A web page on the collaborative activity of writers in the late Victorian period which focuses upon the homosocial nature of their collaborations has necessarily to take into account issues about what it is that forms the nature of masculinities nowadays, about the representation and social construction of manliness in the broadest sense, and about the need of the present day critic to imagine and shape new definitions of homoerotic expression, to produce an identity for masculinity despite the historical trappings of patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia.  The male collaborative partnerships which these writers formed in the1880s and 90s were actually breaking new ground in their definition of masculinities against the backcloth of a harsh, classical paternalism and patriarchy.  There was little attempt in the late Victorian period to consider the views of men who wished to display a more tender and passionate attitude to their fellow artists, and indeed the "tendencies"[1]  were discouraged and, because of the stereotyped rôles men were expected to perform, they were not generally permitted to express themselves openly.  There are, however, a few examples in the texts where men were able to throw their arms around each other and express their joy, fears or sorrow.  Masculinity in the period in which I am writing - the turn of the millenneum - is no longer regarded as normal, natural, universal and as "given" and I argue masculinity as an effect, and, indeed, a contradictory one.  As I am writing at a time when the rôle of masculinities has changed, I am forced to a reading of many of the male images in literary texts from this post-modernist standpoint.  For example, one of these areas is the impact of second - wave feminism on reforming entrenched aspects of masculinity.

Henry James brings to the fore a number of concerns in the story with which I commenced this web page not only about the "impure" nature of collaboration but about whether collaboration between nationals whose country was at war would ever be possible.  The question which begins this web page still remains partly unanswered in that the reasons for the Victorians' sense of disapprobation and dislike of collaborating in what purported to be a modern period are not completely evident.  The sense of a domesticated family life where fathers began to take on far more of the rôles of parenting than before has been well charted,[2]  but why men chose, in an increasingly domesticated age, to react against these restrictions and work together, alone, is not altogether clear.  But what is evident is that, once writers turned to collaboration not just for commercial reasons, they took part in it with great alacrity and with panache; indeed, collaboration as a theme in the textual material is most common amongst writers working singly, also perhaps indicating that there was a late Victorian interest in male collaboration and homosocial desire in what was certainly a restrictive and hypocritical environment. 

There can be little doubt that, due to the increasing repression and domesticity of the 1880s and 1890s,[3]  and in a Victorian age of changing perceptions of gender rôles, men took part in collaboration and male bonding to produce masculine adventure stories in the rewritten form of the romance genre.  That they did so stemmed from the suppressions and hypocrisy of the period which caused them to feel a need for robust, manful literature.  Lang, it is fair to say, perceived the domestic as an unnatural rôle for men, and that which he postulates in the romance, apart from the recording of a cultural dawn,[4]  is the unimprisoning through epic of the imaginations and possibilities of men.

Certain of the writers of the period contributed to a homosocial genre which was a reshaping of an established pattern which was not new but was, rather, an old form, which Kipling and others varied to suit their purposes by a process of re-invention.  They took part collaboratively in a 'heated' form of writing predicated upon notions of romance derived largely from Scott.  In this cultural ideal "King Romance" could be rejuvenated in a form of fiction written by co-authors allowing for a world peopled by courageous men and pliant women.  What is specific about this notion of the co-author is that two men taking part in writing together formed what might be termed an adventure in which they could engage.  It is, of course, writing in which the authors participated rather than, say, discussion, which suggests in itself some kind of special activity.  It is as if both of them were enacting an adventure, and in an ideal sense it was a lofty pursuit.  The activity of writing is an innocent and elevated sort of energy that masks tendencies which the authors possessed but were unable or unwilling to exhibit, due to some taboo or other in their society.  It may well be the lonelinesses and anxieties associated with modernity that led to their writing in pairs of two writers rather than writing alone, as was traditionally the case in literary activity in the period.

The bondings were arguably part of the fragmentation, complexity and introspection associated with modernity.  The collaboration of Haggard with both Lang and Kipling, and that between Stevenson and Henley, and his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, was part of a bonding process based on the passions which were formed between these artists largely perhaps as a result of the repressions and suppressions which characterised the period.  These professional and literary men experienced a crisis of self-doubt of great proportions and their work reflected a desire to escape from the repressive and hypocritical times in which they lived, where masculinities were being forged by artists who were attempting to find new ways of expressing their relations between each other and to develop new forms of expressions for masculinities which would take account of the feelings which each held for the other. 

