The Light that Failed

Notes on Chapter XI

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 180 Heading] this eight-line poem is collected as a ‘Chapter Heading’ in Definitive Verse, in Songs from Books and elsewhere. In the novel Kipling attributes it to The Only Son; it should not be confused with the poem of that title which heads “In the Rukh in Many Inventions (1893).

[Page 180 line 17] screwed drunk.

[Page 181 line 4] D.T. Delirium Tremens, a hallucinatory condition resulting from chronic alcoholism.

[Page 182 line 20] “God help the man who’s chained to our Davie” The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives this account of the heroism of Sir David Baird, (1757-1829), fighting in India:

In July 1780 Haidar Ali, ruler of Mysore, attacked Madras and the Nawab of Arcot, a British ally. Baird accompanied the force sent to the relief of Arcot when, on 10 September 1780 at Perambaukum, they were surrounded and destroyed by Haidar and his son Tipu Sultan. Baird’s corps ‘fought with such determination and heroism, that many of them were seen loading their muskets after their legs had been shot away; almost all disdained to accept quarter’ (Hildyard, 17). With sabre wounds to the head, a pike wound in the arm, and a ball in the thigh, Baird fell senseless to the ground. Nearly left for dead his pillaged body was found by two comrades; the trio were soon among Haidar’s prisoners. Referring to her son’s active disposition, a variously quoted apocryphal story credits Baird’s mother, upon learning of her son’s capture, with the statement: ‘God help the puir man that’s chained to my Davy’. (‘Investigator’, 5).

[Page 183 lines 18-19] “Alone I did it—and it’s the best I can do.” This echoes Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” Act V sc II, and Coriolanus’s defiance to Aufidius: ‘Alone I did it – boy!’ The phrase is also used in Ch. VIII of Thackeray’s burlesque adventure novel The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahogan (1838): “..alone I did it … and as alone I routed the foe; alone I will victual the fortress.’ It emphasises Dick’s growing heroic status; and his isolation.

[Page 184 line 2] A French trick another example of Kipling’s inside knowledge, acquired from his artistic relations, and from his own father, an artist and illustrator of distinction.

[Page 184 line 4] foreshortening an artistic term describing the perspective effect created when parallel lines appear to converge as they recede; the length of any object receding from the observer appears to be less in relation to other objects not receding.

page 2

[Page 184 line 13] by the Lord Harry a mild oath referring to the devil: ‘By the Lord Harry, he says true’. (“The Old Bachelor” Act II scene 1, by William Congreve (1670-1729).

[Page 185 line 3] check an earlier spelling of ‘cheque’.

[Page 185 line 14] Bilked cheated.

[Page 185 line 20] privateer a privately-owned vessel commissioned to wage war on an enemy’s trade, authorised officially by what were known as ‘Letters of Marque’. [This was the title of the first section of Volume 1 of From Sea to Sea , based on articles written for the Pioneer and Civil and Military Gazette between 1887-9, when Kipling was commissioned by those journals to write for them during his travels.]

[Page 185 line 21] south-the-Water On the south bank of the Thames where there are now theatres, galleries, and concert halls.

[Page 187 line 13] no light in those eyes it is in this and subsequent chapters that the imagery of light and dark, as symbolised in the title, now predominate. Anatomically, there is no reason why the candle should not reflect on the eyeball’s surface. This Editor sees this as a deliberate ‘effect’ by Kipling to emphasise Dick’s physical and emotional darkness; he is, as it were, dead inside.

[Page 188 line 15] Bite on the bullet refers to pre-anaesthetic surgery when a soldier patient would bite on a bullet to help him endure the pain of the knife. Used nowadays metaphorically to encourage someone to tackle a difficult or dangerous situation without flinching.

page 3

[Page 189 line 1] kiss a wounded comrade A reference to the death of Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1815, when he asked Hardy, the Captain of HMS Victory to kiss him as he lay close to death.

[Page 189 line 7] Sufficient unto the day… ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ (Matthew 6,34).

[Page 189 lines 6-7] “It’s a pity … George” George Manville Fenn (1831-1909 was a prolific writer of adventure stories and serials for boys. Mas’ George also first came out in 1890; a derring-do adventure tale set in 17th century Georgia about two boyhood friends. This may well be a reference to that book, by a writer Kipling would probably have been familiar with.

It is likely that “I also believe … it must be eaten” comes from a story “The Last Supper” from When the King came by George Hodges (1815-96); a notable American clergyman whose Bible stories for younger readers became so successful they were eventually collected in book form in 1904. The phrase: ‘for the lamb must be the first to be offered in the temple, and the supper must be eaten’ also comes from this source. Notions of betrayal and sacrifice are clearly going through Dick’s mind in these passages. There is also a bitterly ironic reference to Maisie again in: ‘the queen can do no wrong’. (See the numerous other references in the novel to this principle)

[Page 189 line 19] ophthalmia inflammation of the eye.

[Page 189 line 21] cataract This is a pun. Cataracts are cloudy spots obscuring the lens of the eye. They are also waterfalls across a rocky river bed, as in the Nile Cataracts.

page 4


©Geoffrey Annis 2006 All rights reserved