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Explorer Ethnography and Rider Haggard’s African Romance, She

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British Fiction and Cross-Cultural Encounters
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Abstract

Sigmund Freud called H. Rider Haggard’s She (1886–87) a “strange book, but full of hidden meaning” (The Interpretation of Dreams 453). From its cannibal rituals and catacombs piled with skeletons, to the funereal femme fatale at the narrative’s center, who reigns over a savage tribe living on the ruins of a once glorious civilization, She has lent itself to psychoanalytic and mythical interpretations.1 Marysa Demoor writes that Haggard’s African tales translate “the suppressed elements hidden in the personal and the collective unconscious into fiction” (207). Fin de siècle proponents of romance encouraged such readings. Haggard’s close friend and supporter, Andrew Lang, believed that romances like She “tapped universal, deep-rooted, ‘primitive’ aspects of human nature” (Rule of Darkness 231). Such readings—focusing on the work’s mythical, archetypal, or latent psychological dimensions—entail reading She as a code, a sign system that references meanings that lie on a different register. These interpretive modes tend to pry Haggard’s romances out of their historical moment, overlooking their resonance with other textual forms, including the ethnographic writings of explorers like Richard Burton and Henry Stanley, with which, I will demonstrate, Haggard’s fiction was in dialogue. Building on the obvious psychoanalytic readings, I historicize the gothic elements of She in terms of the scramble for ethnographic data and the unprecedented imperial aggression of the fin de siècle “Scramble for Africa,” in which all three writers played a part.

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© 2008 Carey J. Snyder

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Snyder, C.J. (2008). Explorer Ethnography and Rider Haggard’s African Romance, She. In: British Fiction and Cross-Cultural Encounters. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-137-03947-7_2

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