She, Haggard’s most studied novel, followed his first resounding success, King Solomon’s Mines (1886), and was published only a few years after his first book, Cetywayo and His White Neighbours (1882). Later works including Allan Quatermain (1887), a sequel to King Solomon’s Mines, and Ayesha: The Return of She still attract attention.

Haggard excels as an action-adventure writer. His novels set in Africa feature clusters of two or three English heroes, often with a brave native sidekick, numerous narrow escapes, considerable battle and gore, and occasional romantic interest. His work is raised above the forgettable by his facility with plot and compelling use of the African landscape, flora, and fauna, both real and imagined. He also shows skill in rendering the sublime, scenes of natural desolation, beauty, antiquity, or majesty beside which the mortal observer feels insignificant. She perhaps best produces this sublime, in the numerous encounters the English explorers Holly and Leo have with the superbeing She, not to mention the violent storm, trackless swamps, magnificent ruined city of Kôr, and cave with the rolling pillar of life.

Ayesha is more mystical, with considerable emphasis on reincarnation and romantic determinism, perhaps inspired by Haggard’s distress over the woman he desired but was unable to marry, Lilly Jackson. Both novels feature the ugly...

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