(Notes by John Radcliffe)
... beautiful ivory face, the straight slenderness of her figure, and the wonder of her long hair when she brushed it at night,,,Though she seems to have remained indifferent to him, he wrote a number of poems for and about Flo over the next two years [Lycett pp. 74-5], and when he left for India in October 1882 he considered himself engaged to her. He must have continued to write to her from Lahore, until, some time before July 1884, she evidently wrote to break off any understanding they might have had. [Angus Wilson p. 153] It seemed that he could not give her what she wanted. Thus when "Blue Roses" was written he must have had his own personal experience in mind, a rare departure for the young poet, who usually chronicled the lives and loves of his fellow Anglo-Indians as a witty and ironic observer.
[Trix Fleming to Elsie Bambridge, 15 January 1940, quoted by Lycett p. 73.]
What The Light that Failed betrayed was Kipling's attitude towards his final failure to forge a relationship with Flo. The novel worked hard to solicit the reader's sympathies for its protagonist Dick, leaving the selfish, unreasonable and capricious Maisie to regret, too late, the emotional frigidity that spoilt their chance of happiness.It is interesting that she refers to 'Dick' rather than to 'the author'. See also Angus Wilson (pp. 153-7) for a critical account of Kipling's relationship with Flo Garrard and its expression in The Light that Failed.
`Blue Roses', the verse epigraph to chapter 7, encapsulated Kipling's self-approving version of the relationship between Dick and Maisie in suitable Nineties' quatrains.
Thirty-six years later, on the fly-leaf of a 1927 printing of The Light that Failedd, Flo Garrard replied to the novel, and specifically to these verses. Her acerbic, private rejoinder is her only known comment on her relationship with Kipling:
If you happen to read this singular, if somewhat murky little story you are very likely to rather wonder if real people could be quite so stupid and objectionable as this crowd.
Of course its difficult to see oneself as others see you, still m'thinks there's something somewhat distorted about it all; and that the story does not run thoughout its whole length on lines quite parallel with Truth. It looks to me rather like its image reflected in a Distorting Mirror appearing all distorted, and grotesque.
For instance in the case of the `Blue Roses' (I didn't refuse any other colour) but as a matter of fact, Dick, with his obliquity of vision failed to observe, that I wasn't exacting them of him, but he of me. A trifle obvious enough, but somehow overlooked.
In fact the only time I ever seemed to see eye to eye with him was when he said:
It may be beyond the grave
She shall find what she would have.
Oh! t'was but an idle quest—
Roses white and red are best!