The framework of Haggard's novel was a vehicle for a new kind of adventure story which introduced the material in new and original kinds of ways -- and it is this aspect of the downplaying of fictionality, that it was presented as a "true adventure", that is significant.  Indeed, one of the minor works in the masculine adventure genre is entitled The True Story Book edited by Andrew Lang, to which Haggard submitted his account of the battle with the Zulus.  When the editor of She receives the manuscript of Ludwig Horace Holly's account of how his ward Leo Holly came to be the descendent of the ancient priest Kallikrates, he makes the comment that, "To me the story seems to bear the stamp of truth upon its face."[5] It is then presented as a true account, albeit at second hand, through the framework of the manuscript by Holly.  The frame which Haggard, as so many other Victorian writers, uses for the presentation of the collaboration is based on a conception, devised in consultation with Lang, demanding that incident and action should fill the stories.[6]

Whether collaborative activity is an intensification of patriarchal models or acts as a resistance to them is an issue on which there was some uncertainty.  Are the collaborations on adventure stories an expression of the homosocial imperative or, are they, in their masculine, clubby, empire-making ethos, complicit with the homophobic proscriptions of the imperialist age?  The answer is, I try to argue, in some senses both because collaborative activity was not deliberately organised for the purpose of supporting patriarchy, but in its evolution and ethic can be seen to have been both critical and supportive of it.

In an environment which concentrates on all-male issues, producing a fiction focussing especially on boys and men taking part in adventures, the tales portray a scene of men engaged in epic stories that were designed to result in the reader feeling liberated from the suppressions and constraints which circumscribed the lives of the late Victorians.  The reader took part in, or was perhaps even coerced into, collaboration with the writer in order to throw the light of real time adventure onto the stories.  The reader became a participant as well as a docile collaborator.  The concentrated task of reading which precludes, for long periods, the attention to other matters allows us to see the action of engaging in romance, in the roman as a singular occupation that cannot easily be achieved by one in company with others unless, perhaps, somewhat embarrassingly over his shoulder, so to say. 

There is at least in the desire for boys' literature, and in the intense make-believe of the boys' organisations, arguably, a rejection of the forces of patriarchy and paternalism.  I suggest that it was caused partly by changes in the nature of the mass reading public, and the emergence of new media which are pointed to.  There existed a feeling that romance offered men a refuge from an England that they thought Queen Victoria had feminised.  The overpowering image of matriarchy which Queen Victoria represented, as well as representing many more complex changes such as in increasing civilisation, enfranchisement, and a growing middle class, may have acted as a repressive figure to the artists of the period; it may be even true to say that they were actually de-sexualised by her reign.

The presence of boys, and the absence of women, reflects a desire to reduce the significance of the participation of adults in such adventure stories.  The fact that they centred their emotions on boys, and on empire, is a feature of the homosocial fiction of quest and adventure, in a genre engaged in the rhetoric of chauvinism, paternalism and supremacism containing romantic assertions of chivalry and masculinity.  The 'Boy' ethos of empire is a concern which is particularly stressed, for writers like Stevenson would address another writer, in one such case Henley, in emphatically masculine terms such as "Dear Lad" and "My boy", Stevenson even in one instance referring to Henley as "Dear child, O golden voice, enchanting warbler of the ardent tropic, angel friend",[7]  and on another as "My dear excellent, admired, volcanic angel of a lad..."[8]  At the same time the writers took part in bondings and male pairings producing a fiction that, reflecting the ethos in which it was written, engages, in its turn, I argue, in suppressed homosexuality, and discusses, perhaps as a result of its provenance in collaboration, situations in which male collaboration as an integral part of the textual material is evident, and is, I contend, a fiction which frequently deals with the question of a divided identity.

