Chapter 3 Egypt

Rider Haggard:  His Extraordinary Life and Colonial Work. A Literary Critical Biography.

Chapter 3

The Online Publication

By Geoffrey Clarke.






In 1887, at the age of thirty, Rider Haggard travelled to Egypt, visiting the tombs of the ancient Egyptians, and marveling at the sarcophaguses on display and the artifacts to be viewed in the Boulak museum.  As his daughter, Lilias recounts:


“Rode to the tombs of the Kings, and saw those of Seti, Rameses III, and Amenhotep II, all lit with electricity. A wonderful and weird place this Valley of the Kings, with its rugged, naked cliffs, shattered by sun and time.”[1]


He saw the burial tombs of the ancient kings and queens of Egypt and inspected the mummies of the Pharaohs.  He travelled far and wide to visit the excavations that were being made in order to transfer the bodies of the dead to the Museum at Cairo where the naked skeletons were mummified.  .Jess was published and She was “fairly launched”,[2]  so Haggard was able to take a holiday and absorb sufficient local information to write his Egyptian romance Cleopatra.

With Jess
published Haggard was able to justify the expenditure because he was ‘fascinated’ with Egypt.[3]  Jess remains a rather spanking tale, showing remarkable similarity in the characterisation of John Niel to the Haggards — the Ostrich farmer taking passage to the Cape, member of the officer class, the allowance from a relative of a thousand pounds, and, of course, the girl, Jess Croft, her beautiful sister, Bessie, and the ‘broken’ engagement, reminding us of Lillith Jackson.[4]

Besides the romantic heroine, another woman appears in the Haggard novel.  She remains in the background during the early part of the work, coming to the fore as a force only towards the end, when the hero has lost the heroine and realises, on the rebound, that he may have to accept a less than perfect match.  She emerges as a young lady who truly loves him, is a good manager and companion and might not be so unsuitable after all.  The hero marries her and the couple live in perpetual contentment thereafter.  It was, indeed, conventional in the Victorian novel for a hero to settle down with an ordinary fair-haired girl from England after having previous amatory adventures in places far away from home. 

In Haggard's The Witch's Head (1885) the most pointed failure of the hero, Ernest Kershaw, to win his first love, Eva Ceswick, is such a feature of the tale.  Ernest's acceptance of a more practical relationship with the woman who manages the keys and accounts at Dun's Ness, called Dorothy Jones, which is a rather uninteresting name after Eva Ceswick, seems to suggest Haggard's own personal life at Ditchingham House.[5]  Though Dorothy is a second choice and though Ernest knows he can never love her in the way he once did Eva, he looks forward to a quiet life of contentment as a gentleman-farmer in the aura of domestication of the period.

Through the diligent research of Sydney Higgins, we have been able to establish that Haggard’s first love was a woman named Mary Elizabeth [‘Lillth’] Archer (nee Jackson).  In his autobiography, Haggard confessed that he had had a first meeting with 'a very beautiful young lady a few years older than myself'. They had met at a dinner dance at Richmond and, at the end of the dinner party, he escorted Elizabeth to her carriage through a grand floral arch that had been specially built for the ball.  And, as they walked through that flowering canopy of roses, the world stood still for Haggard and the flash of thunder that passed across his emotions registered strong, loud and enduringly.  She was to remain his love for the rest of his life, despite marriage, travels, and life crises that kept them apart physically but spiritually rarely or never.

Haggard records that the woman died “thirty-five years later”, which was in 1909.   She had died after contracting syphilis from her stockbroker husband, Francis Bradley Archer, who had been bankrupt, had fled to Africa and died.  Higgins showed that a reference in The Private Diaries of Sir H Rider Haggard refers to a person who had 'looked after poor Mrs Archer'.  Subsequently Haggard helped her with money and arranged the education of her sons, illustrating his generous nature.  In his work The Days of My Life he recounts how he wanted to return from Africa to follow up “urgent private affairs” but due to the circumstances “the lady married someone else, with results that were far from fortunate…”[i]

In Jess the substitution of one beautiful lady for a less attractive, vibrant and exciting woman is only achieved by the plot assassination of the character, Jess.  Although Bessie is physically more beautiful than Jess, Jess remains John’s true love; but as ‘a murderess’[6]  she has to be replaced with another to appease late-Victorian culture.

Two nieces, whose father dies, left with no one to look after them and sent out to South Africa to be cared for by an uncle, arrive at the ostrich farm where the romance takes place. The plot construction is reminiscent of a melodrama a la Rochester in Jane Eyre in which the heroine, making her thunderous appearance out of the dust pursued by an angry cock ostrich, and the hero, mounted on horseback, coming to the rescue of the maiden in distress, has an overpowering and psychologically superior advantage over her which can only lead to … her sister.

Anti-Boer sentiment pervades the plot as John Niel is nearly killed by his rival suitor, an Anglo-Boer named Frank Muller, who Haggard describes as a “half-breed”.[7]  His character is painted as violent, aggressive and stubborn, “Ah, he is a devil of a man that Frank Muller.”[8]  In the story, he would “get” Bessie, even if he had to kill her, and despite her being engaged, at that point, to John.  The Boer characters are referenced as ‘the Unicorn’ or ‘the Vilderbeeste’ underlining their animal nature as ‘Other’[9],  or even sub-human; typical imperial cant.

The events of the Boer war unfold with references to Heidelburg where the Boers proclaimed the Republic; the Triumvirate of Paul Kruger, Pretorium and Joubert; Bronker Spruit where the 94th regiment suffered losses; the possession of Laing’s Nek by the Boers; and a brief mention of the holding of Potchefstroom, Lydenburg, Rustenburg and Wakkerstroom by the English.  [History records that the English were defeated in a number of battles fought around Newcastle; Ingogo, Laing's Nek, and Amajuba.]

