A Portrait of She

“They were all tall and all handsome, though they varied in their degree of darkness of skin, some being as dark as Mahomed, and some as yellow as a Chinese” (78)

“the bodies of those whom we had killed in our frightful struggle for life” (100)

“a garb of clinging white” (143)

“in the bowels of the rock it would be as dark at midday as at midnight” (149)

“in this dry air a considerable number of the bodies had simply become desiccated with the skin still on them, and now, fixed in every conceivable position, stared at us out of the mountain of white bones, grotesquely horrible caricatures of humanity” (166)

“There was something very terrible, and yet fascinating, about the employment of the remote dead to illuminate the orgies of the living” (195)

“First throw aside thy garments, for it will burn them” (253)

“The mysterious fire played up and down her dark and rolling locks, twining and twisting itself through and around them like threads of golden lace; it gleamed upon her ivory breast and shoulder, from which the hair slipped aside; it slid along her pillared throat and delicate features, and seemed to find a home in the glorious eyes that shone and shone” (256)

“She could not see” (257)

“the stiffening corpse of poor Job” (260) — the white skeleton*

“No nightmare dreamed by man, no wild invention of the romancer, can ever equal the living horror of that place, and the weird crying of those voices of the night, as we clung like shipwrecked mariners to a raft, and tossed on the black, unfathomed wilderness of air” (265)

She

Pose & style accredited to Schiele, K. Fujita, and Beardsley

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Unattached

“After that we cleaned ourselves as best we could…minus the man who has been drowned. I do now know if it was owing to his being an unpopular character, or from native indifference and selfishness of temperament, but I am bound to say that nobody seemed to grieve as much over his sudden and final disappearance, unless perhaps, it was the men who had to do his share of the work.” (114-5).

Holly raises an important point of sympathy, who grieves for these people, the “unpopular character,” that have been pushed aside and forgotten? Most importantly, who decides? As we discussed in class, several characters are merged into one mass which hinder our ability to sympathize. When the 18 crew members die at sea, we feel almost nothing because we do not know these characters and their stories. This stands as a sharp contrast from Middlemarch, when Peter Featherstone’s relatives are named and given the reason for needing money. Just as Manuela states, it would become an encyclopedia, and we would have to read a book as long as Middlemarch. Holly’s authority directs who we sympathize with. If he looks down upon a race, and generalizes them, calling them savage people; we, too, see them as savage. When his attention is devoted solely on Ayesha, a beautiful, white woman, we hear her story, but the Amahagger are excluded in all else. Again, this shows the narrator’s bias and his support for the quest of indigenous knowledge and with the sense that he is superior to the Amahagger and unattached, thus reinforcing the idea of who is grieved over.

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The invisbles

One of the challenges Prof. Phillips posed to us in his lecture on Tuesday was to notice the stories of the unnamed characters; those the narrator chooses to ignore. Initially, I was troubled by this challenge because in every narrative, we will get characters who we cannot fully get to know. If we were to discover the internal worlds of every person in a fictional world, we would not be reading a story, but an encyclopedia. We all need a narrator who guides us through, who chooses who matters and who does not so as to create a story. After his lecture, the concern seeped into my reading of the text, and I realized the pertinence of our initial readings on capitalism on the idea of excluding certain characters from the story.

Art play crucial roles in Holly’s experience of Ayesha’s vast lair, and yet the actors that bring it to his gaze are literally hidden behind curtains. He is mesmerized by the rich and artful tapestries and sculptures. Holly spends pages talking about the beautiful qualities of the relics he encounters, and yet refrains from posing the question: who created these beautiful things? Interspersed in his descriptions of these objects are the derogatory dismissals of the savages that populate the place: “eight or ten women, most of them young and handsome, with yellowish hair, sat on cushions working with ivory needles at what had the appearance of being embroidery-frames. These women were also deaf and dumb” (139). The link between these art objects and the girls is made later on, when he “found myself in another apartment, considerably smaller than the anteroom, of which the walls were entirely hung with rich-looking curtains of the same make as those over the door, the work, as I subsequently discovered, of the mutes who sat in the antechamber and wove them in strips, which were afterward sewn together” (140). The link between the art and the artist does not, however, stop Holly from calling the women, the artists, anything more than mutes. His point is driven home in the line that ends this paragraph, saying “There was nobody in the place except ourselves” (140).