It is clear that there were fixed images of patriarchy and paternalism resident in the minds of people in the late Victorian period which were being called into question.  Michael Mason has recently pointed out that, from our perspective, there is a body of opinion[9]  which would view with hostility the sexual moralism of the Victorians, because of their suppression of freedom and expression.  Nevertheless, important changes have taken place in attitudes towards sexual freedom with the passing of time since the end of the period in question, no more so than the changes in perceptions about gender rôles and behaviour.  The fact of the matter is that classical images of patriarchy have altered but some look back on the Victorian period with an ironic, and perhaps even wistful, eye.  Indeed, certain politicians have rallied to Victorian values as a reference point for the improvement of what they perceived as the ills in the society of past times.[10]

The romance and quest stories were shocking to Victorian sensibilities because of the overt expressions of sexuality, such as the dimensions of Sheba's breasts, which they contain, and the scenes of symbolic sexual vibrancy of the adventure stories in which the important relationships are between men.  But it was not so much a matter of an awareness of the commercial opportunities for exotic writing. These adventure stories were written, as we have seen, as a direct result of the critical theories of men like Lang[11]  and Stevenson,[12]  and to some extent, Henry James,[13]  who wrote critiques of the romance genre in an attempt to define and promote it.

In my reading of these novels I see Africa in many ways as a locale for sexual penetration where imperial and sexual uncertainties and suppressions are made apparent.  The search for Africa in which the characters take part often becomes a self-reflexive study of what it is to be English,[14]  and Africa proves to be, more often than not, a testing ground for male potency.  The land is frequently portrayed as bearing the characteristics of female sexuality.  In She Leo, Holly and Job enter a womb-like cave and in King Solomon's Mines Quatermain and the others have to travel across and into the twin peaks of a range of mountains formed in the shape of breasts.  The discourse of Buchan, Haggard and others portrays fantasies of the entry into and exploration of a landscape equated with the female body.  The interior of Africa is a heart of darkness where the imperialist's manhood can be explored in the quest for treasure in discourse which sets up an aesthetic / erotics in which homosociality figures as a clearly prominent yet radically denied problematic. 

The similarities with the Haggardian plot are quite close, for in many essentials his fiction consists in a similar Freudian search for the female psychology which Jung, speaking of Freud, termed his "passion for knowledge which was to lay open a dark continent to his gaze".[15]  The dark continent in Haggard is certainly open to the gaze of the imperialist characters and the fear of encountering the horror inside the female body of Africa is not far beneath the surface.  Imperalism and sexuality are both strongly featured in the novel of masculine adventure and quest which explores a dark Africa in the horror of which women are largely included.[16]  The reading which I give for the transformation of She from an angelic, charming and beautiful woman into an ungainly, withered hag in his novel  She,  based upon the work of Jung, Fodor and others is of an author who had a deep-seated resentment towards women after being given up by his first love, Mary Elizabeth Archer, and who portrayed his character as a primordial female Other.

The clubs where these tales of adventure were written in collaboration were a playground where the confident ascendancy of the aristocracy in an all-male environment could hold sway.  In the Savile and the Reform, the Athenæum and the Traveller's as well as White's and the Piccadilly club the writers frequented a place in which they could live out a Victorian fantasy of masculinity, and where they could extol their literary achievements in a patriarchal atmosphere, where women were considered as less important, less able and perhaps even superfluous.

The bondings between writers were formed largely at the gentlemen's club, coffee houses, tea rooms and meeting places in the drawing rooms of the fashionable people of the period.  The study gives an insight into the secret circles provided by membership of an élite group of writers who wrote and travelled together, and then set up a club land at the heart of British patriarchy in which to operate.  We should bear in mind, however, that the writers concerned were part of an aristocracy which had been founded on, and was shored up by, a system of patriarchy and primogeniture, the passing on of wealth to the first born who, of course, under English property law had to be male, that had existed for centuries.  Haggard reminisces about his life in "On Going Back" in  Longman's Magazine,  and he realises that his literary career led in later life to emotions of disappointment and dejection about the experiences which he had accumulated.  He refers to the fact that he felt that when young his experiences had been sharper and more alive than when he was old, concluding:


How keenly one felt in those days, much more keenly than now!  Between then and now stretches a long period of twenty years - years of struggling, active life, of strenuous endeavour, crowned now with failure and now with triumph, of rough adventure, of voyaging by sea and land.  Twenty years of experience also of that inner life of a kind that keeps pace with and even outruns the physical life.[17]

The move beyond seeing collaboraton as thematised and enacted through the novels produced by double authorship to that of reading single-authored books as structured in the same way is a central aspect of the web page.  Collaborative practices in the production of fiction in the period led us to new ways of reading fiction texts by single authors such as Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, Henry James and Joseph Conrad.  In tales such as  "A Study in Scarlet",  "The Hound of the Baskervilles",  "The Time Machine",  "Collaboration", and  "Heart of Darkness"  we are able to see narrative structures which are predicated upon various ways of collaboration in incidents in the textual material, collaboration not only being a reflection of dual authorship but conveyed paradoxically by single authors also.  The setting of a number of these stories provides a clear indication that the authors concerned deal in their writing with collaboration as a theme for relevant and serious development.

The way in which collaboration gave way to single attribution is also an intriguing aspect of the study.  It suggests that there was a degree of emotion about the way in which authorship was guarded.  Publication with single accreditation may have been the result of exactly who presented the manuscript to the publisher, a case of in whose handwriting it was recognised to have been written in, or it may have reflected the business acumen of one of the authors. 

Haggard continues the homosexual problematic throughout the course of the novel, She.  Leo, Holly and Job's relationship throughout the narrative is conditioned by the excitement and tremulousness produced by the proximity of the black African people who, in turn, provide a sexual charge to the three men.  Ludwig Holly explains that Leo, whose mother was Greek, was a man of English appearance, and of some great beauty.  The description which he gives of Leo is charged with repressed sexuality.  At one point, Holly and Leo embrace in a fraught scene replete with danger and excitement, as they escape through the symbolically testicle-like rocks and womb-like caverns in the narrative.  As they descend through the caverns they enter a rosy, glowing cavern that is, "the very womb of the Earth, wherein she doth conceive the Life that ye see brought forth in man and beast."[18]

The association of blackness with eroticism is a constant factor in the novel.  Haggard continues to regard black women as unchallengable by men, and as having special qualities of beauty, strength, patience and beauty, their blackness being a particular cause for erotic interest.  There is an aspect of supressed sexuality in Haggard's featuring of black women as an object of desire for it may have been impossible in the environment in which he was operating for Haggard to express an open interest in his characters in the delights of sexual congress with the African Other as woman.  There is a tension to be seen in Haggard's work, however, between his notion of the black African as being an object of attraction and his repeated contention that the white person is superior.

Any description of literary activity termed romance has to take account of the varied and complex chronicle of events which is imperial fiction.  I have not attempted to define imperial activity in any way because with the dozens of theories abounding for imperialism's inception and growth, it is open to many interpretations.  It is a complex issue and one which has defied many attempts at categorisation.[19]  Clearly, there are competing theories about whether the writers engaged in supremacism or not.

The tradition of the adventure story of romance fiction does continue in these days in the sub genre of science fiction which concerns itself with adventures no longer played out in Greece or Egypt, but operates frequently in an extra-terrestrial setting where the technology is far superior to that of  King Solomon's Mines.  The rôle of science fiction as an extension of the romance tales of adventure has been exemplified by Mark Rose and Brian Aldiss in recent work on the subject.[20]

The ways in which collaborative practices in the fiction of the period provide new ways of reading literary texts by single authors are also given attention.  I sought to underline how single authors use narrative structures which are predicated upon various ways of collaboration in incidents in the textual material.  The intention of this work has been to reveal even more precisely the essence of literary collaboration in a febrile pre-1914 period before our own, a period when a number of male writers engaging in a homosocial fiction produced their work collaboratively little more than a hundred years ago.

In analysing the Victorian and Edwardian texts now at the millennium, I stress the importance of an intensive study of the collaborative fiction of masculine adventure and the romance form to the body of research and scholarship.  Any close study of the bondings and homoerotic textual materials of the period simultaneously functions as a reminder that the theoretical background to an investigation of male collaboration, both in reality and in its fictive treatment, cannot be undertaken apart from questions of gender, class, new collaborative technologies, philosophies such as Social Darwinism, Determinism, Fatalism, and other factors such as psychological and literary concerns about masculinities arising out of modernism, and the male myth of fictional supremacism.