The native inhabitants are downgraded as ‘Kafirs’[10]  and as ignorant and ‘stupid’.  In one scene a young girl is described as “that stupid girl and she pointed to a Kafir intombi… really… one needs the patience of an angel to put up with that idiot’s stupidity.”[11]  African and Boer characters are disposable, as the Boer gunmen and Mouti are killed.  The imperial presence is maintained, the Union Jack is raised, and an ascendant ‘Rule Britannia’ echoes throughout the Transvaal.[12]

Racism is rabid and what Madhudaya Sinha referring to Haggard’s work has termed ‘beastly’[13]  with South African people described as ‘monkeys’.  “Where is that black monkey Jantje?  Here, Jantje, take my horse, you ugly Devil, and mind you look after him, or I’ll cut the liver out of you.”[14]  At one point a ‘baboon’ answers them from amongst the rocks.  It is not made clear whether it is a human being or an animal.[15]  The inhabitants of the Cape Colony are pejoratively described as ‘Hottentots’ or 'kaffirs' with the character, Jantje, as a dog in his ‘Hottentot’s kennel’, even though he has given his food to a hungry English girl.[16]  And to increase the racist demonology, “the worst dispositioned donkey in the world is far, far easier to deal with than a sulky Hottentot.”[17]

 The slaughter of animals goes on apace and rivals only Hemingway in its unconscionable delight in decimating African wild life, particularly ivory.[18]  The characters hunt eland, bucks, and does, and can easily top some game in time for breakfast.

 Laziness is a besetting sin for ”it was practically impossible to arouse the slumbering Kafirs … where they were taking their rest— for a native hates the cold of the dawning”.[19]  Haggard’s character’s view of the Zulus is that they are not unintelligent, but they do not work hard, and one of the people was “lounging about in a way characteristic of that intelligent but unindustrious race.”[20]

 Andrew Lang, writing from 1, Marloes Road, confesses that he is not able to read Jess because he found it so “gloomy and painful”, for it was “a bit of history put into tangible and human shape.”  Indeed, Haggard found Lang’s nature to be as “susceptible as a sensitive plant.”[21]  After all, Haggard had dedicated She to Lang and, once the friendship had sprung up, over the years their relationship developed.  Lang had presented a lapis lazuli ring[22]  to Haggard, cementing their friendship and acknowledging their “literary marriage”.  Indeed Haggard and Lang write to each other confirming that they are “most entirely in tune”.

Kipling, now his closest friend, writes to Haggard with massive support for the work enthusing: “What is your secret, old man? [‘old man’ was a term of endearment].  It goes and it grips and it moves with all the freshness of youth…”  He is so taken up with the novel that he stays up late reading, to Carrie Kipling’s annoyance: “I got into a row with my wife because I had to finish it with the electrics turned on.  It’s ripping good and I’m damned jealous.”  But writing in his private diary, Haggard complains that Moon of Israel “was but scantily reviewed.”[i]  Nevertheless, published in 1918 when shortages had resulted from the first world war, it went on to great success and was a means of providing an income for Haggard at one and a half old pence money per copy in royalties from John Murray.  But by 1921 Haggard was receiving an advance of 900 pounds sterling on receipt of the manuscript and GBP 1,000 on publication, a large sum of money remembering that a house could be purchased at that time for a hundred pounds.

 The Egyptian novels include Moon of Israel in which the morphology of Merapi, Moon of Israel is from slave to Queen.  The characterisation of the novel flows from the historical and the imaginary.  With a large cast of Egyptian personages from the all powerful Pharaoh Seti, who is the half brother of Userti, Ana the Scribe and his grandfather, Pentaur the poet, Pambasa, the Royal son of Ra, Amenmeses the son of the older brother of the Pharaoh, Khaemuas, Rameses who had 300 children, Bakenkhonsu a main character, Ki the magician, to Thoth, the Pharaoh, Meneptah who was thought of as a god among the Egyptians, and his Vizier Nehesi, Roy the high priest, Hora the chamberlain and Meranu the washer of the king’s hands, to Yuy the private scribe and a roll call of many more characters who form a pagentry of exotic ancient Egypt for the modern twentieth century reader molly coddled by the three -volume drawing room novel.[i

 As Haggard reveals in his autobiography, Lang had asked his wife, Leonora Blanche Alleyne, to give him the ring of Taia as a token of his affection:

 At some date before he died Lang asked his wife to give to me a certain ring in token of remembrance. I have now received and shall always wear this ring. It belonged to Queen Taia, the wife of Amenophis III, or perhaps to Nefertiti, her daughter-in-law, who married the famous Khu-en-aten, the fourth Amenophis …On this ring, which, I think, from the length of time that it had evidently been worn, must have adorned the hand of Taia some 3500 years ago, is engraved a cat adoring Ra or the Sun, or perhaps the “Aten” or Disc. I already possess the sister ring that, from the less amount of wear it shows, was probably worn by the shorter-lived Nefertiti, Khu-en-aten’s adored and, I believe, sole wife.  Both of them were obtained by us from the Rev. W. J. Loftie in the year 1887…[23]

When Haggard states that he would “always wear this ring” he continued to use it in his fiction, because the seal of Amenartus, which Haggard features in She, is crafted from the ‘Strand’ ring that is mentioned in the article by Harry How in issue Number 13.[24]  It was a ‘golden circle’ and appears, as stated, in the scaraboeus, a miniature painted on ivory which formed the signet ring with the words ‘Suten se Ra’ [Royal son of the sun} that was used to seal the parchment that features in the story.[25]  Today, the study of hieroglyphics has improved, yet it was in its infancy in 1890, but its practice has become better so that more is understood of its meaning.  Strand magazine recounts that the origins of Haggard’s signet ring[26]  were from the excavations in Egypt at Deir – al – Bahari:

 “Then Mr Haggard takes from his finger a signet ring he always wears. It was found at Deir – al – Bahari.  Its red stone is believed to chronicle the portrait of Rameses the Great, the Pharaoh of the Oppression, with whose coffin it was discovered.”

