The Lost World of Paper: Rider Haggard’s Pulp

“The Lost World of Paper: Rider Haggard’s Pulp,” She: Explorations into a Romance, ed. Tania Zulli. Studi di Anglistica 20 (Aracne Editrice, 2010).

Andrew M. Stauffer

Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana tells the story of an amnesiac bookseller who recalls nothing but the printed material he has read, and that comprehensively and accurately. In an attempt to regain his own extra-textual identity, he embarks on a kind of archival immersion at his childhood home, searching through familiar piles of old magazines, books, comics, and ephemera for a key to his lost self. These documentary investigations open out in a number of directions, with particular reference to Italy during the Second World War, as the narrator attempts to evoke the memory of his first, lost love. Entering a bricked-up portion of the old house “full of printed matter” from the 1930s and 40s, he remarks, “I felt like Lord Carnarvon setting foot in Tutankhamen’s tomb after millennia,” and each time he touches upon a particularly evocative document, he reports feeling “a mysterious flame” wash over him.[1]  This feeling is soon traced to an “incredibly dumb” comic-book, which is in fact an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s She, with “Queen Loana” taking the place of Ayesha, “She-who-must-be-obeyed”:

Tim and Spud and two friends, while traveling in Central Africa, stumble upon a mysterious kingdom in which an equally mysterious queen is the guardian of an ultra-mysterious flame that grants long life, immortality even, considering that Loana, still beautiful, has been ruling over her savage tribe for two thousand years….She wants to marry one of Tim and Spud’s friends, who resembles (two peas in a pod) a prince she loved two thousand years before, whom she had killed and petrified when he refused her charms. (p. 252)

Eco does not mention Haggard, leaving that source text encrypted, but his elevation of the title of this “inspid tale” (p. 251) to the title of the novel itself suggests that She bears some vital relationship to Eco’s archival vision.  Indeed, it appears that, in naming his novel after a descendant of She, Eco recognized in Haggard’s novel an intense concern with archaeological encounters with the material, documentary past as a key to identity.[2] In this essay, I would like to draw out this theme by considering the late-Victorian imagination of paper and its relationship to archival imaginary of She: A History of Adventure.[3]

At the moment when Haggard began writing his works of fiction, the British paper-making industry had reached a watershed.  Since the introduction of the Fourdrinier machine in the early years of the century, technological improvements had fueled a steady and rapid expansion of productivity, allowing for things like cheap periodicals, poster-bill advertisements, and the rise of paperwork of all kinds.  By the 1830s, machine-made paper was being used in a wide range of venues, and writers of the Victorian era had seen the streets of London grow increasingly littered with waste paper, the byproduct of this industrial revolution.  Yet the really explosive years for paper did not begin until the early years of Haggard’s life.  In the 1860s, the repeal of the paper excise and the beginning of the use of wood and other vegetable fibers (such as esparto grass) as serious alternatives to linen rags created a world of new possibilities for the industry, and thus for British culture.  As D.C. Coleman writes, “The decades of the 1860s and 1880s are a true dividing line in the history of paper-making….it is wood pulp that has made possible the many and diverse guises in which paper appears in modern life.”[4]  Late-Victorian Britons surrounded themselves with a modern range of paper products, as paper finally became cheap enough to use carelessly, something fundamentally disposable.

            For authors of this period, there were at least two paradoxes in this development, one hidden and the other plain.  First, the increased use of wood and vegetable pulp brought with it a variety of experiments with chemical treatments in the paper-making process, often resulting in an acid-saturated product that was not stable over the long term.  We can see now the consequences of this experimental quest for cheaper paper in the crumbling, tanned, and brittle books and periodicals of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.[5]  That is, even as it appeared that the fortunes of paper were reaching new heights, the industry was producing some of the poorest, least durable material ever.  The authors who published during this period, particularly in cheaper media that met large audiences, unknowingly risked staking their legacies in this shifting sand.  The second, all-too-obvious paradox was that paper’s proliferation amounted to its radical devaluation: if paper was everywhere, literary documents lost status and were in danger of getting lost amid a crowd of objects and products (such as napkins and wall-paper), including printed items meant to be used rather than read, like tickets, certificates, and official documents.  In short, late-Victorian authors were haunted by two converse shadows: the fragility and the ubiquity of paper.

