The Light that Failed

Notes on Chapter XV

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 264 Heading] the verse quoted is the last of a seven-stanza poem discovered with delight by Kipling in his schooldays (as recounted in the story “The Propagation of Knowledge” (Debits and Credits) in a book called Curiosities of Literature by Isaac D’Israeli (the father of Benjamin D’Israeli, the Tory leader and Prime-Minister).

Tom a’ Bedlams were wandering, mad Elizabethan beggars, who often wore fantastical dress, singing and speaking in a rambling, disconnected, often wild manner, and living on the alms of charitable passers-by. The name ‘Bedlam’ is derived from the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem in London, afterwards an asylum for the mentally ill, ‘Bethlehem Royal Hospital’. The name generally signifies chaos or total confusion.

The most celebrated manifestation of the character type is Edgar in Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, the disguised son of the Duke of Gloucester, pretending madness before re-uniting with his father, who doesn’t recognise him. Dick is, in his own way, also an outcast, a wanderer,and wildly intense in his emotional state. Gloucester is blind, and his blindness, as it does for Dick, brings with it the power of endurance in suffering and a degree of self-knowledge.The imagery of the verse with its references to ‘furious fancies’ (line 1) and ‘a horse of air’ (line 3) appears to link with Dick’s almost surreal, dream-like thoughts (on page 286 para 4). Dick is, in a sense, exorcising his own ‘ghosts and shadows’ (line 5) in a childhood reversal and one last adventure.

[Page 264 line 6 (of the poem] tourney tournament, suggestive of Dick’s final battle, as if it were almost a game.

[Page 264 line 11] Once aboard the lugger and the maid is mine originated in Victorian melodrama when the villain abducts his victim by sea. A lugger is a small fishing vessel, once used for smuggling. see also Alastair Wilson’s notes to Chapter IV of“A Fleet in Being” [Page 43, line 4].

[Page 264 line 16] The Lord will provide Genesis 22,7, the story of Abraham and Isaac: ‘And Abraham said: My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering…’.

[Page 265 line 26] No more open water than Trafalgar Square is a common Trafalgar Square is less than 100 metres square, while London’s ‘commons’ may be miles across.

[Page 266 line 8] chops off the Channel “off” is generally accepted as a misprint for ‘of’; this was corrected in editions published after 1951. ‘Chops of the Channel’ can mean choppy seas or, more probably, the mouth of the Channel.

[Page 266 line 9] the Bay the Bay of Biscay, rough waters off the coast of France.

[Page 266 line 12] stanchions upright wooden or metal supports.

[Page 266 line 24] Lascar from the Hindi and Persian words lashkar meaning ‘army’, and lashkari meaning ‘soldier’. In Kipling’s day the term was used more generally to refer to an East Indian servant, sailor or artillery trooper. See also David Page’s notes on “The Red Lamp” (Abaft the Funnel) [Page 31, line 17].

[Page 267 line 11] Lingua Franca Strictly a dialect of Italian mixed with French, Greek, Arabic etc spoken on Mediterranean coasts. More generally it can mean any mixture of different languages.
Levant refers to the Eastern Mediterranean and its shores.

[Page 267 line 22] Schiedam Schnapps, or Hollands gin.

[Page 267 line 28] They remember me here after a year the troops were withdrawn in May 1885 after the failure of the Gordon Relief Expedition. Dick stayed in Egypt for some months before being recalled by Torpenhow’s cable (see Chapter III). He probably arived in England during early 1886 and left again for Egypt early in 1887, or later

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[Page 268 line 29] when the war was here – ten years ago this was spoken in Port Said and doesn’t refer to the Sudan campaigns, but probably to the rising under Arabi Pasha (see Chapter II page 18 lines 26-7).

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page 4

[Page 278 line 32] Sappers the Royal Engineers

[Page 279 line 4] machine gun … five noses probably a Gatling Gun with five to ten rotating barrels

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[Page 281 line 9] irrational being … signed her name by inference, the red-headed girl.

[Page 282 line 13] A Mulaid most likely a Tebu, a Sudan camel bred in southern Libya.

[Page 282 line 15] A Bisharin A breed of baggage camel.

[Page 284 line 5] quirt a riding whip with a short handle and a braided leather lash’ from Spanish cuarta, whip

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[Page 284 line 14] dromedary the Arabian camel with one hump.

[Page 285 line 16] When Israel of the Lord Beloved From Ivanhoe Chapter 39 by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). The poem, given as a punishment hymn to the child Dick, is rich in light-dark imagery: ‘God is the burning light through the darkness of our suffering.’

[Page 285 line 24] camel-thorn Acacia giraffae Not particularly associated with camels, giraffes being partial to all acacias.

[Page 287 line 26] “just before the battle mother” see the Dedication to the novel. Also see the note to page 234 line 7. “A Boy’s Best Friend is his Mother” was a popular song of the day in the Music Halls, the refrain of which goes:

Dearest mother, you may never
Clasp me to your heart again
But you’ll not forget me mother
If I’m numbered with the slain.

Easy to parody though this may be, its effect here is of great poignancy. It is a good example of Kipling’s telling use of the vernacular or popular idiom to give emotional emphasis at crucial moments.

One of the best known instances of this is Larry Tighe’s final paraphrased line from Shalespear’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” as he dies in his arms of the woman he loves, in “Love o’ Women” (Many Inventions): ‘ I’m dyin’ Aigypt – dyin’ ;. A double perspective is created here, as the event is narrated in the thick Irish brogue of Mulvaney, who reminds us sardonically that the story is about ‘a man gone all to pieces bekaze of a woman’ , a description that equally fits The Light That Failed.

[Page 288 line 28] in the forefront of the battle an echo of David’s famous letter to Joab: ‘Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle’ (Samuel II, 5,11-15).

Also note Kipling’s poem “The Story of Uriah”, published in the Civil and Military Gazette in 1886 and collected in the same year in Departmental Ditties. This Editor believes the reference to be carefully chosen in this context. The poem is based on the story of David’s infatuation with Bathsheba, which leads him to send away her husband Uriah the Hittite to death on the front line. The poem is supposedly based on a real-life contemporary scandal; the unfortunate victim Jack Barrett being the Uriah of the poem’s narrative. Like Dick he dies a tragic death in battle, albeit under different circumstances. However, this Editor suggests that Dick’s final Biblical allusion – itself echoed in the Music Hall song above – expresses a profound sense of betrayal by Maisie, just as Jack would have felt had he known the truth of his predicament.

[Page 289 line 6] lee usually the side of a ship sheltered from the sea; but here the side protected from enemy fire.

©Geoffrey Annis 2006 All rights reserved