[1]  The title of Eve Sedgwick's work is specifically related to patterns of conduct relating to the changing images of masculinity and femininity in the 1980s and 90s.  Eve Sedgwick, Tendencies (London: Routledge, 1994) 1-281.

[2]  Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall,  "The Nursery of Virtue: Domestic Ideology and the Middle Class", in  Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English middle-class 1780-1850  (London: Hutchinson:1987)  149 - 228.

[3]  Michael Harrison has suggested that "the tedium of home life weighed on all classes" in the Victorian period, in a way that was never allowed to be depicted in a novel.  See Michael Harrison,  London by Gaslight  1861-1911  (London: Peter Davis, 1963)  150.

[4]  Lang wrote concerning the stories in The Blue Fairy Book  that "the children to whom and for whom they are told represent the young age of man."  Andrew Lang,  The Blue Fairy Book  (London: Longmans and Green, 1899)  ix.

[5]  Haggard, She, 6.

[6]  Haggard,  King Solomon’s Mines, 241.

[7]  Letter from Stevenson to Henley, dated [?5 May 1883],  Booth and Mehew,  The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson,  117.

[8]  Letter from Stevenson to Henley, 15 November, 1883,  Booth and Mehew, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson,  Vol 4,  October 1882 - June, 1884.  202.

[9]  Michael Mason has argued that there is also a group of people these days who would not necessarily consider the sexual moralism of the late Victorian period to be abhorrent or reprehensible.  Michael Mason,  The Making of Victorian Sexuality  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)  3.

[10]  Raphael Samuel, "Mrs Thatcher's Return to Victorian Values" in T. C. Smout, ed.  Victorian Values, A Joint Symposium of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Academy  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)  1-45.

[11]  Lang, "Realism and Romance", 52: 684.

[12]  Stevenson,  "A Gossip on Romance" 140;  "A Humble Remonstrance", The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson  33.

[13]  James,  "The Art of Fiction",  502-21.

[14]  Brian Doyle, English and Englishness  (London: Routledge, 1989).  27, 40.

[15]  C. G. Jung,  " In Memory of Sigmund Freud"  from  Collected Works of C. G. Jung Vol XIII.  (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966)  48.
[16]  Rebecca Stott deals with feminist analysis of imperialist texts, and particularly with Haggard.  Showing the interconnections of masculinity and imperialism, she suggests that "the horror at the centre of the text is closely associated with women."  Rebecca Stott,  "The Dark Continent: Africa as Female Body in Haggard's Adventure Fiction."  Feminist Review.  32. 1989. Summer.  69-89.  Within feminist analysis of colonial literature, psychoanalysis appears to be an important influence.  Rosemary Hennesy and Rajeswari Mohan have looked at ways in which 'woman' figures in imperial fiction and how materialist feminist criticism is not capable of analyzing that figuring.  They argue that materialist feminism uses race and sexuality as "the legitimising cliché of leftist discourse".  They do not call for a rediscovery of hidden texts but for a critique of "the cultural currency of the past in the present."  Rosemary Hennesy and Rajeswari Mohan, "The Construction of Woman in Three Popular Texts of Empire: Towards a Critique of Materialist Feminism"  Textual Practice  3. 3. Winter 1989.  323 -59. 
[17]  Rider Haggard, "On Going Back", Longman's Magazine,  XL  November, 1887 - April, 1888.  65-66.
[18]  Haggard,  She,  299.
[19]  Perhaps one of the clearest statements of the imperial theme in a literary setting has been made by Patrick Brantlinger in  Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism  1830-1914  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988).
[20]  See Mark Rose,  Alien Encounters,  Anatomy of Science Fiction  (Harvard:  Harvard University Press, 1981).  Brian Aldiss, Billion Year Spree, the History of Science Fiction  (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1973).  Brian Aldiss with David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree, the History of Science Fiction  (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1986)  1-511.