            One response to a world of cheap paper involves an embrace of the inscribed relic, an imaginative return to a lost world of the precious physical text.  That is, even as one’s work is being produced in formats and on paper that will resolve to something called “pulp fiction” in the twentieth century, one grounds that work in the unique material records of a distant past.[6]  Particularly in the context of the great archaeological discoveries of the Victorian era, such a reaction makes sense: the Egyptian and Assyrian artifacts arriving in England throughout the century provided a rich store of examples of such records, from papyrus scrolls and painted mummy wrappings to inscribed statuary and the Rossetta stone.  Whatever their value when they were produced, these writings had often just barely survived, and had thereby become treasures to their Western inheritors.  Furthermore, their scarred surfaces and broken edges conveyed the frightening probability of loss, even as the artifacts told a triumphal tale of endurance: like Keats’ urn, they remained “in the midst of other woe,” even as they bore the scars of the “rude/ Wasting of old time,” like his Elgin Marbles.  Thus, for authors responding to the changing roles and constitution of paper, archaeological relics offered a convincing source of comfort: not a mere fantasy of inviolable permanence, but a narrative of staying power in the face of the destructive and submerging years.  Finally, the artifacts from the Near East had a particular appeal, in addition to their extreme age: they had outlived their own languages even more finally than Greek or Roman artifacts, and yet they had been enough to reconstitute those languages, and thus the histories of the ancient civilizations that produced them.  For authors concerned about the reception of their materials by posterity, Egyptian and Assyrian records provided a consoling resort from the welter of paper in the streets.

            The novels of H. Rider Haggard emerge out of the set of concerns I have just described, and in this essay, I would like to use his work – and particularly his novel, She: A History of Adventure (1886-7) – as an exemplary case of these authorial negotiations involving paper and archaeology at the end of the nineteenth century.  Along with writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, G.E. Henty, and H.G. Wells, Haggard helps to invent the imperial Romance of the period, a genre sometimes equated with “boy’s books,” typically involving adventure stories with British colonial scenery, verging on science fiction or fantasy.  Until recently, it is not a genre that has received much academic attention; and indeed, much of the critical work on the genre in the last two decades has been devoted to exposing its questionable ideological commitments.[7]  With regard to Haggard, a number of his novels have long been available only as cheap, sci-fi press editions, and most are out of print altogether.  Nor does it always serve to go to the first hardcover edition: all copies I have seen of Haggard’s 1920 collection of short stories, Smith and the Pharaohs (Bristol: Arrowsmith) have darkening and brittle pages due to acids in the pulp. Turning the pages feels like unwrapping one of the fragile mummies from the title story.[8]  In figure 1, the text describes Smith’s exploration of an Egyptian tomb and his discovery of “a mummied hand, broken off at the wrist…withered and paper-white,” even as the tanned and chipped pages of this copy (in the Columbia University library) are visibly breaking from the body of the book along the gutter. That is, the book has come to incarnate the archaeological concerns of its subject, namely the relationship of present and past via relics and inscriptions; and concerns with paper haunt the scene.  In Haggard’s work, as we will see, this case is not unique; his novels demonstrate the turn to archaeology in reaction to their place as things of paper in late-Victorian culture.

Like Stevenson his contemporary with Treasure Island, Haggard literally predicates his great romances of the 1880s – King Solomon’s Mines (1885), She (1886-7), and Cleopatra (1889) – on fictional inscribed relics.  In Haggard’s case, all point to Africa and the Near East: the linen map of José da Silvestra showing the way to King Solomon’s mines, the text-covered Sherd of Amenartas giving the history of the De Vincey family and “She,” and the papyrus scrolls of Hamarchis, which contain the ancient Egyptian narrative that is the novel.[9]  The first two examples are particularly relevant, as Haggard actually fabricated the map and sherd, and placed photo-lithographic images of them as the frontispieces to the novels. Of the ‘Sherd of Amenartas,’ Haggard confessed to his friend H.A. Holden, who helped compose the fake Greek inscriptions, that he meant to fool the experts: “I am not without hopes of getting a rise or two out of the antiquarians”(UCLA 418.2.5). This forged relic can still be seen at the Norwich Museum in England.  As Norman Etherington writes,

Every writer of fantasy who seeks verisimilitude needs devices to make incredible things believable, but few have taken so much trouble as Haggard.  Inspired by Stevenson’s use of a pirate’s map in Treasure Island, he used an old map to guide Allan Quatermain’s party to Kukuanaland in King Solomon’s Mines.  Moreover, he personally prepared a map and went to great lengths to make it appear authentic.  In the case of the Sherd of Amenartas he took more extreme measures.  Besides commissioning scholars to concoct translations, he and his sister-in-law made up a sherd, which he claimed was good enough to fool experts.[10]

It seems that Haggard’s romances often require as their starting points precious material objects that bear written text; even the late story “Smith and the Pharaohs” was inspired by two Egyptian rings, with hieroglyphic seals, that Haggard owned.[11]  Either found or invented, these artifacts provide ballast for Haggard’s imagination; they become paperweights resisting forces of cultural change, unique documents that mark territory outside of the document-filled cities of England, leading the heroes into virtually paper-free zones. 

