She Who Must Imperialize
“In the end she would assume absolute rule over the British dominions, and probably over the whole earth, and, though I was sure that she would speedily make ours the most glorious and prosperous empire that the world has ever seen, it would be at the cost of a terrible sacrifice” (Haggard 255).
First published in 1886, She was one of H. Rider Haggard’s most widely read and popular novels. Appropriately sub-titled A History of Adventure, She is an exciting story of one man’s quest to the land of Africa to pay tribute to his father’s unfinished work, a story of exploration, discovery, and conquest. However, Haggard’s novel also represents his views, and ultimately Britain’s as well, of the ever expanding Empire they were apart of during this time. An imperialistic novel at its core, She is a novel that represents what was truly happening during the late Victorian Period, which was the domineering of ‘inferior’ races by the dominant Empire of Britain.
It should be noted that She was published in the prime era of what is known today as the “New Imperialism” of Britain. New imperialism can best be defined as “a frantic competition among European nations to gobble up as much of the world map as possible” (Taylor 1). Out of this came the idea known as “The Scramble for Africa” (where, fittingly, Haggard’s novel takes place), in which European countries struggled for political, economical, and, most importantly, power gains among the country of Africa. Also important to take into account is the fact that before 1880, only ten percent of Africa was controlled by European Powers, whereby 1900, only Ethiopia and Liberia remained free of European control, most of which was dominated by Britain (1). The White Man’s Burden was very prevalent during this time, and Haggard’s novel She was no exception to the massive support that these imperialistic actions garnered during this time.
Haggard symbolizes the imperialistic views of Britain most noticeably through the characters of Horace Holly, Leo Vincey and Ayesha, or better known as She-who-must-be-obeyed. Holly, a well educated man who knows many languages and is interested in the history of civilization, provides an example of what the uneducated ‘inferior’ races could become in terms of intellect if they followed the Britain’s ways. Leo Vincey, the handsome and loving blond headed English man represents the beauty of Britain at this time, or what they perceived was beautiful. Vincey also befriends Ustane, showing that Britain was willing to be ‘benevolent’ while taking over territories. These two are contrasted with Ayesha, who represents the exact opposite of Britain’s supposed ideals during imperialism. A white woman who rules over an African tribe (similar to Queen Victoria), Ayesha is constantly referred to as ‘evil’ and is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she desires. A stark contrast by Haggard to try and show that what Britain was doing wasn’t so bad.
Whether or not there was a huge difference in the way Britain handled imperialism and the way Ayesha did in the novel She is still debatable today. However, what can’t be debated are the views expressed throughout the novel which express imperialism in a positive light, views that established Britain as doing right by trying to colonize the world.
Haggard, H. Rider. She: A Aistory of Adventure. London: Penguin Books, 2001. Print.
Jeff, Taylor. “The New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa 1880-1914.” The New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://rowdy.msudenver.edu/~tayljeff/lectures/NewImp.html>