Colonialism and Literature - Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines and Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2003

27 Seiten, Note: 2.0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. H.Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines
2.1 Narrative
2.2 Audience
2.3 Gender and Sexuality
2.4 Colonial Discourse

3. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
3.1. Conrad and Modernism
3.2. The Idea of Empire
3.3. Narrative
3.3.1. Impressionism and Symbolism
3.3.2. Landscape
3.3.3. Language
3.4. Criticism
3.4.1. Achebe
3.4.2. Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Criticism
3.5. Influence
3.5.1. T.S.Eliot
3.5.2. Coppula’s Apocalypse Now

4. Conclusion


The British Empire and its imperial ideology had a deep impact on English literature at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century when the nation experienced the heyday of colonialism but, nevertheless, had to deal with the threatening idea of its future decline. Lots of authors reflected in their literary works the nation’s concepts and development in various ways having in mind different aims the final piece of art was meant to achieve. Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, published in 1902, expresses a changed attitude toward the British empire and its ideological ambitions after a general enthusiasm which finds its expression in imperial novels such as H.Rider Haggard’s Solomon’s Mines, published in 1885. Criticism started to gain ground and although a radical and direct opposition could not yet be found, a questioning and distancing from society’s conventions was obvious.

The late Victorian period is seen as the golden age, but also taking into account the following Edwardian period, its description as an age of crisis cannot be considered to be false. The empire had achieved the biggest expansion and colonies were economically exploited to maintain Britain’s status as leading power. However, the nation was more and more confronted with rival European colonial powers an had to deal with an intensified competition for markets and raw materials. Apart from this threat from outside, England was concerned with problems within the nation caused by the rapid growth of industry and fractured class relations which seemed to be unbridgeable. Poverty was a present fact especially in London and were discussions about its conditions and the deprivation among the working class. Lots of people lived in slums and their living conditions were even compared to those of slaves.

Both authors had had experiences as a part of British Empire in African colonies, a fact which influenced the realisation of their works. Haggard spent part of his life in South Africa and his novel King Solomon’s Mines can be clearly described as an adventure story and, more important, as an imperial romance. It contains distinctive features underlining the empire’s ideological framework. Conrad’s novella which followed almost two decades later, differs to that in a lot of aspects, which is first and foremost due to a new development in the English society and the formation of the modernist movement. His work had a great influence on artists even several decades after its publication and describes a decisive subject of literary criticism.

2. H.Rider Haggard’s Solomon’s Mines

2.1. Narrative

Haggard’s novel can clearly be described a an imperial romance indicating particular features which occur in the literary work and, therefore, is considered to have a conventional narrative. The story is initiated by the search of one of the protagonists’ brother, a motivation which then is connected with the materialistic aspect - finding a lost diamond mine. Eventually, the European travellers reach the famed mines after much hardship and help their Zulu companion Umbopa/Ignosi to regain his rightful place as tribal chief. Before the Europeans are able to take as many diamonds as possible they had to pass the obstacle of an old shaman woman who wanted to foil it. At the end of the novel the Englishmen can escape and return to civilisation as rich men after they had also found the lost brother.

Richard F. Patterson determined several particular features of an imperial romance and Haggard’s work represents a good example for that. Missionary and merchant aims are connected and successfully achieved at the end. The native civilisation should become enlightened by the civilised Englishmen and the Europeans need to get fortune out of their particular quest.

The distinction between Europeans and black natives is equally reflected in the construction of the novel’s characters who can be categorised with the help of the concept of E.M.Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. All Western characters of King Solomon’s Mines are considered to be flat characters, who “in their purest form...are constructed round a single idea or quality”[1]. Like Quatermain, who is always recognisable by his particular traits of character- being a brave adventurer and Gentleman. Therefore, the European travellers’ devotion to the novel is done by action not by a development of character. As Forster states”...flat characters are very useful to him[the author], since they never need reintroducing, never run away, have not to be watched for development, and provide their own atmosphere...”[2] Therefore, these characters can always be easily distinguished by the reader, a fact which underlines the aspect of audience. The novel is first and foremost dedicated to young boys and the narration has to be adequate to them. This narrative device serves the author’s intention as the characters “are easily remembered afterwards. They remain in his mind as unalterable for the reason that they were not changed by circumstances, which gives them in retrospect a comforting quality...”[3]

2.2. Audience

Writing his novel Haggard had a particular readership in his mind and stresses that in the novel’s dedication: “ all the big and little boys who read it.[4] ” It obviously excludes female readers and young male readers have got priority although adults seemed to be accepted, too. This dedication makes the aim of the novel clear which Haggard had in his mind and which is typical for his time and the English society.

Facing the inner threat and the one from outside, the English middle-class felt the need of regenerating the ‘real’ Englishman. As he is defined by his superior economical and political power, maintained by his empire and moral superiority which enables him to enlighten primitive races, his particular values have to be kept and strengthened again. There was a big fear of losing all the attributes of the Englishman which had lead him to all his success and that urban conditions causes the softening and the loss of the strong masculinity which serves as the English nation’s self-definition. Meath expressed the need of strong virtues a British manliness would lack and would lead to the fall of the nation and race. He asserts that

”the continuance of the British race as one of the dominant peoples in the world is dependent on the sustained possession of a virile spirit which makes light of pain and physical discomfort, and rejoices in the consciousness of victory over adverse circumstances, in which regards the performance of duty, however difficult and distasteful, as one of the supreme virtues...)[5]

The national and racial character had to be preserved and one of the best ways to achieve that was seen in the focus on discipline and the education of boys. In connection with that, J.A.Mangan referred to three interrelated ideologies. He mentions the ‘imperial Darwinism’ including the white man’s belief in the right of ruling over other colonised races, followed by the ‘institutional Darwinism’ referring to mental and physical training aiming at a preparation for the ’rigour of imperial duty’. The last and most important point as far as Haggard’s readership is concerned is finally the ’gentleman’s education’, which meant ’building character in the British boy extended outside the public school system to Scouts and Christian paramilitary movements directed at the working classes at the turn of the century.’[6] Here, all classes are taking into account although there are only particular options for particular classes, but no boy is excluded because of social conditioning. The unifying aspect is their belonging to the British nation and its future development depends upon them. Therefore, Haggard dedicates his novel primarily to all boys of his nation in order to educate them and to teach them virtues like discipline and duty which are necessary to maintain a dominant imperial nation in the world.