Treasure Island began with a map,” writes a recent biographer of Stevenson, a statement true in both its senses: the book opens to reveal a facsimile of the eponymous map, a copy of one Stevenson drew and named before the novel was conceived.[12]  Remembering (in 1894) the process of composition, Stevenson writes, “as I poured upon my map of ‘Treasure Island,’ the future characters of the book began to appear visibly….The next thing I knew, I had some paper before me and was writing out a list of chapters….The map was the chief part of my plot”[13]  In fact, he goes on to recommend that all novelists give this kind of priority to the cartographic, in words that recall Haggard’s procedures:

It is perhaps not often that a map figures so largely in a tale; yet it is always important.  The author must know hiscountryside, whether real or imaginary, like his hand….he who is faithful to his map, and consults it, and draws from it his inspiration, daily and hourly, gains positive support….The tale has a root there; it grows in that soil; it has a spine of its own behind the words….with imaginary places, he will do well in the beginning to provide a map.  As he studies it, relations will appear that he had not thought upon…and even when a map is not all the plot, as it was in “Treasure Island,” it will be found to be a mine of suggestion. (pp. xix-xx)

Stevenson may very well be thinking of Haggard’s map in King Solomon’s Mines in that last phrase; mine and spine, root and soil, the prefatory map gives the author a steadying supply of resources for his fiction.  Yet for both Stevenson and Haggard, such maps were more than working blueprints on the authors’ desk.  Not only do they become integral to their readers’ experience of the novels as frontispieces, but they foreground their physical, historical existence and ‘authenticity’ by means of signs such as torn edges, blood stains, various handwritings, and dates.[14]  Furthermore, the frontispieces to Treasure IslandKing Solomon’s Mines, and She all use the word “facsimile” disingenuously, implying that the reader is seeing a reproduction of a “real” original; the images are indeed facsimiles, but of documents imagined and forged by the authors.[15]

In fact, the publication history of Treasure Island is more complicated than this, as the original map was lost, and Stevenson drew up a replacement, requiring him “to examine a whole book, make an inventory of all the allusions contained in it, and with a pair of compasses painfully design a map to suit the data….Somehow it was never ‘Treasure Island’ to me”(p. xviii).[16]  That is, the map published in all editions of the novel is a belated, backwards translation of the novel’s setting and events, whereas the novel itself is the only remaining witness to the original map that inspired it.  In this way, both the replacement map and the text of the novel are elegiac records, built around a precious relic no longer extant.  Indeed, in the plot of the novel, as Simon Joyce has pointed out, the treasure has already been found and moved by Ben Gunn, so the map “only marks the spatial coordinates of an absent referent.”[17]  I want to suggest that, of several possibilities including boyhood and imaginative strength, cherished paper is the lost treasure that the story of Stevenson’s map mourns.  The “Treasure Island” map is at once precious, absent, and promiscuously reproduced, thereby invoking the range of documentary anxieties faced by the late Victorians.  Ultimately, the map points backward to a world wherein paper, and by extension the work of writers, was a treasure and not the lining of a dead man’s chest.

            Taking Stevenson’s novel as a model, Rider Haggard introduces King Solomon’s Mines with a map to the treasure, a map whose material features even more explicitly invoke the Victorian question of paper.  The facsimile’s subtitle informs us that it was drawn in “blood, upon a fragment of linen, in the year 1590,” and indeed, the map’s irregular shape, raveled and torn edges, stained surface, and rusty ink attest to this description.  Written on a linen rag, José da Silvestra’s map evokes the rag-based papermaking technologies of past generations; reproduced and printed on wood-pulp blends, it abides in the modern age of paper. Haggard’s fabrication of an actual linen map at once echoes Stevenson’s double act of mapmaking (the innocent original and the labored replacement), and goes beyond that strangeness to the brink of forgery, as if the overcompensating Haggard needed more than just a map to mine; he needed a antique document to touch and fold.  That is, the imaginative use of the map comes not so much from its content, as with Stevenson — who speaks of “future characters of book” appearing “visibly among imaginary woods” and “fighting, and hunting treasure, on these few square inches of a flat projection”(pp. xii-xiii) – but from its palpable aspects as a piece of linen marked with sanguine ink.