A similar thing happens with the food in the novel. The opening of chapter 7 is marked by his feeling “uncommonly hungry,” and “another mute, a young girl this time,” points him in the direction of the eating chamber (135). At no point does he mention gratitude towards the person who has just satisfied his desires; instead, he shows solidarity for Job, who “had never got over the advances the former lady mad made towards him, and suspected every girl who came near him of similar designs” (135). While he is talking about Job here, Holly refrains from defending this woman or any others, speaking mercilessly of women, particularly during his encounter with Ayesha. To close the segment in this chapter on the art I previously discussed, he states as a matter of fact, “we sat down to a very excellent meal of boiled goat’s-flesh, fresh milk, and cakes of meal, the whole being served upon clean wooden platters” (137). Clear in the passive “being served” is the lack of agent, or importance of the agent, bringing the food into existence. The attitude of Holly here to me is more than just misogynistic, but capitalistic: he sees objects for their physical and functional qualities without doing what a good academic might: question their origin.

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Shadows

“To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”

-Socrates, Book VII of Plato’s Republic

Much of Haggard’s She takes place in the darkness of caves. When the protagonists first enter the mouth of an Amahagger cave (79), Holly observes their “huge shadows upon the gloomy walls around” (81). The cave itself is full of people “gathered around fires” (83), and the African men and women themselves are coloured with the very “darkness” (78) that matches their surroundings. Immersed in the blackness, Holly is particularly sensitive to the interplay of light and shadow: before Ustane professes an eerie omen, she is described as “clothed alternately in dense shadow and the red flickering of the fire” (88); as the Amahaggers proceed to “hot-pot” Mahomed, Holly and the men watch their “shadows thrown by the flickering earthenware lamps” (93); and when Leo fights the enraged men, he is said to have “looked down the long lane of shadows, terminated in the fire and lighted lamps” (96). Indeed, She herself resides in the deepest parts of hollowed caves (126), in the “vast catacombs” of “utter darkness” (149).

Samantha mentions in her blogpost how the Amahaggers are constantly dehumanized and compared to animals; they are painted as primitive creatures compared to their “civilized” English counterparts. Kyle also discusses how the English, as well as other Western Europeans of the time, took great pride in their superior “ability to reason.” The ideas gestated in the Enlightenment movement of the 17th and 18th centuries helped feed an intellectual hubris that justified the authority colonial powers had over certain “lesser races.” The plot of the novel mirrors Plato’s allegory of the cave: men from the “light” — educated, virtuous, and pursuing truth — encounter a “savage” race enshrouded in darkness, their reality but mere shadow. Holly’s narrative, in fact, reflects a fear of losing reason in this fantastical world, a helpless despair that recognizes his irrational behavior after encountering the powerful She (144; 147; 162; 167; 172; 176; 181). And when the men finally emerge from the underground chambers, Holly describes their exit as a kind-of restoration to “reason” (269): “We dragged ourselves on again, till at last, when despair was entering our hearts, we once more saw the light of day, and found ourselves outside the tunnel…” (268)

*BTW, just a side-note/digression — did anybody else find it super weird how Holly just casually took in Billali’s past necrophilia and put that dead woman’s foot in his Gladstone bag?? (104-5) I mean, just imagine reaching into your duffle bag and grabbing this –>no-good-foot4

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Assessing the Truth (…and “Will You Still Love Me When I’m No Longer Young and Beautiful?”)

When reading the footnote on page 247 of She, I couldn’t help but think back to both The Moonstone and Said’s theory on the narrator.  As a refresher, Said states, “the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in the representation of ‘things,’ while allowing for considerable individual freedom, are circumscribed and socially regulated” (Said 80).  In The Moonstone, we saw this theory in action when Franklin Blake regulates other characters’ narratives by utilizing footnotes.  In She, we once again see the footnote used as a vehicle for regulation and circumscription.

In Chapter XXV of She, Ayesha confesses her murder of Kallikrates to Leo in detail.  Yet immediately after the tale, Holly inserts a footnote: “It will be observed that Ayesha’s account of the death of Kallikrates differs materially from that written on the potsherd by Amenartas” (Haggard 247).  Holly cannot allow Ayesha’s story to stand uncontested and asserts his role as the regulator by adding this footnote to the story.  Even though his footnote ultimately backs up Ayesha’s story by confirming the “spear-wound in the breast of Kallikrates” and ascertaining Ayesha’s version to be true, his mere challenging of Ayesha’s “truth” via his footnote indicates his perceived role as the “truth teller” of the novel (247).  As we have discussed in class, however, I struggle to trust any character and their version of the truth.  Holly, in a similar fashion to Blake, gains my distrust by inserting footnotes such as this one into the novel.

This brings me back to some of the questions posed by Matthew and Henry: Who is telling the truth? Who can we trust? How do we assess the truth for ourselves?

PS: On a completely unrelated note, here is the link to the classic Lana Del Rey song, “Young and Beautiful:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_1aF54DO60.  It came to mind when Holly writes, “What a terrifying reflection it is, by the way, that nearly all our deep love for women who are not our kindred depends – at any rate, in the first instance – upon their personal appearance.  If we lost them, and found them again dreadful to look on, though otherwise they were the same, should we still love them?” (261).

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