The mute, the ruthless, and the royal

Through their gaze, men in She drive the conversation surrounding Ayesha while She guides (or tortures) them with her sexual energy and beauty. Ayesha physically surrounds herself with males, who hold a discourse about her, and she surrounds herself with mute women, slaves who follow her commands without verbal objection. These are women who exist on the periphery of a civilization that is itself on the periphery, extreme examples of the argument that Edward Said made in his works. In many ways, their lack of voice is a literal representation of the criticism of interpretation that Said puts forth. He says, “We now know that these non-European peoples did not accept with indifference the authority projected over them, or the general silence on which their presence in variously attenuated forms is predicated” (66). The solution? We, as readers, must give these characters a voice, according to Said. Ayesha wishes to abandon them for a greater, progressive society, England, where she wishes to exert her influence. Because of the aggressive nature of her personality and her pursuit of “someplace else,” I exclude Ayesha from the “Other” category that Said describes. Rather, I think she would belong somewhere in between, decorated by her exotic beauty but accentuated by her excessive knowledge.

Holly and Leo discuss another Queen briefly in the novel, one that, according to these quintessential English gentlemen, dwarfs Ayesha’s power, Queen Victoria.  In describing Victoria, both Holly and Leo, uphold the educated English values that would make Matthew Arnold proud. “At this we both broke out into an exclamation of dismay, and explained that we should as soon think of overthrowing ourselves (Haggard 225). Ayesha is a tyrant who effectively takes away the votes of her citizens, and she describes herself as this in a conversation with Holly and Leo, as they present their quintessential English attitude, and she presents her position as the Other: “’Ah,’ she said, ‘a democracy- then surely there is a tyrant, for I have long since seen that democracies, having no clear will of their own, in the end set up a tyrant, and worship him” (Haggard 225). Whether Haggard intends for this statement to be reflective of the society that Ayesha reigns over or Victorian society is unclear. Those who She rules over must physically crawl before her while, as Holly and Leo illustrate, English people blindly regurgitate English values of class and the imposition of the law.

The “lady” is an extension of English society, and the lack of “ladies” within the foreign world in She creates a tension within the periphery of the periphery. In his narration, Holly comments, “We never had the advantage of a lady’s opinion of Ayesha, but I think it quite possible that she would have regarded the Queen with dislike, would have expressed her disapproval in some more or less pointed manner, and ultimately have got herself blasted” (Haggard 216). This remark differentiates between the females of English society, many of who are Haggard’s audience and the protectors of the domestic sphere, with the poisonous reign of Ayesha. Though Holly never refers to it, the “ladies” would most likely love Ustane, for her martyr-like devotion to her love and her steady loyalty. Unlike Ayesha, Ustane dies in the name of the man that she loves rather than abandoning him or stabbing him through the heart with a spear.

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