The Light that Failed

Notes on Chapter XII

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 195 Heading] ‘There were three friends…” This poem is collected as a ‘Chapter Heading in Songs from Books (1912), and in the Sussex and Burwash editions. It refers to the bonding of Dick ,Torpenhow and the Nilghai, to Dick’s blindness and his death.

[Page 195 line 9] Mrs Gummidge a character in David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, who remarks memorably, in a line that resonates with Dick’s dilemma: ‘I am a lone lorn creetur, and evrythink goes contrairy with me.’

[Page 196 line 5] our work in the Southern Soudan This refers to the continuing conflict involving the Nile expedition. The Sudan conflict was not resolved until 1898, seven years after this novel was published.

[Page 196 line 21] gastados Spanish gastado, worn out, outworn, useless.

[Page 196 line 23] pull out of your slide the slide here is the sliding seat of an outrigger on a rowing or sculling craft. Keneu is saying that Torpenhow can’t make unnecessary sacrifices, or put himself out excessively, even for Dick. (later editions have ‘stride’; the sense is essentially the same)

[Page 197 line 28] three-cornered ministrations as nurse, valet or waiter.

[Page 198 line 26] Vitry-sur-Marne the River Marne runs to the east of Paris. There is no town or village of that name today, although Vitry-le-François, which for a time in the early 19th century was called Vitry-sur-Marne, lies on the Marne about a hundred miles east of Paris in the direction of Strasbourg, in an area where there was fighting in the Franco-German War of 1870-71. Torpenhow was going to visit Maisie at Kami’s studio there. (see page 58 line 2.)

[Page 198 line 27] Bézières-Landes railway … Tourgas Probably fictional names. Neither Béziers nor Landes is anywhere near the Marne.

[Page 198 line 28] the Prussians shelled it This refers to the Franco-German (or ‘Franco-Prussian’) War, in which the French were humiliatingly defeated.

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[Page 199 line 20] specials special war correspondents.

[Page 199 line 21] Providence helps those that help others an adaptation of the maxim of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) the American statesman and philosopher: ‘God helps them that help themselves.’

[Page 200 line 1] Mahdieh woman There is a coastal town called Mahdia in Tunisia, SE of Sousse, a well-known area for date palms. However, the fourth line of the song “The Life of the Nilghai” (Chapter VII page 135 line 4) seems to support the definition of the word as an alternative to ‘Mahdist’, ‘related or connected to the Mahdi and his cause’.

[Page 203 line 26] Royal Argalshire Sutherlanders almost certainly intended to sound like a foreigner’s garbled version of ‘Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders’, a notable Highland regiment.

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[Page 204 line 2] fellaheen also fellahin, plural of fellah, Arabic for ‘tiller of the soil’; also used to mean ‘peasantry’ in Egypt. The fellah traditionally hated military service, hence the allusion here.

[Page 204 lines 2-3] railway to Plumstead Marshes These marshes border on the Thames in south-east London. This may refer to some works belonging to the Royal Engineers’ railway section, which had associations with Woolwich, close to Plumstead Marshes, both at the Royal Military Academy and the Royal Arsenal.

[Page 204 line 4] the Suakin-Berber line after Gordon’s death and the withdrawal of the relieving forces in 1885, General Wolseley accepted the proposal of the Egyptian Government to make a railway from Suakin to Berber, as a supply line.

[Page 204 line 5] Canadian voyageurs the navigators of the Nile Expedition’s whale-boats.

[Page 204 line 6] Krooman of the krumen or kroomen, a people from the coast of Liberia. They were excellent seamen, who crewed for ships of the Royal Navy on the Africa Station, and other European vessels.

[Page 204 line 14] guinea-worm a hair-like worm which penetrates legs and feet; common on the Guinea Coast in West Africa.

[Page 205 line 5] scrimmage A hand-to-hand military skirmish. This expression makes combat to the death sound rather like a Rugby scrum. Kipling also used it in one of his Barrack-Room Ballads “Arithmetic on the Frontier”:

A scrimmage in a Border Station-
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail…


©Geoffrey Annis 2006 All rights reserved