H. Rider Haggard's imperial gothic novel, She, A History of Adventure (1887), is a narrative of ruins that speak of a vanished past and presage ends: of empire, of history, of culture. Haggard's novel follows two British adventurers as they travel to Africa in search of a mysterious woman that a potsherd--a ruin in miniature--tasks them with killing. There, they encounter ruin after ruin: pots, roads, caves, canals, sculptures, and more. These ruins serve as sentinels, as walkways, and as homes; they signal, warn, resist, witness, remind, and--not least--exist in a landscape that is anything but empty. Though seemingly inert, the ruins are actants possessing agency and able to influence the people and objects around them. But in Haggard's novel of colonization and conquest, these ruins do not act alone. Instead, they form an assemblage, a group of vibrant materials that collaborate and collude to resist twin onslaughts from ancient Egypt and Victorian Britain. Two accounts thus emerge from the encounter of human and ruin. In one, the ruins establish a symbiotic relationship with their would-be possessor. In the other, the ruins reject the men who seek to make the artifacts part of the narrative of imperialism. In this way, the ruins in She become counteragents of empire, as heroic as Haggard's human characters and worthy of recognition for the pivotal role they play in the novel.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Rackham, Rachel E., ""Out of the Living Rock": The Assemblage of Ruins in H. Rider Haggard's She" (2021). Theses and Dissertations. 9203.
ruins, faux antique, assemblages, geophilia, thing power, vibrant materials, agency, actant, Africa, colonization, H. Rider Haggard