Discuss the significance of homosociality in the imperial romances of Haggard and Stevenson. Who are the most significant male characters, and what forms of homosocial and heterosexual bonding do the novels explore or reject?

Close male relationships can be seen in the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Rider Haggard, such as with the three men in The Ebb-Tide and the father and adopted son in She. In The Ebb-Tide, we see how the men might bond over their failures in areas associated with men. In She, the two men bond over their typical masculine traits, such as scholarship and force. In She, there are women. In The Ebb-Tide, no women are present.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As you might have noted, there's lots of homosocial examples coursing through the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Rider Haggard.

Let's focus on Stevenson first. The work that catches our attention is The Ebb-Tide. In this slim novel, we meet three men in Papeete. We have Herrick, Davis, and Huish. What brings this homosocial trio together? We might say it’s their failure to excel in areas that are often associated with successful men.

Herrick could not keep a job. He "was everywhere discharged." Stevenson also tells us that Herrick "was deficient in consistency and intellectual manhood."

In Davis and Huish, we also see a lack of mastery. Davis loses his ship. Huish is portrayed as "brimming over with vanity and conversation." He can’t control his mouth nor can he control his obsession with himself.

We might say that the lack of masculine attributes results in the absence of women. We could argue that their inability to cultivate typical masculine qualities leads them to try and kill Attwater. Unlike the three homosocial men, Attwater has been successful at something: growing pearls. You might argue that Attwater reminds the three of their failure as men, which is why they want to murder him.

As for the homosocial elements in Rider Haggard, let's look at his novel She. Unlike in The Ebb-Tide, we're dealing with what we could call successful, appealing men. Horace is a professor, and Leo looks like a “Greek god.”

Could we argue that Horace and Leo have a homosocial relationship? Yes, but it might be more accurate to describe it as a father-son relationship. Yet aren't father-son relationships homosocial?

More so, think about how intimate Horace and Leo are. "Few sons have been loved as I love Leo, and few fathers know the deep and continuous affection that Leo bears to me," Leo tells us. He also tells us that people called them "Beauty and the Beast." What brings out Leo's beastly side? When a "great strapping butcher’s man [...] sang it out after" them.

We might ask what caused the butcher's man to sing it out. Was he perhaps making fun of their homosocial relationship?

Of course, when the two end up traveling together to the mysterious African kingdom, Leo has a romantic relationship with Ustane. His link to Ustane might be a rejection of a romantic relationship with the man who adopted him. Or perhaps there was nothing more going on between Leo and Horace in the first place. Maybe they were just really close.

When it comes to exploring homosocial elements in Stevenson and Haggard, there seems to be a lot of gray area. It’s as if the authors don't want to say what they're trying to say.

Although, we should be careful not to arbitrarily apply our own society's concern with sexual identity onto their works, which were composed in a different cultural context. We should also be sure to note that homosocial relationships aren't the same as homosexual relationships.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on July 23, 2020
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial