Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies
English Language and Literature
The Female Threat to Masculinity in Henry Haggard’s Works
Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis
Supervisor: Mgr. Jiří Šalamoun
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
I would like to thank my supervisor, Mgr. Jiří Šalamoun,
for his valuable advice and kind guidance.
Table of Contents
1.1 Historical Background.....................................................................................4
1.2 Adventure Fiction............................................................................................5
2 Threat of the Heroine in King Solomon’s Mines and She...............................................9
2.1 The Character of Gagool................................................................................10
2.2 The Character of Ayesha................................................................................14
3 Threat of the Female Body...........................................................................................22
3.1 Feminized Landscape....................................................................................23
3.2 Aeysha’s dwelling place as a womb..............................................................28
5 Works Cited..................................................................................................................37
Henry Rider Haggard was a British writer and traveller who dedicated one of his first novels, King Solomon’s Mines, to “all the big and little boys who read it” (n.p.). Full of masculine characters experiencing adventures and big game hunting, his novels soon reached their male target audience. In England alone King Solomon’s Mines sold 31,000 copies during the first year and established Haggard as a writer of the adventure fiction genre (Butts 7).
The aim of this thesis is to prove that despite the fact that the stories of the adventure fiction genre usually focus on the male characters and their power1, the female characters in Haggard’s novels turn out to be the very opposite of passive. They are a threat to the masculinity of the male characters by showing their power, beauty, or cruelty. I argue that the stories do not follow the pattern of male penetrating and gaining dominance over a passive female, which was a common pattern typical of Haggard’s era.
At that time, many adventure writers stereotyped women characters as docile and passive (Hoppenstand 303). One such female character is for instance Gretchen, the relative of Professor Lidenbrock in Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The narrator claims Lidenbrock is rich, but argues that Gretchen is the best part of his possessions (49). By using the word possession he suggests that the woman does not exist on her own. What is more, Gretchen rarely expresses her opinion and often remains silent. Haggard, on the contrary, shows in the novels an active female who becomes a threat that is difficult to overcome for the male characters.
The analysis is going to demonstrate that the threat of the female takes two different forms: the threat of the heroine and the threat of the female body. To illustrate this point, two novels, King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and She (1887), will be examined. The reasons for choosing these novels is not only that they are considered Haggard’s most successful and popular works and have never been out of print since the 1880s (Bratlinger 495), but also their similarity as far as the plot, setting and characters are concerned. They both describe men entering an unknown and hostile country where they encounter a lost race. As this thesis is going to show, the novels differ in one important aspect: in each of them, the threat of the female is of a different nature. King Solomon’s Mines show the characters’ journey inside a female body and features a beautiful female character, while the journey in She takes place on the surface of the female body and the main female character is an ugly and malevolent figure.
King Solomon’s Mines tells the story of a hunter named Quatermain who helps Captain Good and Sir Henry in search of Henry’s lost brother. They set sail to Africa to find him and enjoy hunting which is a source of masculine identity for them. The land they have to cross to is feminized as the mountains resemble breasts and the desert reminds the men of a female stomach. They describe the land as if it was a female body. After a difficult journey over the desert and mountains, they reach a lost kingdom called Kukuanaland. Once there, they must fight natives and meet an immortal witch who attempts to kill them. The witch organizes annual hunts where men are killed if they are suspected of betrayal. At the end, she is forced to lead them to diamond mines where she imprisons them. They manage to escape from the mines after the witch is destroyed. The men return to England with diamonds and decide to write down their story.
She centres on a Cambridge scholar, Holly, and his adoptive son Leo. Contrary to Holly, Leo is very interested in meeting women who are astonished by his beauty. One day, Leo is unexpectedly placed in Holly’s custody along with a box with secret documents which concern tracing of his ancestors. Together they set out to search for a mysterious queen who killed her lover, a priest named Kallikrates. They, too, successfully fight natives who attempt to kill them ritually and manage to find the queen in the wild, surrounded by a nation of mutes who attend to her. After finding her, both Holly and Leo hopelessly fall in love with her. They remain in her control and are, too, freed only after she dies.
