The Function of the Landscape Description in H. Rider Haggard's African Romance 'She'

Term Paper, 2005

15 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. The image of Africa in Europe during the 18th and 19th century

3. H. Rider Haggard’s first-hand experiences in Africa

4. The landscape description in “She”
4.1. The concept of the “Mental Landscape”
4.2. Analysis of particular characteristic elements of Haggard’s landscape in “She”
4.2.1. Africa as vast Eden
4.2.2. Africa as wilderness
4.2.3. Africa as dream underworld
4.2.4. Africa as sexualised bodyscape
4.2.5. Africa as home to ancient white civilisations

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The description of landscape has a central place in Henry Rider Haggard’s writing of Africa. In his romances he achieved symbolical journeys into the land and its past. In that way he gave his books their power and popularity.

But what are the peculiarities of his African landscapes? How has he constructed them? And what are their functions?

In my term paper I am going to have a detailed look at these questions. I am going to start with an overview of the European image of Africa in the 18th and 19th century and how this had an influence on Haggard’s writing. My next section deals with Haggard’s stays in South Africa and how he converted these first-hand experiences in his romances. Then I am going to deal with the characteristic elements Haggard uses in order to draw his African landscape. Then follows an analysis of one of his most famous romances, “She”, according to these elements. Can all of them be found within the story?

My last point is a summary of my individual results and I am going to draw a conclusion in which I try to answer the questions asked above.

2. The image of Africa in Europe during the 18th and 19th century

The 18th and 19th century was the age of exploration and discovery of Africa. Before that time Europe had had limited contact to this continent. The people thought of Africa as an exotic, dark and strange place. But the colonialism led to the formation of a more detailed image of Africa. Many explorers and travellers became interested in the new and fascinating colony and filled out the European picture of it. A popular imagination developed.

There are several factors which shaped the image of Africa. One of them is the variety of paintings of Africa which were turned out by the travellers. They painted the landscape they saw and gave in that way colour to the European image. One example is the famous painting of Thomas Baine. It is called “Bird’s eye view of the Victoria Falls from the West” and it was painted in 1874. It represents in a typical way the imperialist gaze of that time: an untouched and uninhabited Africa awaits civilisation.

The power of paintings like this should not be underestimated. The public was very eager for what the explorers showed because it was new and mysterious to them.

Another factor which created the image of Africa at that time was the writing of the travellers and explorers. David Livingstone, Mungo Park and Richard Burton were the ones who had most influence on the public and also on Henry Rider Haggard.

There were two contrasting styles of explorers’ writing: firstly the scientific style and secondly the sentimental style. The writers of the first group offered many facts and a extensive knowledge of Africa. Their publications were scientifically objective. Representatives of this group are Anders Sparrmann, William Paterson and John Barrow.

The sentimental style of writing is more connected to the personal experience the explorers had with the land and its peoples. These books did not offer information on which one could rely without any doubt. Mungo Park and Francois de Vaillant are important examples for writers of this group.

These writings were very central for the formation of the European image of Africa. Most explorers, predominantly those writing in the sentimental mode, described the continent in a negative way. These writings and the widespread interest in Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories, maintaining that there were higher and lower races, led to the thoughts of Africa being a place of darkness.

Victorian England, one of the most powerful states of that time, found this colony both attracting and fearful. Haggard grew up within this kind of discourse on Africa. His own writing was influenced by this image of Africa. But much more influence did his first-hand experiences of South Africa have, as I am going to show in the following section.

(Stiebel 2001, p. 11-20)

3. H. Rider Haggard’s first-hand experiences in Africa

Haggard went to Africa three times. The first time he got to know the continent was in the year 1875. He was a 19-year-old boy and his father sent him to South Africa because he wanted to train him in the tradition of Englishmen. Boys of his age were often “ventured to a distant corner of the world to create and uphold the prestige associated with the name of England” (Stiebel 2001, p.21). H. Rider Haggard became a member of Sir Henry Bulwer’s staff in Natal. “Bulwer had been appointed lieutenant-governor of the British frontier colony” (Brantlinger in Haggard 2001, p. VII) and was a friend of Haggard’s father.

The way Haggard experienced the African landscape was mostly through riding, hunting and accompanying Bulwer on his official tours. Already on his first stay Haggard fell in love with the African land.

In 1879 he returned to England and there he met and quickly married Louisa Margitson. One year later he and his wife came back to Africa to farm ostriches. Unfortunately it was not financially successful. The establishment of a stable career in a foreign land failed and so he had to go back to England another year later.

These first experiences of Africa and his impressions of it were to last him a lifetime and became an important influence on his romance writing.

His following two stays in South Africa were not as important as the first one. The second time he went to the continent was in 1912. He visited the land to serve on the Dominious Royal Commission. One essential thing he saw during his second trip were the Zimbabwe ruins. When he wrote “She” in 1886, he orientated his descriptions of the lost city Kôr on these ruins although he had only heard of them in a vague way. Now he stood in front of them and he was very impressed.

In 1914 he sailed back to England but already two years later he went to South Africa again. This time he stayed in Cape Town.

Haggard’s writings “about fabulous treasures, lost civilisations, ferocious savages and beautiful, forbidding women ‘who must be obeyed’” (Brantlinger in Haggard 2001, p. IX) seem to have little to do with his real experiences in Africa. But they are closely related to his dreams of the continent. In his books he created for himself and for his readers “a country of the mind” (Stiebel 2001, p. XI). He wrote about his wishes, desires and anxieties of Africa and in that way he produced a land which was in the main dictated by his imagination.

Haggard constructed “his” Africa and especially the landscapes with the help of three factors: with pre-existing African myths (which I have pointed out in the previous section of my paper), with his personal experiences in the land and with his own imagination. Haggard achieved a complete African landscape with particular characteristic elements which stayed remarkably constant over a long period of time (he was writing of Africa for over 40 years).

In the following sections of my paper I am going to have a detailed look at these elements and how they emerge in Haggard’s romance “She”.


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The Function of the Landscape Description in H. Rider Haggard's African Romance 'She'
University of Rostock
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function, landscape, description, rider, haggard, african, romance
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Rebecca Mahnkopf (Author), 2005, The Function of the Landscape Description in H. Rider Haggard's African Romance 'She', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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