Rider Haggard's 1887 novel She: A History of Adventure continues to fascinate both the general reader as adventure fiction and the scholar for its insights into late-Victorian culture. The nine essays in [End Page 128] this collection approach the novel from a variety of perspectives that shed light on the author and his times.
The editor, Tania Zulli, is Lecturer of English at the University of Roma Tre and has published extensively on nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers including Rider Haggard. Most of the other contributors are professors of English and history, one is a journalist and another is working on his Ph.D. degree. All are able writers in the field of Haggard studies and a review like this can merely highlight the ideas in each essay. Some ideas surface more than once.
In "Who is Ayesha? An Allegory of Isis Unveiled" Gerald Monsman examines the figure of the novel's title character from the point of view of myth. It was in his reading that Haggard encountered the figure of Isis and made Ayesha her materialized double. As summed up in editor Zulli's introduction, Monsman reveals Haggard's European and African perspectives by showing Ayesha as a woman in whom scientific spiritualism and occultism coexist. Monsman traces Haggard's interest in the occult to his mother, Ella Doveton, and describes some of the author's beliefs and experiences with regard to the supernatural. He considers the fact that Haggard used the word "history" and not "romance" to describe She to be significant; by this method the author blurs the line between fact and fancy. Even the documentation behind the fantasy, the potsherd and the translation by Leo's father of the story that leads them to Kor, is a strategic part of the fantasy.
Patrick Brantlinger in "Mummy Love: She and Archaeology" discusses Haggard's interest in Egypt and archaeology and how that interest stimulated his fantasies about women, death and necrophilia and thus supported the imperialistic, racist and conservative ideas in his romances. These ideas are not just found in She, but in King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain, and the short story "Smith and the Pharoahs" as well. In much of his fiction Haggard creates an archaeological object (here it is the potsherd) in order to fabricate a romantic version of antiquity that can be adapted to his daydreams.
In "Rider Haggard and the Ideal City," Norman Etherington shows Kor as Haggard's idea of the way a city should be planned with magnificent sculptures and natural landscapes unlike the way Victorian cities were allowed to flourish without control. By contrast Kor appears to have been built all at once with no historic development in its architecture. It seems that a plague emptied the city of people leaving only perfect buildings behind. Etherington finds it curious that the Amahagger [End Page 129] should choose to live in caves when they have such a marvelous city as Kor as a dwelling place.
Editor Tania Zulli's "Between Body and Soul: She and the Aporia of Science and Religion" examines the way that scientific theories of the day influenced the novel. While Haggard's interest in mysticism informs much of the story and provides answers to many unanswered questions, Ayesha is portrayed as more than a dabbler in chemistry with her own rudimentary laboratory. This was a time when science and literature were not divided into separate camps, but informed each other. The protagonists in the novel, Holly and Ayesha, speculate on the nature of the soul, good and evil, and God and serve as representatives of ideas and individuals in Victorian society.
Andrew Stauffer in "The Lost World of Paper: Rider Haggard's Pulp" contrasts the ephemeral nature of a novel printed on cheap paper produced in the late-Victorian period against solid objects of archaeology within the novel: the potsherd of Amenartas, Vincey's will, and Holly's narrative.
Stephen Coan's "The Most Extraordinary Romance: H. Rider Haggard and the Writing of She" is, as the title suggests, a detailed...