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115 RIDER HAGGARD AND THE EMPIRE OF THE IMAGINATION By Wendy R. Katz (Saint Mary's University, Halifax) The remarkable thing about late-Victorian imperialism was its superb ability to meet both the material and spiritual needs of the English, to operate on two fronts, as it were, while managing to avoid arousing a hostile public alert to the paradox of this tactful manoeuvring. That the very same imperial venture could simultaneously minister to England's souls, fill its coffers, and preserve a veneer of consistency throughout is no small achievement. Indeed, a more profitable undertaking would be difficult to imagine. The element of manufacture in this coexistence of greed and glory is acknowledged by, among others, Alan Sandison, who remarks in The Wheel of Empire (I967) that British imperialism "contrived to represent both the materialistPuritan ethic and the reaction against its failure to give a fuller emotional satisfaction."-1- The popular fiction of Empire, and particularly the fiction that falls into the category of myth-making and propaganda, can be seen as part of this attempt to gratify emotional wants, and as such, constitutes a prodigious force in its own right. Rider Haggard (I856-I925), the man of whom Graham Green speaks as "perhaps the greatest of all who enchanted us when we were young,"2 introduced southern Africa to the English with his stories of Allan Quatermain and "She" and created for England an image of strength, superiority and control. He contributed to the propaganda of Empire with a literature of adventure, a literature that masked the corruptive greed of imperialism while preserving its popular emotional appeal . Edward Shanks, in a I927 essay entitled "Rider Haggard and the Novel of Adventure," argues that Haggard's fiction, with its movement , action and colorful contrast with ordinary routing, "helps the victims of modern civilization to find the adventure and variety and unexpectedness which are denied to them in ordinary life."^ Today, I suggest, one must see that the adventures Haggard offered his readers are charged by a disturbing fascination with dominance and power. It is this fascination with dominance and power, and surprisingly enough Haggard's oblique hints at their destructive aspect, that I shall examine here, with particular reference to the Ayesha books. In philosophical terms, Haggard can be classified as an idealist, a man for whom the spiritual or non-material world is primary, all things having a spiritual cause. Haggard was, in fact, a militant idealist, continually engaged in a battle against materialist interpretations of the world. In his fiction, Haggard's idealism appears inthe traditional romance antagonism between spirit and matter, spirit and flesh, religion and science, and mysticism and skepticism. The supremacy of the spirit is proven over and over again. While Haggard's presentation of the eternal disjunction of matter and spirit in its various forms plainly points to nothing as specific as an expansionist ideology, it does suggest something about the nature of power, as it is understood by Haggard, and thus ultimately translates into political and imperial terms. Haggard situates the locus of all ruling power in a spirit of idea - usually called "fate" - and this supreme spiritual mandate requires neither justification nor rationality in its practical execution. Regardless of who wields power, 116 ageless femmes fatales like Ayesha or ordinary Englishmen like Allan Quatermain, Its source is in the unseen spiritual world. Aside from the "divine will" aspect of this emphasis on spirituality, there are other and more subtle implications having to do with the psychology of power, its potential for the nurturing of fear and terror, its capacity for manipulation, and its easily stirred infatuation with tyranny. It would seem logical to assume, if the source of all knowledge as well as all power resides in the spiritual world, that the spirit that moves people to act is endowed with some sort of superior consciousness or will. But the superiority of this spiritual knowledge is no guarantee of its charity to humankind, and its open-endedness allows for a whimsical inconsistency: one cannot define the form or the limits of such a vague spiritual entity, and its formlessness and limitlessness have in themselves the potential for either creativity or vast...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 115-124
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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