Haggard’s Adventures in South Africa

An author’s works are always made more stimulating and enjoyable if the author is able to draw from personal experiences to bring characters and stories to life. H. Rider Haggard does this with great skill in his seminal novel She. He displays his vast knowledge of travel and foreign countries throughout the book and offers unique insight into ideas of imperialism and racism. Haggard was no stranger to adventure as evidenced by his several years in South Africa serving as junior secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, the Lieutenant-Governor of the British colony of Natal. Haggard’s writing was shaped by these experiences abroad and the influence was evident throughout the story of She.

Haggard’s experiences in South Africa were eye-opening and caused him to reconsider many of his previous ideas. Haggard was upset and shocked by the British activities in South Africa and was displeased with much of the Empire’s governmental choices. His main source of frustration was the interactions between the British, the Zulus, and the Boers. He was unhappy with many of the decisions made by leaders back in Great Britain that were less favorable to those colonizers already in South Africa.

One fascinating aspect of Haggard’s ideology that comes through clearly in She was his belief in the superiority of the white race. Patrick Brantlinger in his introduction to the novel tells of Haggard’s interesting views when it came to humans and the social ladder. He writes, “though Haggard seems to have viewed humanity as a single species, he believed there were great biological and cultural differences among the races, and that the English race was superior to all others”(Brantlinger, xiii-xiv). This ideological belief of Haggard’s is present throughout the novel and effects how he presents non-white people.

Through most of his life Haggard had strong ties to the imperialistic cause of the British Empire. He was very attached to the Empire’s work in South Africa and in other countries abroad. Returning home from South Africa Haggard had a wealth of experience and adventure to incorporate into his writing. His ability to craft captivating adventure stories that chronicled the quests of daring characters made his works staples in British culture. He captured the imagination of young boys with his tales of discovery and expedition.

Although Haggard’s time spent in South Africa inspired wonder in others it was a disappointing venture for him. Brantlinger points out this reality writing, “She is a wish-fulfillment fantasy that, in some very precise ways, compensates for what Haggard felt he had lost, or failed to discover, during his five years in South Africa”(xxii). Haggard’s life is proof that a life of adventure is not always a life of satisfaction.

 

 

Works Cited:

 

Brantlinger, Patrick. Introduction. She. By H. Rider Haggard. New York: Penguin, 2004. xiii-xxii. Print.

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