The dominant themes in the two novels are heroism, courage and ever-present sense of danger. Haggard is therefore often compared to writers such as Daniel Defoe, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells who created worlds where male characters dominate and the female ones are either absent, scarce or seen as a hindrance (Conor 19). The standard way of thinking about an adventure fiction story has it that the male characters show their power over the passive female. The contribution of this thesis lies in providing a different view on the alleged passivity of the female. It aims to draw attention to the fact that in Haggard’s novels the female might be interpreted as an active threat to masculinity.
In my thesis, I will first examine the historical background of the novels and the definition of the adventure fiction genre into which most of Haggard’s works belong. I will then address the topic of masculinity and concentrate on what were the contemporary characteristics of a masculine man in the 1880s. After that, I will move on to discuss the way Haggard shows the threat of the female character first in King Solomon’s Mines and then in She. Finally, I will concentrate on the threat of the feminized land that becomes an obstacle for the male characters. In the conclusion I will summarise the nature of the threats in each novel.
1.1. Historical Background
Haggard was writing King Solomon’s Mines and She in a time of dramatic changes in the English society. The late nineteenth century saw a historic change in the emergence of feminism and the question of the position of women. Martha Vicinus contends that “the debate over the position, role, and purpose of women in society certainly predates 1880, but the late nineteenth century … focused on this subject to a degree that was not equalled again until early 1970s” (496). Bekaert claims that women “tried to alter their subordinate social and political position thus challenging the traditional institutions of marriage, work, and the family” (11). Some of the women began to refuse to be subordinated to men, which stirred up fear and controversy in the patriarchal society. They started to challenge their social position particularly by questioning censorship, insisting on greater sexual freedom, rejecting biased divorce and property laws (Hedgecock 3).
Acts that gradually granted independent rights to women were passed. One example is for instance the Married Women’s Property Act of 1884 which allowed women to possess their own property. Such changes and debates could not possibly have gone unnoticed by Haggard. It is to be expected that the theme of the emancipated female would be in some form present in the fiction of the period. His portrayal of threatening heroines and landscapes can be therefore seen as a reaction to what was happening in the 1880s England. He shows the changes in his novels by creating worlds where female empowerment represents a threat to men and undermines their masculinity. He shows men who fall in the power of women and lose their manhood.
Until the second half of the nineteenth century women were also relatively disadvantaged in the sphere of education. The turning point was 1881 when they were enabled to sit examinations for the bachelor’s degree at Cambridge, although they could not yet be awarded a degree. Instead, women received a certificate. Elaine Showalter aptly points out that “[i]t is not coincidental that the year when [the quest in She] begins, 1881, is also the year when women were first admitted to the Cambridge examinations, and when, symbolically, the strongholds of male knowledge begin to fall” (85). In that year, Holly meets Ayesha whose knowledge of languages and history is greater than his. The more knowledge she has, the more she can do. Haggard shows that the female who is educated has power, which is not desirable. The analysis is going to demonstrate the fact that the male fear of female power is noticeably reflected in the two novels.
1.2. Adventure Fiction
Firstly, it is necessary to define the term adventure fiction. Green explains that a typical story of the adventure fiction genre can be characterized as follows:
Adventure seems to mean a series of events, partly but not wholly accidental, in settings remote from the domestic and probably from the civilized, … which constitute a challenge to the central character. In meeting this challenge, he/she performs a series of exploits which make him/her a hero, eminent in virtues such as courage, fortitude, cunning, strength, leadership, and persistence. (23)
These criteria are met by King Solomon’s Mines and She, as the characters set sail to unexplored areas of Africa where they cross a desert and marshes, fight in a terrible war and experience extreme degree of hunger and thirst. In the two novels, Haggard focuses on the ordinary men who set out on a journey to a faraway exotic land. The men struggle for their lives and have to prove their manliness and dominance over women. Both narrators, Quatermain and Holly, leave home in search of their fortune, accompanied by friends and end up triumphant as they reassert their masculinity when the female characters die. They are not active in killing the women – they always die by accident.
In the end, the men are the heroes of the story. To achieve this triumph, they must show their strength and ability to conquer, be it in the form of defeating enemies or conquering the landscape. They also attempt to destroy ancient creatures, while still emphasizing the importance of manliness. Kestner perceives this “rise of an intensified adventure fiction” (5) to be a response to the above mentioned crisis in the English society. As a result, the popularity of the adventure fiction genre grew rapidly in the nineteenth century and the adventure fiction stories “filled many a young fellow with longing to go into the wide spaces of those lands and their marvels for themselves” (Hutchinson qtd. in Katz 1).