Strangely enough, after the facsimile of it as the book’s frontispiece, this linen map never appears in the novel.  Instead, its contents arrive by way of a complex series of translations. Silvestre has made a paper copy of the written text, which has in turn been translated for Quatermain by “a drunken old Portuguese trader,” and then copied into the narrative, which has then been published.[18]  In addition, the pictorial aspects of the map have been redrawn and relabeled (first by Silvestre, then by Quatermain); the famous map in the novel which has received so much critical attention is a regularized, translated version of the torn and bloody Portuguese ‘original’ which opens dramatically within the novel’s cover.[19]  Thus, even as King Solomon’s Mines unfolds beneath the sign of the large linen map, as under a sheltering flag, it nervously oscillates on the subject of map’s presence within its fictional space.  Rather than the documentary relic itself, the characters get (and, in fact, need) a second- or third-generation copy.  As Quatermain says, “The original rag is at my home in Durban, together with poor Dom José’s translation, but I have the English rendering my pocket-book, and a fac-simile of the map, if it can be called a map. Here it is” (p. 55).  After showing it to the other characters (and to us), Quatermain speaks disingenuously of “the copy of the map, drawn by the dying hand of the old Dom with his blood for ink” (p. 56).  After all, it was not the copy but the original linen map that was so drawn; the misdirection of that comma after “map” sends us back to the frontispiece and a document Sir Henry and Captain Good never see.  Therefore, in a way reminiscent of Stevenson’s lost original map, the linen map to King Solomon’s mines is at once ostentatiously present and really only a ghost in the textual machine, invoking the late-Victorian double vision of paper as both proliferating crowd and absent friend.  In short, Haggard’s novel is predicated upon a relic, but it runs on copies.

Furthermore, as we have seen with the first edition of Smith and the Pharaohs, duplication does not necessarily mean preservation. Figure 2 shows a copy of the first edition of King Solomon’s Mines (from the New York Public Library) that has suffered serious decay; the acids in its late-Victorian pages have been catalyzed (by the air, by handling, by temperature) and it is slowly falling apart.  In the opening depicted here, Quatermain’s “fac-simile” of the map faces the narrative of Silvestre, who handed Quatermain the linen rag (the image of which peeks from behind the book), tied up so as to contain a piece of paper with his translation on it: “The paper has it all, that is on the rag,” he exclaims.  At one level, the phrase rings false, as we turn the pulp pages of this book that is in the act of demonstrating the potential cost of England’s turn away from rag-based paper in the 1880s; this acidic paper does not have it all, or won’t for long.  Furthermore, the claim that “the paper” contains all that is on “the rag” raises the question of transmission that the book’s structure engages: what attenuation occurs as an original document is copied and recopied? The first sentence of the novel is, “Now that this book is printed, and about to be given to the world, the sense of its shortcomings, both in style and contents, weighs very heavily upon me”(p. 39). The doubly- and triply-reproduced maps have now been “printed” – duplicated many times, on paper – and the narrator registers a burden of loss.  Behind all of this we see Haggard figuring a conflict between the unique inscribed relic and the myriad page: which will better preserve history, narrative, culture, identity?  What will best carry a legacy?

If we turn our attention to She, the intersection of paper and archaeology in Haggard’s imagination can be seen in even greater detail, located as it is within and across the bibliographical and narrative spaces of the novel. Put another way, She is multiply determined by archival anxieties and fantasies, some that are evident in the imagery and action of the narrative and others that play out in the textual history of the work. As a story in a periodical republished as a one-volume novel, She reflects its moment in Victorian publication history, and particularly the end of the triple-decker format and the advent of cheap fiction. Within the narrative itself, images of the decay or destruction of material records and remains alternate with visions of the survival and legibility of incarnated forms and texts. Ayesha herself is both relic and librarian, and her story suggests a kind of nightmarish fantasy about the fate of books in the world – including of course the book that bears her name and her identity, the one in the reader’s hand. Seen from this vantage, She becomes an exemplary record of the Victorian author’s mournful relationship to a lost world of paper. 

