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So we settled it all when the storm was done As comf'y as comf'y could be; And I was to wait in the barn, my dears, Because I was only three; And Teddy would run to the rainbow's foot, Because he was five and a man; And that's how it all began, my dears, And that's how it all began. - Big Barn Stories.
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In 1889 the 23-year old Rudyard settled in London after seven intensely active years as a very young journalist in British India. Before he was 25, verses and stories originally published in India such as the short story "Baa Baa, Black Sheep" had been re-issued to acclaim in England and America. And fresh materials poured out, notably 1891's THE LIGHT THAT FAILED. Kipling dashed off that hugely autobiographical novel off within a three-month publisher's deadline. It drew heavily on his first and just then ending romance with painter Florence Garrard which had begun when both were teenagers. Florence became the model for aspiring painter Maisie in THE LIGHT THAT FAILED, as was also Kipling's beloved sister Trix, drawn on for Maisie when very young. *** Hero of THE LIGHT THAT FAILED is Dick Heldar, talented, rising but more than a little cynical London artist and onetime companion in Africa of famed war correspondent Gilbert Belling Torpenow. During the 1885 Sudan campaign to relieve besieged General Charles Gordon in Khartoum, Dick and Torpenow defended themselves together during a battle when Dick received a blow to the head. Within a few years that fateful saber cut made Dick blind, just after completing his greatest painting, "Melancholia." Without now blind Dick's noticing, but just after it had been admired by a stunned Torpenow, that great painting was destroyed by Heldar's vengeful, low-class scheming young model Bessie Broke. Bessie had made a romantic play for Torpenow, which Dick had put an end to. *** THE LIGHT THAT FAILED is about art and what makes it good or bad. It was written during the heyday of Oscar Wilde and Wilde's view that life follows art. Kipling is of the opposite view. Not for Kipling, Torpenow or Dick Heldar is there appeal in the effete artistic dandies of London salons who would rather talk about art than paint. Torpenow and other war correspondents write of and Dick at his best paints with honesty he-men soldiers of the Queen dying and doing and suffering unspeakable things in foreign wars. *** Dick loves Maisie with growing passion, which she never reciprocates, thanks to the baleful influence of her roommate, "the red-headed woman." In the end forever blind Dick returns privately, unponsored and uninvited to a later war in Sudan only, after adventures, to be shot from his saddle about to descent from a camel and die at the front in Torpenow's arms. *** Critics marvel that THE LIGHT THAT FAILED has never once been out of print, despite its being, in their view, of the third among perhaps five ranks in Kipling's voluminous writings. The novel has been twice transformed into a feature film, most recently in 1939 starring Ronald Colman as Dick Heldar. The book has staying power, even today being studied in university courses in feminism where Kipling's explorations of inter-sex and intra-sex personal relations come to the fore. -OOO-
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