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The Sexual Imperative in the Novels of Sir Henry Rider Haggard

The Sexual Imperative in the Novels of Sir Henry Rider Haggard

By Richard Reeve

‘The Sexual Imperative in the Novels of Sir Henry Rider Haggard’ offers a detailed and previously undocumented account of how the writer’s emotional experiences, primarily in the sexual arena, consistently informed and enriched his fiction.

EPUB, 214 Pages


February 2018

£90.00, $30.36

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PDF, 214 Pages


February 2018

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About This Book

The main focus of 'The Sexual Imperative in the Novels of Sir Henry Rider Haggard' is Haggard's preoccupation in his fiction with the theme of the sexual imperative and the relationship between his fictional representations and his personal emotional geography and experiences. It illuminates and explores aspects of this theme primarily by detailed examination of ten of his novels but it also demonstrates that identically evolving considerations of the theme are apparent in his contemporary romances. The book fills an important gap in Haggard scholarship which has traditionally tended to focus on his early romances and to centre on their political and psychological resonances. It also contributes to wider current debates on Victorian and turn of the century literature.

The book adopts a chronological framework which spans the entirety of Haggard’s writing career and considers the novels and corresponding romances which he wrote at each stage in his literary development. It considers Haggard’s literary representations in the context of contemporary sexual behaviours and attitudes, and of other contemporary literary representations of sexuality. It notes Haggard’s deployment in his novels of contemporary literary genres, notably those of the Sensation Novel, the New Woman, and later Modernism, and it examines what he contributed to these genres and how his interpretation of them compared to that of his literary contemporaries.

This book traces Haggard's emotional investment in his evolving depictions of the destructive potential for the male of female sexuality and demonstrates that his focus develops, as his writing career progresses, from deeply personal renditions of sexual betrayal towards a proposal that the seeds of moral destruction are an integral part of the sexual imperative. It examines his sustained consideration in his novels of the issues of the position of women and of the marriage question and documents his exploration of whether an unsatisfactory marriage legitimises extra-marital sexual relations. It notes, as a measure of Haggard’s moral progressiveness, that despite his formal need to criticise this behaviour, he is in fact clear that it is both natural and morally irreproachable. The book also examines Haggard’s exploration of the merits of a love which is predominantly spiritual rather than sexual and his consideration of the virtues of sexual renunciation. It relates his treatment of these themes to that of contemporary novelists and spiritualist writers. It documents his final fiction which depicts the inescapable imperatives of the human situation and celebrates the overwhelming validity of sexual passion in a committed relationship. It considers the extent of Haggard’s modernity and proposes that although he remains careful and caveated in his moral statements, and conservative by contemporary literary standards, he does unquestionably endorse self-fulfilment over social duty. The book’s conclusion argues that Haggard’s novels and many of his romances represent a consideration of issues which he saw as at the root of being and that the consistency, balance and open-mindedness with which he pursued them suggest a generally uncredited integrity and weight to his fiction.


English Literature in Transition

SEL Studies in English Literature

‘Combining biography with literary criticism, Reeve offers a compelling new look at H. Rider Haggard’s ideas about love and sexuality. Unlike previous studies that focus on She and King Solomon’s Mines, Reeve draws from Haggard’s complete oeuvre to identify and interpret previously unexamined aspects of this novelist’s thinking about romantic relationships.’
—Kate Holterhoff, Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA

Author Information

Richard Reeve was educated in England at King Edward’s School, Bath, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read English. He gained his doctorate from the University of Reading, England. He joined HM Diplomatic Service in 1971 and served in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Switzerland.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Introduction; Chapter One: The Sexual Imperative; Chapter Two: The Origins of Haggard’s Fictional Writing; Chapter Three: The Early Novels (1884-1895): Youthful Anger; Chapter Four: The New Woman, Female Self-Sacrifice and Spirituality (1887-1901); Chapter Five: Spiritual Love and Sexual Renunciation (1899-1908); Chapter Six: The Final Fiction: Spiritual Consolation and the Dictates of the Sexual Imperative (1909-1930); Chapter Seven: Summation: A Personal Odyssey; Appendix: Plot Summaries; Notes; Bibliography; Index.

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