When Rider Haggard dedicated She to Andrew Lang its emphasis on male bonds could be considered, to follow Wayne Koestenbaum, as “a reflection of the author’s collegial affection for the dedicatee.”[28]  The bonding between the two authors continued to grow in strength, despite the fact that their two wives were marginalised.  Andrew Lang was accredited as being the editor of the Olive Fairy Book (1907), despite the work having been undertaken largely by Leonora Blanche Alleyne, Mrs. Lang.  There were also the Red Fairy Book (1890), the Red Book of Heroes (1909) by Mrs Lang , and the Red Book of Animal Stories (1899) issued just at the turn of the century.  Leonora Blanche Alleyne undertook all the work for this series, freeing Lang from the research and writing, leaving himself open thereby to charges of male chauvinism.  It is evident that writers such as Lang failed to give attribution to their writing partner, with the result that the work was accredited as if by a sole author.

As the present author pointed out in “The Lingering Clasp of the Hand”,[29] 
“At the Savile Club in Piccadilly, Haggard and Lang meditated on a co-authored novel entitled The World's Desire (1890)[30]  in the form of a Hellenic, lyrical fable, which explores the fictive world of masculinity but ends in misogyny and makes extensive use of the tropes and themes of the romance and adventure of Scott (The Waverley Novels), Tennyson (Idylls of the King), Mallory's Morte d' Arthur, and The Odyssey. The generic works from which Haggard and Lang took their inspiration were concerned with battles, heroism and chivalry, and offered romantic assertions of a lost past, recreating a more masculine content for erotic literature."

Lang held that the romance would be an energising revival of manful literature at a time when English men were allegedly effete and spineless.  He wanted to introduce a boys' literature that would reawaken a cultural dawn and bring back the myths of manliness and male supremacy that had been dormant, albeit since Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding. 

There is in the desire for boys' literature, and in the intense, wishful, make-believe and the masculine aspiration to belong of the boys' organisations like the Boy Scouts and the Boys' Brigade, 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 such as the novel of masculine adventure, which I have pointed to.  There existed a feeling that romance offered men a refuge from an England that they thought Queen Victoria's reign had feminised.  The overpowering image of matriarchy which Queen Victoria represented, as well as standing for 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.

Haggard explains in his autobiography how Lang came to write the “Song of the Bow”.  "As readers of the book will know, the bow was ultimately made to sing in words. I suggested to Lang that such words might be arranged to imitate the hiss of arrows and the humming of the string. The result was his “Song of the Bow,” which I think a wonderfully musical poem."[31] The engagement to write with Lang continued to be an inconclusive and staggered affair with Lang at one point losing the ms. for over a year.  The journal records:

"After this I believe that I worked away at the story, of which I did a good deal, and sent it to Lang, who promptly lost it so completely and for so long a time that, not having the heart to recommence the book, the idea of writing it was abandoned."[32] 

Haggard and Lang's chivalrous work recounts, in a story reminiscent of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the second journey of Odysseus.  Returned to his ancestral home from his wanderings, and finding among the ruins of a destructive attack the remains of his wife, Penelope, the Wanderer hears the invocation of the bow of Eurytus and resolves:

"Let us forth again Let us feed our fill On the flesh of men."[33]

Having thus sworn vengeance, Odysseus acts hastily but expends his energies in looking for another wife.  He clothes himself in armour, selects two spears from a stand of lances, throws a quiver of arrows over his shoulder and takes the great bow of Eurytus, which no one else can bend.  Then he goes forward to fulfill his mission, but spends the rest of the novel seeking the love of a woman rather than in revenging his slain wife.  It is this bow which produces the song of the tale:


Lo, the hour is nigh 

And the time to smite 

When the foe shall fly 

From the arrow's flight! 

Let the bronze bite deep! 


Let the war birds fly 

Upon them that sleep 

And are ripe to die! 

Shrill and low 

Do the gray shafts sing

The song of the bow 


 The militaristic tone reflects Lang's love of chivalry, masculinity, myth and epic.  Hyper-masculinity, then, is a recurrent theme of epic narrative, resplendent with martial imagery.  Later in the novel Odysseus is visited by Aphrodite, who promises him Helen of Troy, the "goddess" whom all men desire.  Soon afterwards, Odysseus is captured by Sidonian merchants who plan to sell him as a slave, but he defeats them and escapes with the treasure by ship to Egypt where he finds both the Pharaoh's sorceress wife, Meriamun, and the beautiful Helen.  He is overwhelmed by the lovely Helen and rejects Meriamun in favour of "The World's Desire".  But the Wanderer cannot conquer Helen easily, for she appears to change shape, although that shape is unclear.  What does the image of the star represent?  Is it male or female?  In his pursuit of Helen his directions are clearer:


By the star of Love shalt thou know her.  On the breast of Helen, a jewel shines, a great star - stone.  From that stone fall red drops like blood and they drip from her vestment.[35]

 The star of love is the indicator by which Helen will thus be known, drawing attention to the erotic.  But it is from this moment, Wayne Koestenbaum argues in Double Talk,[36]  that the falling drops of blood suggest themselves as symbolic of the menstruating female figure.  It is the basis of Koestenbaum's study concerning the co-authored work, The World's Desire, that its sexually heightened imagery can be used to demonstrate that the joint authors were engaged in homoerotic writing.  Koestenbaum suggests that, by reaching into a box with her hand, Meriamun could be said to be taking part in an act of female onanism.  In the poem which prefaces the work, Haggard and Lang, in an obscure reference to a Star and a Snake, appear to be using the imagery of a star to represent female love and the long, snaky member possibly to represent male love:

Not one but he hath chanced to wake

Dreamed of the star and found the snake

Yet, through his dreams, a wandering fire

Still, still she flits, the World's Desire.[37]

 The star as the symbol of hope and of the guiding way for mariners and travellers has been a long-standing image since early civilisation, but as Morton Cohen has reminded us: "the psychological symbols present a challenging puzzle to the specialist as well as the casual reader."[38]  Their symbolism is nowhere explained in the story itself, but whatever significance Haggard and Lang intended these symbols of the snake to hold, it is difficult to avoid the suggestion of masturbation or insemination engendered by the idea of a long, snaky, object which spits venom.

