Zulli, Tania, ed. She: Explorations into a Romance. Rome: Aracne, 2009. ISBN 978-88-548-3188-9. Price EU€14.00.[Record]

  • Brandon Jernigan

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  • Brandon Jernigan
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This collection includes nine brief essays devoted to H. Rider Haggard’s imperial adventure story She (1887). Such singular focus is rare in contemporary literary studies, where most volumes are devoted to an oeuvre, genre, theme, methodology, or historical context. As a group, the essays are drawn to Haggard’s archeological drive in She—the interplay in the imperial imagination between an inaccessible buried past and the contemporary moment of discovery. In fact, this is how She begins, with a series of artifacts and translations reproduced in the text that connect an ancient African mystery through Greek and Latin scholarship to the English narrative present. As Patrick Brantlinger notes in his essay, the emergence of archaeology as a modern science in the mid-nineteenth century buttressed a teleological understanding of imperial time in which antiquities are held frozen in time in the metropolitan museum while discoveries are made in primitive colonial space. In other words, space becomes a signifier of uneven historical time, or as Anne McClintock succinctly writes in her 1995 book Imperial Leather, “[g]eographical difference across space is figured as a historical difference across time” (40). Archaeologists were discovering the remnants of ancient mankind, and the British public, including Haggard, were enthralled by such historical exploration, particularly Egyptology. Nevertheless, despite the racialism inherent in Victorian archaeology, the complex space-time of Empire did not always follow a simple evolutionary arc with a metropolitan apex. Romance and its spawn of emergent genres, including horror and science fiction, were quick to find depravity at the imperial center and new life on the spatiotemporal fringes. The fascination with the anachronistic construction of colonial space was an attempt at ideological consolidation, but it also opened up space for voicing dissatisfaction with the metropolitan present. This search for vitality and subsequent fear and fascination are, of course, at the heart of She, and their complex interplay occupies most of the essays in this collection. Like Haggard, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many other writers from quasi-imperial backgrounds approached the metropole from positions slightly askew, and thus, it is no surprise that late-nineteenth-century fiction continues to captivate readers and scholars. In grappling with their own positions in relation to metropolitan subjectivity and inevitably representing the ideological contradictions of their time, these writers produced complex romances that cannot easily be read as unambiguous exercises in imperial panopticism. In Culture and Imperialism (1993), Edward Said astutely notes how Conrad resisted incorporating imperial metropolitan discourse neatly into his fiction; instead, from a dislocated subjectivity, he created formalistic devices that “draw attention to themselves as artificial constructions, encouraging us to sense the potential of a reality that seemed inaccessible to imperialism, just beyond its control” (29). Although Conrad was more willing than Haggard to push the narrative form to its limits, the essays in this volume bring out the complex and often contradictory constructions of identity, narrative, and history in She. Gerald Monsman draws on scholarship relating to Victorian spiritualism and argues that “African spirituality” for Haggard became “an antidote to the Empire’s materialism” (17). By African spirituality, Monsman means (somewhat problematically) the late Victorian passion for spiritualism that often looked to other world traditions—a cultural phenomenon that he and other scholars have linked to dissatisfaction with rampant materialism and waning religious and imperial authority. Tania Zulli, in her essay, explores the epistemic and concomitantly formal tension in Haggard’s novel between scientific investigation and the mystery of the fantastic and spiritual. Likewise, Norman Etherington looks closely at the juxtaposition of antiquity and modernity in Haggard’s representation of the city of Kôr, and he links …