The Light that Failed

Notes on Chapter V

These notes by Geoffrey Annis are based on those prepared for Vol. V of the ORG, published in 1970. 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.



page 1

[Page 61, Heading] Tyne … Till These are rivers in the Anglo-Scottish Border country. The Tyne runs to the sea near the southern boundary of Northumberland. The Till is a tributary of the Tweed which runs into the sea near the Border itself. The key line is the final one, in which Kipling draws attention to the fact that Dick is in thrall to Maisie, despite his own powers.

Kipling attributes these lines, and those on p. 76 that head Chapter VI, to a ballad called Sir Hoggie and the Fairies; we have not traced this, and conclude that like many quotations in his chapter headings it was coined by Kipling himself.

[Page 61, line 7] too much ego in the cosmos The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations ascribes this to Kipling, but its origins appear uncertain. It was also used by him in 1891 in “Bertram and Bimi” (Life’s Handicap). It means ‘too much vanity or self-interest in my vision or system of ideas’.

[Page 62, line 25] “Bring back the whisky, Willie darlin'” probably an invented song.

[Page 62, line 33] as good as a coloured print another slighting reference to chromolithography (see the note to Ch IV page 54 line 5) suggesting that the lower classes preferred garish reproductions to real works of art.

[Page 63 line 15] ham-frills paper frills used for decorating the shank bone of a boiled or baked ham.

[Page 64, line 24] piccy, also ‘pics’ [Page 70, line 2] and ‘my pics’ [Page 74, line 26] nursery talk that reminds us of their childhood relationship.

Letters, Vol.1, ed. Pinney
(p. 370) a diary letter to Edmonia Hill referring to his activities on 8 December 1889, Kipling records that he went to the Poynters for lunch after going over to inspect Poynter’s new picture (“The Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon”). He writes:

It’s mighty curious to see behind an R.A.’s piccy and note the bits of things it is made up of.

Tom Pinney notes that ‘piccy’ was the slang term used in the circle of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), the pre-Raphaelite painter.

[Page 64, line 28] The grain comes up woolly another example of Kipling’s detailed knowledge of process and making. The fibres of the canvas are scraped loose and appear through the paint.

page 2

[Page 65, line 28] The Salon the French equivalent of the Royal Academy in London. It holds an annual Art Exhibition, and is therefore a prestigious showcase for Maisie’s work. Note here the implied conflict between Maisie as exhibitor at the Salon, and Dick, the seller of commercial wares.

[Page 66, lines 13-23] wild whirling rush of a field battery …E’s all right the artilleryman’s knowledgeable admiration of the authenticity of Dick’s picture, is another example of Kipling’s own eye for detail and his highly developed visual sense.

[Page 66, line 21] the limber two-wheeled vehicle for ammunition hooked to the gun carriage, which is hauled by a team

[Page 66, line 23] the iron one of two steel handling brackets at either end of the footboard of the limber.

[Page 68, line 14] lock stock and barrel this phrase, based on the compnents of a rifle, denotes the whole of anything.


[Page 70, line 13] the queen can do no wrong Dick has appropriated Blackstone’s Commentary: ‘That the King can do no wrong is a necessary and fundamental principle of the English consitution’.
The phrase appears several times in the novel, emphasising Maisie’s queenly status in relation to Dick:

  • ‘the queen can do no wrong’ (Ch VI page 76 line 5)
  • ‘his queen who could do no wrong’ (Ch IX page 148 lines 9-10)
  • ‘The queen can do no wrong’ (Ch XI page 189 line 11)
  • ‘The queen could do no wrong’ (Ch XIII page 23 line 21)

And the heading of Chapter VI from “Sir Hoggie and the Fairies” concludes:

  • ‘And he is bound by hand and foot
    To the Queen of Faeryland’.

Angus Wilson (pp. 154-5) observes that Kipling’s passion for Flo Garrard is conceived in the terms of medieval courtly love and Arthurian idyll. This is certainly reinforced by the text in these instances. Wilson also believes that the early and profound influence of Burne-Jones and the pre-Raphaelite painters is detectable here. The notion of unattainability, or of the female object of courtly devotion being set on a pedestal, seems both artistically and emotionally convincing and appropriate in the context of the novel.

[Page 70, line 26] impressionist implies that Maisie is not a lover of ‘Impressionism’. Impressionist paintings by the French painter Monet (1840-1926) and his successors are greatly valued today. but were not so well thought of in the 1890s. (The term was originally coined disparagingly by a journalist in a criticism of Monet’s Impression, Sunrise)

[Page 71, line 11] when the red-haired girl is on the premises refers to the necessity, at the time, for a chaperon when a man visited an unmarried and respectable young woman

[Page 71, line 12] Who’s the man that says we are all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding Bonamy Dobrée suggests Thackeray’s Pendennis Ch XVI as a source:

‘You and I are but a pair of infinite isolations with some fellow islands more or less near to us’.

Matthew Arnold’s poem “Switzerland -To Marguerite – Continued” includes:

‘We mortal millions live alone
The islands feel the enclasping flow
And then their endless bounds they know.

Kipling would also have known John Donne’s lines in his MeditationXVII:

…No man is an island, entire of itself…

The sea imagery, common to all these quotations, is strikingly in keeping with the sea as image, symbol and background in the novel.

page 4

[Page 74, line 24] blue Hungarias probably Hungarian bandsmen in blue uniforms is intended, referring slightingly here to the presence of continental bands playing in restaurants and in the streets.

[Page 74, line 26] my pics Note again Dick’s sub-conscious echo of nursery talk. (see the note on page 64 line 24 above)

[Page 74, line 33] denied with cursing and swearing refers to Matthew 26,74, and Mark 14,71, describing Peter’s denial of Christ; the phrase is used ironically here in the context of Torpenhow’s honesty and loyalty.


©Geoffrey Annis 2006 All rights reserved