 In Western literature, from its earliest beginnings, masturbation seems to be associated primarily with the realm of the imagination and with its dangers, as Foucault suggests in A History  of Sexuality.[39]  It is not easy to dismiss here an erotic, nocturnal, onanistic symbolism.  The sequence of dreaming, waking up, and finding the snake perhaps suggests a sleeper, aroused by thoughts of a writhing and swelling creature, turning half in dream, to self-indulgence.  Perhaps, associating the snake with a penis, Haggard is making a visual reference to the erotic fantasies created by masturbation.  Of course, I do not eliminate the correlation between the snake and Eve, whose name, 'Hawa' in both Aramaic and Arabic is close to 'snake' — 'haya',[40]  which all relates, possibly, to the position of women at that time.  The snake is associated with the earth and with a reptile.  The image of a snake, of the genus squmata, a worm-like creature, is one which squirms its way along the ground, in trees, scrub, and in foliage.  It has long had resonances of a sexually charged object and, as it sheds its skin, of rebirth and rejuvenation.  In Genesis it is the snake which plants the idea of the temptation in the mind of the woman.  This leads us to an interpretation of the main imagery, for the confusion over the emblems of the Star and the Snake could be taken to suggest a more intriguing, fundamental, human choice between love and evil; the choice between pure love and the profane, and between lust and purity.

 The allegory in the romance The World's Desire swings from star to snake and back again, as it would appear that the authors change from male to female imagery:

 'What did I tell thee,' says Aphrodite.  'Was it not thou shouldst know the Golden Helen by the Red Star on her breast, the jewel whence fall the red drops fast, and by the Star alone?  And did she not tell thee, also, that thou shouldst know her by the Star?  Yet when one came to thee wearing no star but girdled with a snake, my words were all forgotten, thy desires led thee whither thou wouldst not go.  Thou wast blinded by desire and couldst not discern the False from the True.  Beauty has many shapes, now it is that of Helen, now that of Meriamun, each sees it as he desires it.  But the Star is yet the Star and the Snake is yet the Snake and he who, bewildered by his lusts, swears by the Snake when he should have sworn by the Star, shall have the Snake for guerdon."[41]

 The images of the snake and the star seem to present here a difficult choice between which woman to love, the holy Helen or the wicked Meriamun.  The quandary about femininities throughout the Haggard romance genre is constantly to the fore here.  The choice is difficult and fraught with danger because it will influence the outcome of Odysseus's quest.  Is he to choose evil or good, beauty or wickedness?  The imagery leads to perplexing and confusing issues in the minds of the readers over whether the imagery can be taken to represent Haggard’s and Lang's difficulties in recognising the intensity of their own relationship.

 Both Haggard and Lang dislike, it appears, the female sex because their construct of masculinity seems to avoid any exemplification of feminine characteristics.  The image of the curling snake arguably represents the male sex because of its vitality and penis-like attributes.[42]  When the long curling snake is revealed to possess the head of a human, albeit a female one, that of Meriamun, the reader is faced with the difficulty of deciding what the serpent represents — sin or beauty.  Sin is personified in this image as a snake which takes the form of a human.  When Meriamun is questioned by the snake about what s/he represents, her answer confirms the idea of an alleged duplicity of the female psyche which Haggard so despised.  The psychological allegory of the images appears to be that the snake represents sin, not purity and chastity.  The snake proceeds from the evil side of the queen's nature not the beauteous one. Freud, referring to snakes in his interpretation of the Medusa's head dream[43] viewed the decapitated head with its snaky looks as a "genitalized head", an upward displacement of the genital organs so that the mouth stands for the  vagina dentata and the snakes for pubic hair.  Freud, thereby, seems to confirm long-held suspicions of the snake's identification with sexuality, of the phallus, with encirclement, all-envelopment and, in particular, with the pubic and erogenous areas of a woman's body. Haggard and Lang seem to assert that beneath the beauty of the female lies duplicity and evil, beneath the disguised sex of the serpent there is a fundamental criticism not only of female nature but of human nature.  Haggard and Lang collaborate in an equivocal epic genre in a story filled paradoxically with malice, duplicity and lust to represent beauty, and a story of beauty, attraction, desire, and faith in humanity to represent evil:

 Tumescence is the subject here, as the snake grows.[45]  The idea of growth and tumescence, and of detumescence, is a feature of the heated genre of male adventure.  The snake and the woman take part in a lengthy conversation and then imitate a serpent devouring itself.  The image is the standard emblem of eternal life, represented by the unending circle of the snake's body and with, importantly, the serpent shedding its own shrivelled skin and revealing a shining one, suggesting new life or immortality.  Its venoms suggest an ejaculatory threat, and the power to penetrate areas associated with the female body is mooted.  We have here the idea of a ring, a common fetish of Haggard's, possibly suggesting marriage, or, at least, union, as they unite in collaboration.  Haggard and Lang seem to suggest to each other, “I could eat you” – a conventional image for sexual desire.  It is a common image of union, of total commingling intimacy.  Every time the pair of writers use this imagery of a snake devouring itself they are tapping the same metaphor, using powerful images of swallowing and being swallowed.  The imagery is ambiguous for the snake was associated in Christian traditions with fertility and femininity while the recoiled serpent indicated infinitude and life.  Haggard uses the emblem of the star as a guiding star for his characters, which has connotations of Lucifer, and, most paradoxically — in view of my remarks about the serpent being a male image, because the serpent in the garden was traditionally female — connotations of Eve, for the star is associated with birth and rebirth, tokens of potency, fertility and fecundity, with which Haggard particularly associated himself.

 The star does not necessarily therefore represent love, but rather its brightness could be taken, I would argue, to represent South East Africa, where Haggard saw his ambitions and love for life blossom, and the snake does not represent evil but stands for the venom which Haggard felt over the patriarchal proscriptions which surrounded him.  Haggard, a committed imperialist,[46] especially in his activities in the Empire, saw his future as only represented by the star of hope.