            Haggard’s generation saw the end of the Victorian three-volume novel, the backbone of the fiction publishing industry for much of the nineteenth-century. As books became cheaper and the circulating libraries faded in influence, new formats arose, particularly the single-volume and the paperback. Alexis Wheedon writes that, “the period 1870-1930 saw the emergence of the cheap edition and the paperback as a significant force within the marketplace,” and moreover, that the force behind this emergence was cheap paper: “…from the 1850s, a reduction in the cost of paper was the most significant factor in the fall in the cost of book manufacture, due partly to economies of scale in the use of larger sheets of paper on bigger presses and partly to the cheapening of the product itself.” [20] The advent of cheap, wood- and grass-pulp paper meant the rise of ephemera and the movement of fiction towards that end of the publishing spectrum. The first edition of Haggard’s She as published by Longmans, Green, and Company concludes with a double-sided ad sheet for 1-shilling “Popular Novels.”  The novel is book-ended, in other words, by the Sherd of Amenartas (the ancient relic) as a frontispiece and this ad-sheet for cheap editions bound in the back, an arrangement that evokes the double nature of documents in Haggard’s imagination. At the time She was written, the Victorian novel was undergoing material transformations and finding its place within a new culture of paper. Haggard’s novel mediates upon these transformations and what they might mean for its own future reception.

            A number of scenes in She evoke the presence of paper in ways that suggest its relation to the preservation of the past. The first of these occurs as Holly opens the iron chest left to him and to Leo by Vincey, Leo’s father. Opening the Egyptian silver casket inside the chest, Holly describes its contents as a curiously amalgamated representation of the history of papermaking:

It was filled to the brim with some brown shredded material more like vegetable fibre than paper, the nature of which I have never been able to discover. This I carefully removed to the depth of some three inches, when I came to a letter enclosed in an ordinary modern-looking envelope, and addressed in the handwriting of my dead friend Vincey….The next thing that I came to was a parchment carefully rolled up….Then followed another ancient roll of parchment….Immediately beneath this roll was something hard and heavy, wrapped up in yellow linen, and reposing on another layer of the fibrous material. Slowly and carefully we unrolled the linen, exposing to view a very large but undoubtedly ancient potsherd of a dirty yellow color! (pp. 54-5).

Lining an Egyptian casket, the shredded vegetable-fibrous material suggests paper’s forerunner, papyrus, which here serves as packing material for several rolls of parchment (the next stage in the progress of paper), and a letter on nineteenth-century paper (complete with envelope, a Victorian development). Yet the shredded fibres also evoke the esparto grass and wood pulp origins of paper in contemporary England. At the heart of the casket is the Sherd of Amenartas, itself inscribed with text, but also wrapped in linen and associated with this linen by their shared “yellow” color. Linen, in turn, evokes the linen rags that went into the making of paper for most of the century. I want to suggest that what the iron chest contains is not just Ayesha’s story, but a dream-version of Haggard’s novel as a material thing. That is, the opening of the chest within the novel reveals a kind of primal scene, the matrix of She-as-physical object.

We know that the chest-opening scene takes place in 1881, while Vincey’s letter was deposited in 1861, so that the letter has already become a relic of previous technological infrastructure. It seems to stand out amidst all of the ancient documents and materials inside the iron chest, but it ultimately belongs there with the other ancient documentary materials,another museum-piece. After all, these two decades of Leo’s life with Holly (1861-1881) overlap precisely with the great transition in British papermaking from linen rags to vegetable pulp.  As a result, Vincey’s letter has a kind of evocative power over the past:

…in reading it remember that I have been, and for anything you know may still be, and that in it, through this link of pen and paper, I stretch out my hand to you across the gulf of death, and my voice speaks to you from the unutterable silence of the grave. Though I am dead, and no memory of me remains in your mind, yet am I with you in this hour that you read. (p.56)

In pointing directly to its paper as a “link” “across the gulf of death,” Vincey’s letter reaffirms the importance of the material document as a vehicle for preservation. Readers of She often notice the archaeological aspects of the iron chest and its contents; it seems that these are bound up with a substrate of imagery concerned with the technologies of paper, and thus with the future of the physical pages of the novel itself.[21]

