The Light that Failed

Notes on Chapter X

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 167 Heading] the eight lines of “The Fight of Heriot’s Ford” were enlarged and slightly altered, and collected in eight four-line verses in Songs from Books and Definitive Verse as “Heriot’s Ford”. Dick’s oncoming blindness and death in the Sudan are foreshadowed here, with blindness evoked in military terms as an enemy. This notion is expanded into nautical imagery on page 168 lines 20-30 when his doctor compares the ailing body to a ship needing repair.

[Page 167 line 3] hirples hirple is a Scottish word meaning to walk or run as if lame.

[Page 168 line 27] oculist an eye doctor.

[Page 169 line 30 & 170 line 1] The next good joy that Mary had a verse from an old carol “The Seven Joys of Mary”, also known as “A Tinker’s Carol” from Ashdown Forest in Sussex.

[Page 170 line 7] gas-microscope an early form of ophthalmoscope which enabled the retina at the back of the eye, to be closely examined. Electric light now replaces gas in modern instruments.

[Page 170 line 14] frontal bone the forehead is formed by the frontal bone, the two halves of which usually unite in a child’s second year.

[Page 170 line 15] optic nerve the nerve system which joins the retina at the back of the eye to the cerebral cortex of the brain.

[Page 171 lines 1-2] injury inflicted by the
A superficial cut to the frontal bone is unlikely to affect the optic nerve, hence the doubt over this possible cause of loss of sight. ‘excessive application’ and exposure to ‘strong desert light’ could indeed be contributory causes.

[Page 173 line 5] where was Moses when the lights went out? a childish riddle,to which the usual answer is “In the dark”. [Nevertheless, Dick’s reactions and emotions in this Chapter invite us to take a more sympathetic view of him.]

[Page 173 line 10] “Were there but world enough and time…”; from the poem ”To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell (1620-1678), a famous poem of seduction. The continuing line: ‘At my back I always hear, Time’s winged chariot hurrying near’, closely echoes “Heriot’s Ford” in the Heading to this chapter. However, Dick, understandably under the circumstances, starts with a misquotation; the poem actually begins “Had we but world…”

[Page 174 line 20] the Melancolia that transcends all wit this is from “The City of Dreadful Night”, Section XXI Verse 6 line 42. “Understand the speech…” is from the prologue to the poem, Verse V lines 3 & 4.

[Page 178 line 31] gasogene gazogene or seltzogene. An early appliance for making aerated water, the forerunner of the modern soda-water syphon.


©Geoffrey Annis 2006 All rights reserved