The recognition of complaisant, heterosexual and courtly love is finally made by Haggard and Lang in the novel despite its toying with passionate togetherness in a gender-free environment in which the two authors write adventures where femininities are complex and distorted and where the masculinities which they sought to portray were bolder and more realistically elaborated than had been previously.

 In The World's Desire Helen decrees that, although he is clearly mortal, "Thou shalt live again, Odysseus, as thou hast lived before, and life by life we shall meet and love till the end is come."[47]  So the wages of love is life after death, resurrection for heterosexual love.  The courtly ideal contained in heterosexual love is prominent in the romance form.  In this passionate, heterosexual scene Helen promises Odysseus immortality, but it also indicates the desire of the author, Haggard, for immortality through reincarnation, for it is well documented that he was a firm believer in the rebirth of the self.  The joint work over The World’s Desire[48]  was to be the beginning of a long series of collaborations by Haggard with Lang, (The World’s Desire)  Kipling, (Red Eve) and putatively with Stevenson, although they never worked together ultimately, despite Stevenson having suggested a “deed of contract”.[49]


Haggard had continued his journey to visit the royal tombs of Thebes, looking at the tomb of King Seti. [50]  In 1905 he again travelled to the area with Howard  Carter, the great Egyptologist, who raided the Pharaonic sites in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, finding on 4th November 1922 the steps leading to Tutankhamen’s grave, eventually breaking through and desecrating the tomb on the 26th


Harry How, Strand Magazine, No. 13. January, 1892.

 Writing at his Charles Dickens writing desk in his diary after work on the estate, in the first floor room at Ditchingham House, with his favourite bulldog, ‘Caesar’ lying at his side, and dressed as usual in his ‘plus fours‘ in the afternoon of 30 November of that year, Haggard records that:


 "Mr Howard Carter, whom I know and who, I believe, now works on behalf of Lord Carnarvon, has made a marvelous discovery in the Valley of Kings at Thebes.  There below the tomb of Rameses VI, he has found a sealed cache of several chambers full of all the funeral furniture, also the chariots and throne of Pharaoh Tutankhamen, who was one of the shadowy successors to Akhenaten, the heretic Pharaoh.  Whether his body is in one of the chambers that remains unopened remains unknown."


Haggard recognised the contradiction in opening graves for the benefit of archaeology and science when he wondered “how we dare to meddle with these hallowed relics, especially now in my age.”[52]  He had written to The Times on the subject of the desecration of mummies in which letter he had spoken about raiding the tombs and he demanded that “Tutankhamen’s body should be buried in the Great Pyramid where it could be left undisturbed.”[53]

From the first visit he was able to obtain sufficient information to be able to commence his imaginative romance, Cleopatra.  After his encounter with thousands of bats in the tombs, Haggard wrote of “the great bat that was a spirit which haunted the pyramid where Cleopatra and her lover, Harmachis sought the treasure of the Pharaoh, Men-kau-ra”.[54]  The tombs of Thebes (Luxor) had inspired Haggard to write of the forebears of the kings and queens whose mummified bodies he had seen.  The story of Cleopatra and Harmachis became the vehicle to deal in the antiquities of Egypt, the story being delivered on papyrus scrolls through the first-person narrator account of Harmachis, the son of Amenemhat, and told using the second person singular as in the bible.


 The plot concerns the royal family of ancient Egypt, who are represented by the Priest, Isis.  The characters, Mark Anthony of Rome, Caesar’s envoy, and Ptolemy XIV who became the supreme ruler after deposing Cleopatra, his elder sister, are ignored or marginalised leaving out the later, conventional, love story preferred by Hollywood, in favour of Harmachis, the high priest and his dual affairs with Charmion and with queen Cleopatra.  Indeed. Andrew Lang, worrying about Cleopatra’s reception wrote “I like Anthony, but I feel that that inexplicable person has not had full justice done to him.[55]

The impact of the introduction of the two lovers remains in the melodramatic tradition, with a thunderous appearance by the protagonist, as he fights to the death with an adversary in front of the interested Cleopatra whose face “seduced Caesar, ruined Egypt, and was doomed to give Octavian the sceptre of the world”.  Harmachis is similarly attracted and looks at “the flawless Grecian features, the rounded chin, the full, rich lips, the chiselled nostrils, and the ears fashioned like delicate shells”, and falls under her spell, “and I lost myself as it were in a vision…”.[56] 

The deep Freudian interpretation of a dream story, that involves an unsuccessful, misogynous plot to reject Charmion and to hatefully murder Cleopatra, is to be found in the domestic affairs of Haggard whose true love was substituted by a more eligibly endowed partner.  The indecision between lovers, between Charmion and Cleopatra, (Lilith and Louisa), is again a reflection from the plot lines of Jess, where the inability to decide between two sisters dominates the tale. During visits to Marloes Road, South Kensington, Andrew Lang collaborated with Haggard with the writing of Cleopatra, supplying the poem The Song of Charmion:

Between two shores of
Death we drift.
Behind are things forgot:
Before the tide is driving swift
To lands beholden not.
Above, the sky is far and cold:
Below, the moaning sea
Sweeps o’er the loves that were of old
But, oh, Love! kiss thou me.[57]


 On returning to England, Haggard received a letter from Lang who carefully analyses the work and makes suggestions for foreshortening, editing and presentation, writing “I want it to be A1 in its genre – a dreadfully difficult genre it is.”[58]

 Going by the account in The Days of My Life, Haggard records that “Cleopatra” ran serially through the Illustrated London News,  (the first  edition of which sold 26,000 copies, but slowed down after competition with sixpenny magazines), before its appearance in book form”.[59]  The effect of this would have been to bring the story to the attention of more groups of readers and possibly a less sophisticated audience of younger readers and a more general public.