One may have doubts if King Solomon’s Mines is appropriate for its readership considering the violence which occurs in it. But Haggard clearly argues that ‘some of his[Englishman’s] finest qualities such as patriotism, courage, obedience to authority, patience in disaster, fidelity to friends and a noble cause...have been in the exercise of war’[7]

2.3. Gender and sexuality

Adventurous stories and imperial romances in general leave women as important subjects of action aside. Haggard’s introduction to his novel King Solomon’s Mines underlines that when it says ‘there is not a petticoat in the whole history’.[8] The protagonists are only male and the world they enter offers no access for any female character having any decisive function. This circumstance reflects the author’s society during his time. The Victorian ideology comprises a separation of male and female spheres locating women within the private and local domain of home and hearth. ‘Woman, in contrast, is for ‘sweet ordering, arrangement and decision; she must be ‘ enduringly, incorruptibly good’ and by ‘her office and place...protected from all danger and temptation’.[9] Only men are allowed to have greater duties within society and are allowed and expected to further and maintain the economical and political status the English nation had. The general urban fear of softness and degeneration of the British race and nation was equally connected with femininity and the attempt to regain the powerful masculinity also dominates Haggard’s novel. Only male characters and their adventures and bravery is concerned, sentimentality and all the qualities attributed to women are left aside.

However, although the female character as a whole is not included in his novel, femininity plays an undeniable important role and, moreover, the existence of native women mustn’t be neglected either. In fact, there are two native women in the novel who, however, do not signify – Gagool, the ancient shaman, and Foulata, the black companion of the English Captain Good. Latter falls in love with the Englishman and finally dies, a circumstance which is clearly described as one distinctive feature of an imperialistic romance. Nevertheless, although both of these female natives need to be considered as part of the novel they do not play any decisive role but only a stereotypical one.

Moreover, Haggard associates femininity with the landscape in his novel. The adventurers are obliged to cross Sheba’s breast to Kukuanaland to seek the treasure buried in the caverns of this eroticised and feminised bodyscape.

“These mountains standing thus, like the pillars of a gigantic gateway, are shaped exactly like a woman’s breasts. Their bases swelled gently up from the plain, looking at that distance, perfectly round and smooth; and on the top of each was a vast round hillock covered with snow, exactly corresponding to the nipple on the female breast.”[10]

The quest for the treasure is enacted upon the female body and is therefore erotically charged. Overcoming the feminised nature the English adventurers reaffirm their masculinity and underline their superiority. After all, although women should be completely out of it, femininity and the connected eroticism does occur in Haggard’s novel despite the limitation that it is shown indirectly with the help of a feminised landscape. This circumstance is made visible for the reader by adding the supplement of a map to the text.

Apart from this female sexuality, the novel equally deals with the masculine sexuality which is particularly connected to the black body. The fascination of the black body arises from the tension of a defined manliness in Victorian society and the native’s body can be seen as an ideal one with opposition attributes of regressive sexuality and irrationality. The white man’s black counterparts are defined by their otherness which is reflected for example by their particular way of dressing. While the Englishmen are fully dressed up, the natives are almost nude. One native character who one can refer to is Umpoba/Ignosi. The man is naked except for the moocha which hides his genitalia and the lion’s claws which proclaim his sexual and military prowess. His body in its total perfection turns out to be the image of the white man’s desire.


[1] Forster, E.M.(1974) Aspects of the Novel, London, Penguin Group p.73

[2] Forster, E.M.(1974) Aspects of the Novel, London, Penguin Group p.74

[3] Forster, E.M.(1974) Aspects of the Novel, London, Penguin Group p.74

[4] Haggard, H.Rider (1998) King Solomon’s Mines, Oxford, Oxford University Press,

[5] Meath, Lord(1908) in: Low, Gail Ching-Liang (1996) White Skin, Black Masks. Representation and Colonialis, . London, Routledge p.20

[6] Low, Gail Ching-Liang (1996) White Skin, Black Masks. Representation and Colonialism, London, Routledge p. 21

[7] Low, Gail Ching-Liang (1996) White Skin, Black Masks. Representation and Colonialism, London, Routledge p.33

[8] Haggard, H.Rider (1998) King Solomon’s Mines, Oxford, Oxford University Press p.9

[9] Low, Gail Ching-Liang (1996) White Skin, Black Masks. Representaion and Colonialism, London, Routledge p.22

[10] Haggard, H.Rider (1998) King Solomon’s Mines, Oxford, Oxford University Press p. 85

Ende der Leseprobe aus 27 Seiten


Colonialism and Literature - Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines and Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Universität Leipzig
ISBN (eBook)
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Colonialism, Literature, Haggard, King, Solomon, Mines, Conrad, Heart, Darkness
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Ulrike Häßler (Autor:in), 2003, Colonialism and Literature - Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines and Conrad's Heart of Darkness, München, GRIN Verlag,


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