H. Rider Haggard

Roger Luckhurst

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:
H. Rider Haggard

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Henry Rider Haggard (b. 1856–d. 1925) assisted in the annexation of the Transvaal in South Africa as a young man before going on to write more than fifty novels and a dozen books of nonfictional works on sociology, agriculture, and religion. He conducted a two-year inquiry into the crisis in English farming. He also served on several Royal Commissions and traveled the world to examine conditions for imperial consolidation in the white settler dominions of South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. For this public service, he received a knighthood. After a faltering start in literature, having abandoned colonial service, farming, and the law, his romances King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and She (1887) were literary sensations. Ayesha, the immortal African Queen, seemed struck from the purest elements of the Victorian unconscious, as both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung recognized. Haggard would sell more than two million copies of his rapidly produced fictions during his lifetime. Many books became fodder for early film melodramas. In latter days, he was Rudyard Kipling’s closest literary associate and shared his paradoxical mix of imperial ardor and melancholy about decline. Haggard’s romances were regarded, even by allies and friends, as rather crude and slipshod. He wrote most of them on a schedule of three months and was principled in his refusal to revise drafts, believing that redrafting drained the work of energy. His literary reputation did not survive his dismissive account of the “modern” novel in 1888, at the height of his success. After this, he was routinely attacked by the literary establishment, and his fictions were consigned to a minor place in children’s literature or the embarrassing genre of the imperial romance. Critical commentary in the years after his death was in the form of nostalgic reminiscence about the impact of Haggard’s exotic “lost race” fantasies on boyhood imaginations: Graham Greene ascribed his African adventures directly to reading Haggard as a child. Revival of interest came after Cohen 1960’s biography (cited under Biography) and a recognition of Haggard’s actually rather complicated relation to the imperial project. Since 1980, the critical industry on Haggard has become immense. It has broadly followed the waves of critical movements, with clusters of work from feminist, psychoanalytic, postcolonial, New Historicist, and queer theory approaches. Commentary still tends to narrowly focus on King Solomon’s Mines and She, but the selection in this article also tries to venture beyond these early works.

Article.  6934 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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