 A general expansion of popular journalism occurred between 1850 and 1890 which could be attributed to the introduction of new techniques of mass production, as well as to the abolition of the last "taxes on knowledge", on newspapers, pamphlets and other publications by 1855.[60]   Taken together with a great rise in the technology of the times when improvements were being made in all sorts of areas, such as type setting, steam presses, motorised vehicles and tram cars, electric railways, street and house lighting, public libraries, larger schools, colleges and institutions of adult education,[61]  the production, distribution and consumption of these novels was assured.  Britain was becoming an increasingly modern country usually at the forefront of many of the changes taking place in Europe, particularly in relation to intellectual pursuits, inventions and innovation.  The requirements of, on the one hand, a group receiving higher education[62]  and on the other, a mass population in tune with these commercial changes, were now creating literary markets.[63]

 In the 1880s, the innovations in machinery were such that the demands of a new generation of readers could be satisfied by the improved techniques of printing.  Compositors were able, by virtue of the new steam type composing machine to set up about 12,000 types per hour as against an earlier average of two thousand.  The machine invented by McKenzie was regulated by a perforated, thick paper in a continuous strip of about 5 cms wide.[64]  Improvements in type setting meant that problems in book editing such as spacing, adjusting the length of the line and hyphenating words that must be separated were taken care of.  The copy was composed on the steam type composing machine and the pages printed out far more rapidly than was possible before.  Corrections could be handled more easily and editing instructions easily undertaken by the machine and this would help to account for the fact that romances were actually aided by technology and new inventions. 


The late-Victorians had to come to terms with a rapid increase in technology that made them reconsider their culture and often reexamine their way of life.  There was an emphasis on steam, on speed, on factories, changes in technology leading to industrial inventions, as well as improvements in transport and communications. It opened up whole new futures to the populace where increasing challenges were being placed in their path, not only in technology but in revolutionary new philosophies, exciting new geographical, scientific and other discoveries, and challenging and worrying theories on the nature of evolution.  

If the late-Victorian period was an age of ‘transition’,[65]  to use Shaw’s term, then where the romance novel would progress to is a matter of some concern to the literary critic.  Haggard’s novels certainly appealed to the masses who were experiencing this transition from old established forms into new ones. These changes taking place in technology, particularly in editing, printing and distribution, to which we referred, allowed for the rapid production of the romance novels and their early success.


Co-authored work and the writing of alternate chapters were the hallmarks of the balance of forces existing between Haggard and Lang.  Both writers had been in correspondence with and visited each other at Redcliffe Square and Marloes Road since the publication of The Witch's Head (1885) when, in a postscript, Lang had recorded: "I am glad to take this opportunity of thanking you for the great pleasure The Witch's Head has given me.  I have not read anything so good for a long time".[66]  Haggard also advised Lang over the writing of the story, Old Friends (1890),[67]  for Lang writes to ask such questions as: "Doesn't my fairy tale need a more vivacious beginning, and what about Alphonso and Enrico?"[68]

 Haggard and Lang were tramping along the "leagues of the long Academy", as Haggard described them, while they discussed the merits of the works of art on display:



"Today I have been to the private view of the Royal Academy.  The pictures seem much the same as they were five and thirty years ago when I used to look at them with Andrew Lang, trudging through the identical `leagues of the long Academy' as he called them."[69]



In an inspiring, artistic atmosphere, with publication in mind, and the finery of the paintings on display, Haggard and Lang live the heightened life of a literary coterie.  A pair of men who were imbued with an artistic talent in a homophobic, patriarchal and intensely energised artistic metropolis indulge in reverie and nostalgia for a past that was more harmonious and sympathetic to the artistry they had previously forged.

 Haggard echoed Lang’s sentiments, writing that the latter was “among men my best friend, perhaps, and the one with whom I was most entirely in tune."[70]  Here again there exists evidence of the close ties between Haggard and Lang and the remarks, whilst conventional enough, suggest the existence of a more strongly felt bonding than had hitherto been the case amongst writers in the late-Victorian period.


 Lang read the manuscript draft of King Solomon's Mines and on its publication wrote to Haggard acknowledging receipt of his reviewer's copy.  Lang's review in the Saturday Review[71]  was highly complimentary, excessively so, it might be said, for a routine literary review.  Lang could obtain assistance from Haggard in the act of examining his proofs.  A letter from Lang dated 2 June, asking if his work could be padded out, stated: "I send you five chapters of my romance."  Lang requested Haggard to send the work on to the publishers rather than return it to him, if it was satisfactory, perhaps hoping for the assumed cachet of its provenance from Haggard's address:
"Can I get any more flesh on the dry bones?"[72]   he asks. 

In a further revelation of their co-operation, Lang wrote to Haggard informing him that he had incorporated some of his (Haggard's) ideas into the text, and asked for further assistance: "I've worked in your dodge in my fairy tale; it's no more an extravaganza than anything you like...Could you read it when typewritten?"[73]   

With Haggard as leader, the writing continued in stages, Lang accepting Haggard’s role as a 'model object'.


 The deference shown by Lang may have stemmed from the paternalist and homophobic atmosphere that they were continually struggling to circumvent. The writers were able to carry on these correspondences, engage in writing sessions, meet and talk and publish their work in collaboration openly at such a time whilst the texts themselves prevaricate over, perform a duplicitous action in, and yet nevertheless tentatively allow the production of a sexualised fiction.  Haggard and Lang write to tell each other that they are “most entirely in tune”, and they plan together a story, She,[74]  that denigrates a woman as an ageing hag.  They mention sex with references to physical matters, yet deal in an innocent childhood fiction as if there were no such thing as sexuality; working together in teams, their bondings are reflected within the fiction.

