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Adapting the Conventions of the Historical Romance: Rider Haggard's Eric Brighteyes Harold Orel University of Kansas IT WAS INGENUOUS OF H. RIDER HAGGARD to write in his posthumously -published autobiography, The Days of My Life, that his notorious article, "About Fiction," had been written "very much against [his] own will.": The views expressed in that essay expressed deep-rooted convictions about the attractions of romance, the distasteful and even repellent content of Naturalistic fiction, the low standards of circulatinglibrary three-deckers, and the anarchy inherent in the United States and England's failure to secure international copyrights. Haggard was never to change his mind about any of these issues. But the article was written at a fairly early stage of his literary career. Though he was beginning his fourth decade, he had already accumulated considerable experience in the ways of diplomacy. He had served as secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, the Governor of Natal; as a member of the staff of Sir Theophilus Shepstone, the special commissioner; and as a master and registrar of the High Court of the Transvaal. Called to the bar in 1884 (Lincoln's Inn), he was more aware than most of his fellow practitioners of the ways in which careless rhetoric might lead to deadly consequences. Indeed, for the rest of his life his voluminous writings on agriculture were painstakingly careful in their exposition and in their meticulous attention to the facts of whatever case he was considering at a given moment. "About Fiction," however, wielded a snickersnee so enthusiastically that counter-denunciations were inevitable. Led by W. T. Stead, editor of the PoZi Mall Gazette, an unexpectedly large number of critics, reviewers, and journalists out for a hanging rushed into print with disparaging remarks about Haggard's sensationalism, banalities, bad grammar, and "borrowings" from his betters. The charge of plagiarism 40 ELT 36 :1 1993 was made many times, not only in Stead's periodical but in the Literary World, the Spectator, the Whitehall Review, and the New York Post. Morton Cohen, a judicious and normally sympathetic biographer, has characterized Haggard's article as "intemperate," implying that it should not have been written, and has ascribed to it the primary cause for Haggard's remaining "in bad odor in literary circles all his life." 2 Matters were not much helped by the defense of Haggard's literary ethics and practice mounted by his family, and by J. Stanley Little, Charles Longman, Andrew Lang, and Lord Curzon. Haggard's embitterment at the affair came close to bringing about a nervous breakdown; the mere fact that Stead in later years praised Haggard's literary and public work never wholly compensated for what Haggard believed to have been the vicious "onslaughts" that began in March 1887, and continued with astonishing ferocity for a full eighteen months; and Haggard summarized his newfound knowledge, acquired at much too high a price, in the following language: "It is almost needless for me to say that for a young writer who had suddenly come into some kind of fame to spring a dissertation of this kind upon the literary world over his own name was very little short of madness. Such views must necessarily make him enemies, secret or declared, by the hundred." 3 He added: There are two bits of advice which I will offer to the youthful author of the future. Never preach about your trade, and, above all, never criticize other practitioners of that trade, however profoundly you may disagree with them. Heaven knows there are critics enough without your taking a hand in the business. Do your work as well as you can and leave other people to do theirs, and the public to judge between them. Secondly, unless you are absolutely driven to it, as of course may happen sometimes, never enter into a controversy with a newspaper.·* He followed that advice (given to himself no less than to any "youthful author") so carefully that one may search his voluminous writings from 1887 on without discovering, in any public statement, even a short sentence dealing with literary issues that might subject him to hostile attack. Even his contribution to a symposium on whether the city...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 40-59
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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