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Posted January 10, 2012
When Rudyard Kipling's first novel THE LIGHT THAT FAILED came out in January 1891, it was immediately compared with Oscar Wilde's almost simultaneously published THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. Both novels chased each other around London bookstores for months in revision upon fresh revision until each finally settled into the "definitive" versions we know today. Both novels were about painters and art but with contrasting views. Did life imitate art (Wilde)? Or did art imitate life (Kipling?) Both novels were criticized as avant garde, dark and in Kipling's case violent and hateful. *** THE LIGHT THAT FAILED showcases from boyhood to death on a Sudan battlefield Dick Heldar. As early as Chapter One orphan schoolboy Dick is in love with orphaned co-ward Maisie. Her lawyers pull the two youngsters apart and send Maisie to France to study art. Dick, too, will spend two years studying painting in Paris with a master, then send himself off to the 1885 Sudan expedition that narrowly failed to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum. There his sketches of soldiers take the attention of famed war correspondent Gilbert Belling Torpenhow. Torpenhow or Torp takes Dick under his wing, gets his sketches published by Torp's press syndicate and thus sets Heldar's artistic career in motion. A saber cut on Dick's head will a few years later leave him completely blind. But first Dick tries in vain and almost sadistically to rekindle romance in budding artist Maisie. To stave off growing blindness until his masterpiece Melancholia is completed, Dick drinks himself into stupors. His lower class young model Bessie Broke ruins his masterpiece in revenge for Dick's breaking up Torpenhow's infatuation with the young nobody. *** Critics were shocked by the violence of THE LIGHT THAT FAILED, starting with Bessie's destruction of Dick's Melancholia, going on to Torpenhow's hinted at gouging out the eyes of a Sudanese during a life or death battle, Maisie's spurning of Dick's love even after she discovers his blindness and more. Critics were also shocked by Kipling's depiction of "the new woman," professionals like painter Maisie and her painter roommate, "the red-haired woman." Nor did critics think much of Kipling's attending to the barbaric side of British soldiers defending their lives in combat. All in all, Kipling's first novel was a worthy newcomer to the decadent or poseur ranks of Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm and Audrey Beardsley. -OOO-Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 30, 2009
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