Bekaert argues that another characteristic of the genre is the representation of the land as a female body which needs to be conquered and the erotic charging of the landscape (50). The adventure fiction genre is male-orientated in the first place. If there is a lack of female characters, it is balanced by a feminized landscape. Haggard shows the African landscape because at the time he was writing it was still unknown, waiting to be explored, which provided a great space for imagination. Like Africa, the female body is there to be explored. The land is identified with a woman who is not only looked at, but also penetrated by the men. In his essay titled About Fiction Haggard argues that “sexual passion is the most powerful lever with which to stir the mind of man, for it lies at the root of all things human” (qtd. in Kestner 143). The journey through the African land is therefore portrayed as if it took place on a naked female body. The characters’ desire is projected onto the land which subsequently puts up resistance.
The definition of masculinity varies considerably among scholars. Connel suggests that defining the term is not possible because its nature keeps changing (3). According to him, masculinity is not “a coherent object about which a generalizing science can be produced” (67). What is more, masculinity exists only in contrast with femininity (68). He suggests that the characters’ masculinity or the lack thereof is a notional concept. Conor agrees with Connel on the issue of the problematic definition of masculinity, remarks that “attempts at any definition need to take into account differences in culture as well as time period” (10). It has already been stated that at the time period Haggard was writing the society underwent dramatic changes, making it “an era of rapidly shifting ideas of what it was to be a man [and] how one defined one’s masculinity” (Conor 10). As a result, men searched for new definitions of masculinity and the need for male superiority became a virulent theme mainly in the literature of quest romances (Shannon n.p.). This is reflected in the analysis where I point out that particularly the men in King Solomon’s Mines constantly attempt to show that they are superior to the female even though they are completely in her control.
Conor suggests that in the 1890s, there were primarily two aspects to masculinity – that of a courageous and strong man, who is daring and willing to die in a battle and that of a rational and logical man (10). These features can be traced in King Solomon’s Mines where Quatermain, an elephant hunter, shows his strength and bravery by saying that “at an age when other boys are at school, [he was earning his living] as a trader, [and was] hunting, fighting, or mining ever since” (9) and would rather “be killed fighting than any other way” (124). Then, showing his rationality, Quatermain proceeds to say that he does not like violence and is pretty sick of adventure (10). Another character from the same novel, a rich gentleman named Sir Henry, though presented as an educated man unaccustomed to handling a gun, stood in a battle “his armour all red with blood, and none could live before his stroke” (141). He, too, represents the two aspects of masculinity in one character – the mental and the physical. Sir Henry is an intellectual and a well-mannered gentleman, but does not hesitate to fight with great tenacity. The hero of She, Holly, is also a good representative of the two aspects as he shows both the physical and psychological strength. He is a rational scholar who misses his quiet college rooms, but sets out on a journey to a country that is “all swamps behind, and full of snakes, especially pythons [and] no man lives there”(52). He proves to be an academic as well as a fighter. To put it differently, the two aspects of masculinity in Haggard’s novels are merged to one character. He describes a logical man, perhaps even a scholar, who is a warrior at the same time.
The manly behaviour of Quatermain, Sir Henry and Holly is typically displayed in front of other men and is intended to earn respect in their eyes. Bourdieau indicates that “manliness is a relational notion, constructed in front of and for other men and against femininity, in a kind of fear of the female” (53). To prove their manliness, they need to maintain the masculine upper hand. However, the masculine status does not depend only upon maintaining a dominant position with men, but more importantly with the opposite sex (Madhudaya 12-14), which the characters struggle to achieve. The next chapter discusses the failure of the men to establish the dominant position in greater detail and shows that it is caused by their manliness which is threatened by the female.
2. Threat of the Heroine in King Solomon’s Mines and She
In his essay on manhood and misogyny, Patteson claims that female characters appear in all genres of literature, but they do not usually figure as main characters in the adventure fiction stories. Instead, their function in such narratives is to support or to foil the actions of men (3). Women are indeed noticeably absent from the first half of King Solomon’s Mines. Instead, the focus is on the men who have been accustomed to confronting issues of life and death and “hold [their] lives in [their] hands” (29). Two female characters appear only in the second part of the story. Although their role might seem menial and they are present in the story for a short time, the impact of Gagool on the men is significant. Quatermain as a narrator is reluctant to even admit the presence of females. According to him “women bring trouble as surely as the night follows the day” (112).
The narrator of She, Holly, does not try to conceal the presence of women in the story, but he claims to be “a bit of a misogynist” (85). Being a bachelor, he achieves what Bekaert calls “virgin fatherhood, paternity without the need for contaminating intercourse with women” (49). His son is put in his charge by a widowed friend, making Holly a father without the need of interaction with a woman. His colleagues believe that Holly is as much afraid of women “as most people are of a mad dog” (12). He even seeks the assistance of a male nurse, because he would have “no woman to lord it over [him] about the child, and steal his affections” (26). Patteson further argues that many adventure stories contain characters who are misogynists:
Women come under fire for every imaginable reason - weakness, cowardice, treachery, lasciviousness. When they are not portrayed as villains (the adulteress, the old hag, the wicked pagan queen), they are described as burdens or obstacles to male friendship and the masculine mission in the world. … One of the greatest dangers frequently faced by the explorers is power in the hands of a woman. (5)
King Solomon’s Mines and She both show evil heroines, whose powers endanger the masculinity of the men present. The next section discusses the assumption that each heroine poses a threat in her own way, either emotional or political. In his novels, Haggard seems to suggest that if women are given a dominant position, it undermines the character’s manliness. As a result, the females are accidentally destroyed because men cannot be made subordinate and remain in the power of a woman.
2.1. The Character of Gagool
At the beginning of King Solomon’s Mines, Quatermain states that that there is no woman in it – except for Foulata (10). Foulata is a young native girl who is saved by the Englishmen from being sacrificed on an annual celebration, only to be killed by an evil witch a few days later. Foulata as a character serves to emphasize the impossibility of interracial marriage and is then murdered by Gagool. Although Quatermain denies the existence of another female character, one more appears in the story except Foulata: the villainous Gagool. The narrator explains that Gagool is not perceived as a female character because “she was a hundred at least, and therefore not marriageable, so [he does not] count her” (10). He says so because the two women do not meet his conditions of being marriageable. Unless there is a possibility of sexual intercourse with a female character she is not going to be considered as a woman by the narrator. Gagool is to too old to marry and Foulata is a black girl and therefore cannot marry an Englishman, who, as she herself puts it, “cannot cumber his life with such as [her], for the sun cannot mate with the darkness, nor the white with the black” (174). Quatermain concludes that “at any rate, I can safely say that there is not a petticoat in the whole history” (10).
Applying Patteson’s division of the roles of female characters in general, Foulata is a supportive character who, though being a savage, understands that she cannot obstruct the men. She takes care of the Englishmen in the expedition knowing that her feelings will not be returned. Gagool’s role, on the other hand, is not a favourable one. She is depicted as an ugly and wicked heroine who tries her best to destroy the men around her. She reveals her brutality by saying: “blood [is] everywhere. I see it, I smell it, I taste it … there is no smell like the smell of new-shed blood … I am old! I am old! I have seen much blood; but I shall see more ere I die, and be merry” (94). Due to her ugly countenance, Gagool is given less space in Haggard’s story than the heroine of She. Driss compares the female characters in King Solomon’s Mines and She, concluding that a female character cannot be present in a story for a longer period of time unless she is exceptionally beautiful and remains that way almost till the end, which gives her a chance of survival (35).
It is Quatermain who doubts whether Gagool is a female character in the first place. Knox indicates that though nominally a woman, she exhibits no traditional female sexual characteristics (965). When Gagool first appears, the Englishmen consider her to be “a withered-up monkey wrapped in a fur cloak” (89), but then realize that her face is “that of a woman of great age” (93). By then, she is shrunk to such extent that she resembles a wrinkled cloth. She has a frightening appearance, creeping on all fours like an animal. The animal-like resemblance is emphasized several times: “set in the wrinkles was a sunken slit, that represented the mouth, beneath which the chin curved outward to a point … and then suddenly [she] projected a skinny claw armed with nails nearly an inch long” (93). Her scalp is said to be moving like the hood a cobra and her thin, piercing voice also bears animal-like qualities. Being so old, she looks like “a sun-dried corpse had it not been for a pair of large black eyes, still full of fire and intelligence” (93). She often crouches on the ground, looking more like a bundle than anything else (156) and squeaks. Her eyes, too, “gleam like a snake’s” (156). Due to her age and animal-like appearance, Haggard does not describe Gagool as a woman. She is rather described as someone who has degenerated to the level of an animal. With her countenance, she is not able to pose a threat to the men with her femininity. Instead, she maintains a reign of terror over the native population.