 Lang collaborated with Haggard over the plotting and story details of the fiercely imaginative novel, She, and the novel was dedicated to him by Haggard.  In 1886 Lang read the novel while it was in proof form before being turned into printers’ galleys ready for publication in The Graphic.  Lang wrote: “I really must congratulate you.  I think it is one of the most astonishing romances I ever read.  The more impossible it is, the better you do it, till it seems like a story from the literature of another planet.”[75]  Lang advised Haggard on his defence of the novel from the attacks in the press.  On the construction which went into the writing of She, Lang advised Haggard to, "Screw it a little tighter, and I think it is undeniably an artistic piece of work.  ... I'd like if you don't mind to read over the early part with you..."[76]   Again, the reference to helping Haggard places Lang as the ‘model object’ in the relationship.

 The hidden psychological motives and implications of the co-operation over the production of She by Haggard and Lang have an important bearing on my argument that repressions and suppressions and late-Victorian inhibitions, particularly with reference to sex matters ( antimacassars on chair legs, the skirt length dress code, veils on hats worn compulsorily, separation of the genders in schools and public places, controls on the timing and consumption of spirits, hangings, restrictions on queer life, homophobic attacks, and murders of prostitutes ), lay behind the writing of romance fiction. 

 She (1887) exists as a misogynistic story depending for its success largely on a Victorian masculine readership attempting to throw off patriarchal pressures.  The heroine, Ayesha, possesses what Haggard supposes to be the ideal qualities of the superwoman, permanent youth, perennial prettiness, supernatural strength, and she is white.  Ayesha is of the Arab nation, for which Haggard felt a strong affinity, regarding it as pure, and culturally in accord with his values, its people being strong, virile and attractive to Westerners, a model for Haggard's heroes and protagonists.[77]   Ayesha appears in historical costume and is very wise.  Morton Cohen[78]  sees her as Sagacity itself; “Wisdom's Daughter” he calls her, referring to another Haggard title.[79]

 Haggard's thinly veiled women figures are usually seen high on a plinth, stressing their unapproachability, or illustrated on another unreachable “pylon's brow” that is adorned with hieroglyphics, giving them a classical unavailability.  The works are especially resonant with imagery of the Star of Love.  In the sequel to She, entitled Ayesha, the story is also a quest for the perfect woman.  But the reader cannot easily follow the route that her/his search unfolds, nor can s/he distinguish the various priestesses, shamans, goddesses such as Meriamun and Ayesha or the immortal women such as the Hathor, Khania or Atene with which Haggard peoples his novels.

 Andrew Lang had referred to the exotic concepts in Cleopatra, and in She Ayesha originates from The Yemen.  She arrives in Egypt by an indistinct route, probably by sea.  Once there, the reasons for her antagonism towards the Egyptian royal, Amenartus, are unclear, but probably connected with racism or with her jealousy of Amenartus for their rivalry over Leo/Kalikrates.[80]

 After Boer wars, ambushes, perilous escapes, ostrich farming and Egyptian travel, and collusion with Andrew Lang over The World’s Desire, we now move to Iceland to see the progress of Haggard’s career and his joint work with Rudyard Kipling.


[1] Lillias Haggard: The Cloak that I Left: A Biography of the author Henry Rider Haggard, (London: Hodder and Stoughton,  1950).

[2] Haggard, TheDays of My Life, Chapter11.

[3] Haggard, TheDays of My Life, Chapter11.

[4] D S Higgins ‘Haggard’s Secret Love’ London Magazine, February 1987, Volume 26, No. 11, 38-45

[5] Higgins ‘Haggard’s Secret Love’, 38-45.

[6] Haggard, Jess, 155. 

[7 ]Haggard, Jess, 78. 

[8] Haggard, Jess, 125.

[9] 'The Other', a term derived from Lacan, in whose psychoanalytical theory it means that which initiates desire in one by a lack of that element in oneself.  See Jacques Lacan, Écrits:A Selection (London: Tavistock, 1977).

[10] Dictionary definition.Disparaging and Offensive(in South Africa) a black person: originally used of the Xhosa people only. See Accessed 22. 04 12.

[11] Haggard, Jess, 72.

[12]  Gerald Monsman, H. Rider Haggard on the Imperial Frontier (Greensboro: NC. ELT Press 2006.)

[13]  Madhudaya Sinha, “Triangular Erotics: The Politics of Masculinity, Imperialism and Big-Game hunting in Rider Haggard’s, She”.Critical Survey Volume 20 Number 3 2008. 29-43.

i] Haggard, The Days of My Life, Chapter 2. Youth.
[14]  Haggard, Jess, 24.

[15]  Haggard, Jess, 55.

[16]  Haggard, Jess, 207.

[17]  Haggard, Jess, 219.

[18] See BBC Panorama “Ivory Wars: Out of Africa”  Accessed 12 Apr 2012.

[19]  Haggard, Jess, 95.

[20]  Haggard, Jess, 135.

[22]  Lapis lazuli ring quoted in Shirley M Addy, Rider Haggard and Egypt, Appendix 9.  “Lapis lazuli ring.”  93.925.19  This is a Lapis lazuli plaque inscribed with hieroglyphics on both sides, and  is set in a swivel ring of gold wire.  This is described by Blackman (item no. 9).  Petrie dated it to the reign of Amenophis II or Tuthmosos III.  It is in store at Norwich castle Museum.

[23]  Haggard, The Days of My Life, Chapter 10.

[24]  Harry How, Strand Magazine, No. 13. January, 1892.

[25]  Haggard, She, 21.

[26]  See plate photographs.  Available. Online.  Accessed 19. 06. 12.

[27] Harry How, Strand Magazine, No. 13. January, 1892.

[28] Wayne Koestenbaum, Double Talk: The Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration (New York and London: Routledge1989) 1.

[29] Geoffrey Clarke, Unpublished PhD thesis ‘The Lingering Clasp of the Hand’ (Hull University Library, 2004).

[30] Haggard and Lang, The World’s Desire (London: Macmillan, 1890).

[31] Haggard, TheDays of My Life, Chapter15.

[32] Haggard, TheDays of My Life, Chapter11.

[33]  Poems evincing resonances of classical epic such as Tennyson's "To Ulysses" (1889) are noteworthy.  Christopher Ricks, The Poems of Tennyson (London: Longmans, 1969) 1,396.  Tennyson's praise of Ulysses is a similar poem to the one quoted which extols masculinity, and shows admiration for former classical heroes.

