance, named from Zarabanda, a celebrated Sevillian dancer. ['Wild' is, I believe, an allusion to Dick's recollection of the furious dance of the naked Zanzibar girls. (see page 33); Ed.]

[Page 44, line 26] ‘we will spoil the Egyptians’ 'spoil' here is used in the sense of ‘despoil' or 'plunder'. The quotation is from Exodus 12,36, after the smiting of the Egyptian first-born, when Pharaoh was desperate to see the back of the Israelites.


[G.A.]

©Geoffrey Annis 2006 All rights reserved