Of all the characters in King Solomon’s Mines, Gagool is the one who seems to have the most power. She is an advisor of a king, but the king is a puppet who acts to please her. She herself admits it, saying: “I have done the bidding of many kings … till in the end they did mine” (162). She organizes annual witch hunts, where the alleged enemies are sniffed out and Gagool has them destroyed. No one’s life is safe when she or her female assistants look for the traitor. The assistants have evil countenances: “Their faces were painted in stripes of white and yellow; down their backs hung snake skins, and round their waists rattled circlets of human bones” (102). Men are gathered at one place and Gagool’s assistants start dancing and hunting for enemies. When touched by the female, such person, in this case a soldier, “did not resist, … dragged his limbs as though they were paralysed, and his fingers, from which the spear had fallen, were as limp as those of a man newly dead” (103). This shows how Gagool makes men vulnerable and weak. As long they are fearful of her and do not fight back she remains in control. As no woman has been sniffed out during the witch hunts, the threat of being killed applies only to men. Gagool brings men under her power, leaving them limp and paralysed. This demonstrates that Haggard views the influence of the female as lethal to masculinity. Female control is something that is greatly feared by both the natives and the Englishmen. Gagool is thus shown to possess power that is destructive to manhood.
The nearer Gagool is, the more the characters feel endangered. When seeing her for the first time, Gagool causes a shiver of fear to pass through them (93). As she draws nearer to them, Quatermain’s heart “positively sank into [his] boots” and Captain Good “ejaculates in horror” (105). In other words, all the manhood seemed to have gone out of them (175). Patteson claims that in terms of literary structures, the men’s need to dominate manifests itself as a struggle between male and female in which the male must emerge victorious or lose his identity (6). Therefore when Gagool is given a position of power and control instead of the men, they are insecure in their manhood. Before coming across Gagool, they assured themselves that there is no journey upon this earth they cannot make (46), emphasizing their great statures, deep black scars that marked old wounds (34) and the fact that “we are men, thou and I” (35). The female threat needs to be destroyed so that the men could reassert their lost dominance.
To neutralize the threat of the female Gagool must die. She leads the men to the mines and attempts to trap them behind a heavy door there. However, she is accidentally crushed when the door closes and she is not quick enough to roll under it. Although she was a major threat to the male characters, they do not play any role in her death. Haggard lets his female characters die but never by the hands of the men. They do not play any role in her death. The position of the male characters is not threatened any longer, but they have to face another danger. With Gagool’s death, the men are trapped in womb-like mines. To regain their masculinity, they need to escape from the womb and be reborn. Due to Gagool’s evil planning, they are trapped in a chamber full of diamonds and plunged into darkness, which is the first sign of their entrapment in the womb. Being forced to crawl around on their hands and knees, they try to find their way out. The womb-like quality of the mines is stressed as there is a perfect silence, while “on the surface of the earth there is always some sound or motion” (178). Cut off from the outside world, it seems the men are almost buried alive which suggests imprisonment in the womb. They have difficulties trying to find their way out, crawling for hours in a tunnel that is growing more and more narrow. The final escape strikingly resembles a child-birth: “Sir Henry went on his knees. Smaller yet it grew, till it was only the size of a large fox’s earth … a squeeze, a struggle … in our nostrils was the sweet air” (184). From this moment, the men are completely freed from Gagool’s power. After they are born again, their masculinity can be reasserted.
The birth comes to signify an escape from the control of a terrible woman who tries to foil the actions of the Englishmen. Gagool is a powerful, threatening, animal-like figure that deprives man of their powers. If the presence of such female is enough to make the male characters terrified, then being trapped in the womb harms their masculinity. The next subchapter concentrates on what influence the heroine of She has on the men. Its aim is to demonstrate that the nature of her power is different from Gagool’s. Ayesha, too, has control over the men, but she uses her immense beauty to achieve that.