[34]  Haggard and Lang, The World's Desire, 15.

[35]Haggard and Lang, The World's Desire, 243.

[36]  Wayne Koestenbaum's highly fetched Double Talk is an interesting, but unconvincing attempt to relate the doubled nature of Lang and Haggard to actual texts.  It concentrates on vocabulary rather than criticism.  Wayne Koestenbaum, Double Talk, The Erotics of Male Fiction (London: Routledge, 1989) 159.

[37]  Haggard and Lang, The World's Desire, 245.

[38]  Cohen, RiderHaggard, 102.

[39]  Michel Foucault, Trans. Robert Hurley, A History of Sexuality Vol. 3. The Care of the Self (New York: 1985; London: Lane, 1973; Penguin, 1988) 125.

[40]  Pamela Norris, The Story of Eve (London: Picador, 1998).

[41]  Haggard and Lang, The World's Desire, 177.

[42]  Misogyny, the modus operandi of the romance writers, is examined in some detail later in the chapter.  See Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, "Heart of Darkness: The Agon of the Femme Fatale" in Sexchanges. No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989).

[43]  S. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (London and New York: 1955). Standard ed.  4-5.

[44]  Haggard and Lang, The World's Desire, 140.

[45]  According to Peter Schwenger, in James Joyce's Ulysses there is the use of two adjacent styles in the Nausicaa episodes - tumescence and detumescence.  Similarly Hemingway in Death in theAfternoon comments on what he terms "erectile writing".  See Peter Schwenger, Phallic Critiques: Masculinity and Twentieth Century Literature (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984).

[46]  Haggard was, in his early life, an ostrich farmer in Natal.  A recent study has dealt with his agricultural surveys, activities for the resettlement of soldiers and farmers, attendance on committees, that is, as a servant of empire.  See Tom Pocock, Rider Haggard and the Lost Empire  (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993).

[47]  Haggard and Lang, The World's Desire, 90.

[48] Haggard, The World's Desire (London: Longmans and Co., 1890).

[49] Post script to a letter from Skerryvore, Bournemouth from R L Stevenson in Haggard, TheDays of My Life, Chapter11.

[50] Shirley M Addy, Rider Haggard and Egypt (Accrington Kessingland:  A L Publications, 1998.) 24.

[51]  Rider Haggard, Diary entry, 30 November 1922. D. S. Higgins, (ed.) The Private Diaries of Sir H. Rider Haggard (New Yotk: Stein and Day, 1980)248.

[52] Haggard,TheDays of My Life, Chapter11.

[53]  Quoted with permission of Shirley M Addy, Rider Haggard and Egypt, 24.

[54] Haggard, The Days of My Life, 16.

[55]  Haggard, TheDays of My Life, Chapter 11.

[56]  Rider Haggard, Cleopatra (Leipzig: Bernard Tauchnitz, 1889.) 58.

[57]  Haggard, Cleopatra, 96.

[58]  Haggard,TheDays of My Life, Chapter 11.

[59]  Haggard,TheDays of My Life, Chapter 11.

[60]  Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965) 215.

[61]  Alan Bott, Our Fathers  (London: Heinemann, 1931) 1 - 255.

[62] For “light” and “heavy” reading see Patrick Brantlinger, “What is Sensational about the Sensational Novel”, Journal of Nineteenth Century Fiction. 37. I. (1982-3): 1-28.  In terms of different groups in a newly emerging class of readers Rider Haggard refers to what he suggests was a "superior critic" who was not "the average reader".  Rider Haggard, ed. C. J. Longman, The Days of My Life (London: Longmans, Green, 1926). 

[63] Of course, there is a distinction to be made between high culture and low culture which develops into an argument about “higher” reading and “lower” reading.  This is to be seen within the context of the commoditisation of literature and particularly novels for a wider reading public.  Another term that is employed is “low modern”, which Maria DiBattista terms a “near oxymoron” to bring to the fore the connections with literary high mindedness for the realism, accessibility and taste for such arenas as journalism and cinema that are often called “low”.  See Maria DiBattista and Lucy McDiarmid (eds.), High and Low Moderns: Literature and Culture 1889–1939 (Oxford University Press) 259.

[64]  Allan Bott,  Our Fathers.  1870 - 1900.  Manners and Customs of the Ancient Victorians:  A Survey in Pictures and Text of their History, Morals, Wars, Sports, Inventions and Politics .  (London:  William Heinemann, 1931).

[65]  G. Bernard Shaw, “The Transition to Social Democracy”, Lecture to the British Association.  21. The FabianSociety..  Fabian Essays in Socialism.  Available.  Online.  Accessed 17. 07. 12.

[66]  Letter dated 28 March 1885.  Andrew Lang, Old Friends: Essays in Epistolary Parody. [Reprinted. From St. James’ Gazette].

Longmans, 1890).

[68]  Ms. letter from Lang to Haggard.  Norfolk Record Office Ditchingham House collection.  No date.

[69]  Letter dated 30 April, 1920.

[70]  Haggard, The Days of My Life, Vol. II.  72, 80.

[71]  Andrew Lang, Saturday Review LX (10 October 1885): 485-6.

[72]  Lang to Haggard, Lockwood Collection, University of Buffalo, 2 June 1897. Lockwood Memorial Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.

[73]  Lang to Haggard, Lockwood Collection, 1 January 1897.

[74]  Haggard, She, 221.

[75]  Lang to Haggard. Roger Lancelyn Green, Andrew Lang: A Critical Biography with a short Bibliography (Leicester:  E. Ward, 1946) 120.

[76]  Lang to Haggard, undated.  Cohen, Rider Haggard, 184.

[77]  Cohen, Rider Haggard, 85.

[78]  Cohen, Rider Haggard, 85.

[79]  Rider Haggard, Wisdom's Daughter, The Life and Love Story of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (London: Hutchinson, 1923).