The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although She and Ayesha were published nearly twenty years apart, H. Rider Haggard asserted that Ayesha was a conclusion to a two-part book, not a sequel. There is also a “prequel,” She and Allan (1921). In both books, a fictitious editor presents a manuscript narration by Ludwig Horace Holly. Holly, a Cambridge don, becomes the guardian of Leo Vincey, the five-year-old son of his deceased friend. They make an unusual pair: Holly is short, dark, ugly, and especially hairy; Leo is tall and blond, and he is nicknamed “the Greek God” for his stunning looks.

When Leo reaches the age of twenty-five, the pair are permitted to open a chest left to Leo by his father. The chest contains a message written by Leo’s ancient ancestor, Amenartas, an Egyptian princess, who persuaded Kallikrates, a priest, to break his vows and flee with her. They were wrecked in a boat off the coast of Libya and carried to the interior of Africa, where they met a white queen, She. She loved Kallikrates and wanted him to bathe in the rolling pillar of life with her to achieve near immortality, but he shrank from her and clung to Amenartas. Enraged, She slew Kallikrates. Amenartas returned to Egypt, gave birth, and swore through her offspring to get revenge on She.

The message and other documents convince Leo to undertake the quest of finding She, and he persuades Holly to accompany him. After being shipwrecked and captured by natives, crossing trackless swamps, and escaping native attack, Holly, Leo, and Job, their servant, arrive at She’s “castle,” a honeycomb of caves in an extinct volcano. They discover that Leo is virtually a reincarnation of Kallikrates, and She has waited two thousand years to be reunited with him. She slays Ustane, a native wife Leo acquired en route, but Leo, overcome by her beauty and charm, is ready to unite with She regardless. She leads the trio past the ruins of ancient Kôr, to a cave containing the rolling pillar of life. There she bathes in the flames as an encouragement to Leo to do the same. As the flame passes, she shrivels up and dies, but not before promising to return. The editor informs readers that after a time back in England,...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Cambridge University

*Cambridge University. Great English university in which the novel begins and ends. The university represents the staid, rational, and traditional patterns of British thought and learning. Against this familiar background of scientific knowledge and reason, a highly implausible tale unfolds. The juxtaposition of the university’s prosaic surroundings with the horrifying story found in an ancient chest of Egyptian origin makes for an atmosphere of eerie disbelief.

Within the Spiritualist movement that was popular at the time She was written, stories of reincarnation and previous lives spent in ancient Egypt were capturing the imagination of the British public. Rider Haggard combined a Spiritualist theme with elements of thrilling adventure in an imaginary Africa of lost tribes ruled by white queens and secrets of eternal life to add to the atmosphere of foreboding and death.

Central Africa

Central Africa. Region in which the main action of the novel is ostensibly set. The novel’s two English protagonists, Ludwig Horace Holly and his ward, Leo Vincey, approach the east coast of Central Africa on an Arab boat that is sunk by a sudden violent storm. The storm, which represents the savagery and mutability of the African continent, deposits the adventurers in a bay along a rugged coastline. There, they find a gigantic stone, shaped like a human, marking the mouth of a river that...

(The entire section is 554 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story takes place during the late nineteenth century, the era the book was written. Horace Holly's account begins in Cambridge, England,...

(The entire section is 712 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Even the success of King Solomon's Mines did not prepare the English reading public for the imaginative tour de force of She....

(The entire section is 588 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Some readers may object to Haggard's depiction of Africans in She. With two notable exceptions, Billali and Ustane, members of the...

(The entire section is 287 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Although Ayesha (She) is the novel's title character, discuss the possibility that Horace Holly, the narrator, is the real protagonist....

(The entire section is 140 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. What is the nature of the legend which takes Leo, Horace, and Job into the wilds of Africa? Explain how this legend effects their...

(The entire section is 112 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

She has been filmed a number of times. The first of six silent film versions was made in France in 1919. The first talking version,...

(The entire section is 152 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Barker, Ernest. History of the English Novel. London: Witherby, 1938. This work provides a general, if somewhat dated, account of...

(The entire section is 169 words.)


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Barclay, Glen St. John. Anatomy of Horror: The Masters of Occult Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. In the chapter “Love After Death: Henry Rider Haggard,” Barclay surveys the writer’s supernatural fiction, focusing on She and its three sequels. Concludes that Haggard “found an ideal form of expression” in his African adventures, and ranks him above other writers of the supernatural such as Bram Stoker and H. P. Lovecraft.

Haggard, H. Rider. The Annotated She: A Critical Edition of H. Rider Haggard’s Victorian Romance with Introduction and Notes by Norman Etherington. Bloomington: Indiana University...

(The entire section is 271 words.)