Table of Contents
1. The Notion of the Imperial Hero
2. The Imperial Hero and Femininity
2.1 Sexualized Landscape
2.2 Negative Femininity
2.3 Passive Femininity
3. The Imperial Hero and Native Masculinity
3.1 Hybrid Natives
3.2 Male Villains
When King Solomon’s Mines was published in 1885 by Henry Rider Haggard, it was an instant success. His adventurous stories revived the Victorian quest romance, and created its own genre now known as the "Lost World" genre. Central to this kind of novel are the search for fortunes and adventures in a supposingly lost world – that is, a world not yet explored and known by Europeans. This fascination for the unknown targeted primarily a male readership, as the novel makes clear from the beginning: It is dedicated "To all the big and little boys who read it" (Haggard: dedication page).
The publishing year further coincides with a turning point in British Colonial history. After the Berlin conference of 1885, the British Empire faced a growing rivalry of other aspiring nations in the quest for more colonies and their fortunes. Meanwhile, the advances of science had popularized the idea of racial degeneration, particularly in urban areas. In addition to this, the Victorian society was confronted with a long-term cultural shift that took place towards the fin de siècle. Women’s rights movements had emerged since the 1860’s. Their demands focused on extending their role in Victorian society and hence threatened the patriarchal establishment (Jayasena 2). In literature, more women entered the world of fiction as authors, and they were read by a female readership. In this milieu, male writers perceived this female hegemony over fictional literature as jeopardy of their own creative space (Showalter 76-79). Many female writers were writing about social observations, and were thus considered as only writing about the unexciting and ordinary (Fraser 13). As a reaction, efforts were made towards reclaiming the novel as a male exclusivity. This process was detectable in the foundation of literature clubs only for men, and the revival of the adventurous, exciting romance. With this came the emergence of literary characters, such as Allan Quatermain, who act as the heroic male and express their patriarchal demands. They can be seen as an attempt to preserve the social position of the male from its own fragmentation.
In this paper, I want to analyze this attempted preservation of white masculinity and its conflict with the notions of race, gender and class from a post-colonial perspective. It is vital to notice that the recuperation of masculinity took place not in the home country, but in the colonies, where its regeneration was still considered possible. As a result, this notion of colonial masculinity is closely aligned with the appearance of Imperialism. For decades, the collective myth of colonialism had been nurtured by the adventurous tales that were circulating in Britain since Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It intensified again during the Age of Imperialism and stimulated its readers to imitate the heroic protagonist (Jayasena 25). The new Imperialism presented itself as a purely male sphere of influence and its administration lay entirely in the hands of men. Its masculine representation was further boosted by the appearances of soldiers and hunters as colonial heroes and the supply for its administration was fuelled by the aforementioned crisis of masculinity taking place in later Victorian Britain. The journey to the colonies promised freedom from the restrictions of the male social roles back home, and it opened new possibilities for the development of a new type of masculinity, that of the imperial hero. Victorian Imperialism thus contained and enforced the "masculine imperative" (Patteson 5).
1. The Notion of the Imperial Hero
Haggard’s story focuses on three rather different male characters: Allan Quatermain, the aged elephant hunter, Captain John Good, the retired naval officer, and Sir Henry Curtis, an aristocrat searching for his lost brother. Quatermain, as the narrator of the story, does not look like a classic hero: He is small, old, and has false teeth. His behaviour does not fit the characteristics of a hero either, as he is decisively modest, clumsy and sometimes ridicules himself. Good, although younger than Quatermain, is not a typical hero, too. He is "broad, of medium height, dark, stout and a rather curious man to look at" (Haggard 6). However, he keeps himself well-groomed and cultivates his gentlemanly appearance despite his false teeth and monocle. Both of them could be seen as stereotypes of men that would not be socially highly regarded back in Britain: Quatermain as a hunter does not earn enough to climb the social ladder, and Good was discharged from military service without a promotion. Nevertheless, the colonies offer them an ideal territory away from the tight social construct back home so as to reinvent and express their personalities and status to their own likes. This enables their social regeneration, as it was the case for many real-life Victorian emigrants in the colonies.
The third companion, Henry Curtis, is the most distinguished one compared with the other two: He is tall, educated and behaves like a real gentleman. With his Danish ancestry, tall built and blonde hair, he encompasses the ideal Aryan features (Fraser 31). Next to him, the other two look like caricatures. What they have in common, though, upon meeting in colonial Africa, is that they "crave a world of excitement and senuousness to replace the monotony and emptiness of their own" (Katz 31). They all feel the need to break out of normal life and perform brave deeds during their adventure, and this defines them as heroic agents. The concept of the heroism offers a social model that shows "what is best in its most fully realized state" (Katz 71). The classic adventurous hero is a brave warrior in dangerous situations and acts in a non-selfish way up to self-sacrifice. The new colonial hero, however, although containing features of a warrior (Quatermain fought in the Boer War, Good was a naval officer, Curtis looks like a Viking warrior), performs an additional type of heroic duty, as the imperial administration had expanded the notion of heroism to celebrate its functionality and dominance. The imperial hero springs into action to enlarge his economic power, this is manifested through hunting big game, serving the imperial administration, or acquiring hidden treasures. All of these aspects are connected to the exploitation of the colonized land and assist the economic superiority of the British Empire.