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27 Three Motifs in Haggard's She By John G. Moss (University of New Brunswick) H. Rider Haggard, like many another man, was terrorized by mortality but, unlike most, he had the imagination and the ability to confront his terror and make something out of it. A strangely compelling and enduring product of this confrontation is She, one of the most popular tales ever written. She is a living enigma in which the dichotomous motifs of life and death, the bestial and the divine, love and evil are the skeleton enclosed within the titillating surface of its story. Its mysteries are the heart a its mysticism, the soul. The mythologies and philosophies it so freely adapts are its eclectic mind. Almost twenty years elapsed between the writing of She and the first of three sequels, in which Haggard tried to discover the nature of his own creation. None of them is very satisfactory. The heroine of Ayesha is merely a woman with a past, a myth made mundane by over-exposure. She and Allan brings together three of Haggard's most attractive characters, Ayesha, Allan Quatermain, and Umslopogaas, in a contrived and fatuous quest for the ineffable. In this tale, the mysticism of She degenerates into magic which, having no explanation, even within context, inspires incredulity but never wonder. In Wisdom's Daughter, the personality of Shewho -must-be-obeyed is made subservient to Haggard's rather ponderous metaphysics. The spokesman role reduces Ayesha to Haggard's size, a stature she had previously transcended with ease. Each of the three is a creative interpretation of the original She; the first explores the motif of identity ¡ the second, the secrets of mortality and deaths and the third, written almost forty years after She and praised to Haggard by Kipling for meaning "more than the rest of your work,"l the motif of misanthropic love. None of them is more than a pale reflection of some aspect of the original, leaving it as much an enigma as ever. Haggard claimed in a letter to Kipling to have written She in six weeks, "beginning. . . with no idea in my head save that of a woman who had discovered the trick of long life.·"2 It is not entirely to be believed that the story is the psycho-mystical effusion of his sub-conscious, as he here and elsewhere implies. The suspense raised by the foreshadowing of events - Job's ghastly premonition, for example, and, for that matter, the seminal inscriptions on the sherd of Amenartas - makes clear the preconceptions according to which he worked. However, his claims do suggest the absence of consciously determined levels of meaning, other than the literal. This is not to say that they do not exist, for they obviously do. It means that they are represented by symbols , motifs, and archetypes rather than being contained in metaphor and allegory. The weakness of conventional interpretive approaches to She is readily apparent. Usually they reflect the special interests of the critic and do nothing to explain the enigma to which they are 28 applied. In Rider Haggard, His Life and Work, which is the only comprehensive study of the author available, Morton Cohen provides a number of appropriate examples. He notes that Carl Jung, in The Interpretation of the Personality, envisions Ayesha as "the projection of Haggard's unconscious idea of the ideal love, an image that, varying only in minor details, all men possess, having inherited it as part of their'collective unconscious,' or race memory."3 He quotes Nandor Fodor's Freudian reading of She as "•a beautiful allegory of the penalty attendant on our yearning to return into the womb.'"^ In a footnote, he describes its interpretation , shortly after it was published, as a Christian allegory in which Ayesha is the Church, Holly is Science, Leo is Conscience , and Kôr is the modern world.5 Other allegorical interpretations prove equally unsatisfactory. Mario Praz asserts that certain of She1s characteristics allow it to fit comfortably into a literary tradition. His argument is based on Ayesha's role as the romantic femme fatale - an argument , which curiously underplays the dynamics of her contextual presence.6 Unlike Praz, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 27-34
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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