A Praise of Female Inferiority, or an Inspiration for Female Rule?

When H. Rider Haggard published She in 1887, Queen Victoria had ruled England for fifty years, and would go on to rule it for thirteen more, making her the longest reigning female monarch in the world and the longest reigning British monarch.  She represented respectable morals and lengthy female rule, but we have witnessed how the era was accompanied by many anti-feminist feelings, supported by the idea of a women’s sphere, not meant for ruling but rather for comforting men.  It seems that Haggard has simultaneously introduced both the concern of female power and a recognition of Victoria’s prolonged rule in his novel.  In the novel, She is known for her immortality, which could be a recognition of Victoria’s rule, and autonomy.   Even if She’s immortality is meant to praise Victoria, Victoria lost extensive political influence as a result of the development of a constitutional monarchy, so there is a sharp contrast between the intensity of the two women’s powers.

 

As long as anyone can remember, all strangers that have come to Amahagger have been “put to death without mercy,” probably at the command of She.  This act associates her rule with irrationality rather than prosperity, which creates fear and seems to represent many of the feelings of the time about the consequences of female authority.  Not only do some of her commands appear to be unreasonable, but Haggard places the female ruler in this distant kingdom that is so separated from England that even the mosquitos are “unaccustomed to the smell of a white man.”  The distinction between the familiar English world and the place where an irrational woman rules is further reinforced by the challenges that the Englishmen face while attempting to enter the kingdom, such as facing a hurricane that cost them the dhow and many men. Haggard illustrates how foreign this world is, and then places it under the rule of a seemingly impulsive women who is still bitter over a lost love from thousands of years ago.  During this time, many thought females should be obedient and loving, not strong-willed or independent, so a woman caught up with a broken heart and acting out of passionate feelings seems to adequately fulfill the female stereotype, except that this woman has power.  Even with power, she does not adopt the male characteristics and act as a strong, dependable, and positive ruler, but so far seems to represent how these female characteristics would lead to unstable rulers, which should be left to distant societies, where white men do not go.  Only after discovering more about the actions of She will we be able to recognize if Haggard thinks that this world can develop into a success, or if he will leave this “uncivilized” African society to represent the consequences of female power that many feared during this era.  Maybe Haggard is not only praising Victoria’s extensive reign, but also her lack of direct political influence, unlike She’s autonomy.

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