            A related scene occurs as Ayesha, in her aspect as docent or librarian, takes Holly on a tour of the tombs of Kor. As Billali has said, “the whole mountain is full of dead, and nearly all of them perfect”(p. 166), mummified according to a lost preservative art that keeps these ancient bodies white and lifelike. In these tombs, Ayesha leads Holly through a sequence of encounters that evoke not just archaeological discovery but also the handling and reading of books – as if these incarnated and preserved forms comprise a tremendous library. Holly describes “the bodies on the stone shelves” (p. 176) as if they were books, again associating them with linen rags. He reports that, “On the benches lay figures covered with yellow linen, on which a fine and impalpable dust had gathered in the course of ages,” and Holly’s footnote to this sentence informs us that “All the linen that the Amahagger wore was taken from the tombs, which accounted for its yellow hue. If it was well washed, however, and properly bleached, it acquired its former snowy whiteness, and was the softest and best linen I ever saw” (p. 176). The bleaching of linen rags again invokes technologies of papermaking, further associating the corpses with paper-based forms. In addition, Holly’s interaction with these mummified white objects is rendered in language associated with reading. In the first encounter, Ayesha removes two layers of cloth on one of the bodies, rather like opening the cover of a volume: “and then for the first for thousands upon thousands of years did living eyes look upon the faces of the chilly dead….There they were, mother and babe, the white memories of a forgotten human history speaking more eloquently to the heart than could any written record of their lives (p. 177; my emphasis).  Holly tells us that he “could fill a book with the description of them,” and seeing the figures labeled “Wedded in Death,” Holly passes into a reverie, “weaving a picture…so real and vivid in its details that I could almost for a moment think that I had triumph’d o’er the Past, and that my spirit’s eyes had pierced Time’s mystery” (p. 178). Like the “link…across the gulf of death” that was Vincey’s letter, these bodies seem able to convey their stories to a silent reader. As the vision of the tragic lovers ends, Holly says, “the pageant rolled away from the arena of my vision, and once more the past shut up its book” (p. 179; my emphasis). In this way, the tombs of Kor become a vast archive of material remains not unlike a library of books, here preserved ideally through thousands of years and allowing for a future reader like Holly to triumph over the passage of time.

Because she is also presented as a quasi-mummy, Ayesha’s longevity and perfect preservation represent the summation of this theme. When he first sees Ayesha, Holly describes her “swathed mummy-like form…wrapped up in soft gauzy material in such a way as at first sight to remind me most forcibly of a corpse in its grave clothes” (p. 143). In this way, she becomes associated with the library of perfect bodies in the tombs, and seems to offer an ideal interaction with the living past, herself a kind of animated relic or book. Running counter to this idealizing vision, however, are a number of passages in the novel that emphasize the fragility and deracination of material remains, thus communicating an anxiety about the future of paper. Not least is Ayesha’s own fate, as she grows old before the eyes of Holly, Leo, and Job in the Cave of the Spirit of Life. There Holly says, “her skin changed colour, and in place of the perfect whiteness of its luster it turned dirty brown and yellow, like an old piece of withered parchment. She felt at her bald head: the delicate hand was nothing but a claw now, a human talon like that of a badly-preserved Egyptian mummy” (p.261). Transforming from smooth white paper to withered parchment, and from a something like a mummy of Kor (perfect, white) to a mummy of Egypt (decaying, black), Ayesha incarnates the anxieties about the fate of material remains that her novel engages, especially with regard to its pages made of paper. 

            Holly’s other visitation in the Tombs of Kor elaborates on this theme. After ‘reading’ the lives of the many white mummies, he is taken to the pyramid of skeletons which are their counterpoint:

So far as I could judge, the pit was about the sized of the space beneath the dome of St. Paul’s, and when the lamps were held up I saw that it was nothing but one vast charnel-house, being literally full of thousands of human skeletons, which lay piled up in an enormous gleaming pyramid….Anything more appalling than this jumbled mass of the remains of a departed race I cannot imagine, and what made it even more dreadful was that in this dry air a good number of the bodies had simply become dessicated with the skin on them, and now, fixed in every conceivable position, stared at one out of the heaps of white bones, grotesquely horrible caricatures of humanity. (p. 174)

Holly finds this spectacle appalling, dreadful, and grotesque not only as an image of human mortality, but also as an archival failure, a disheartening contrast to the bookish order of the draped white forms on the shelves next door. These chaotic, dessicated bodies are inaccessible not only because they have not been preserved but also because they exist only as a “jumbled mass” rather than individual items with which a visitor may commune. As Kelly Hurley writes of this contrast, “if the mummy-fetish represents an attempt to deny the corruption of the body…the repressed returns…in scenes of overwhelming body horror.”[22]Holly later dreams of these skeletons, marching through Kor to the accompaniment of a voice calling “‘Fallen is Imperial Kor!—fallen!—fallen!—fallen!’”; then, “Back they came to the cave, and once more flung themselves in unending files through the hole into the huge pyramid of bones” (p. 196).  The end of empire is associated in Holly’s mind with this endless de-accessioning of remains, as the “unending files” stream into the landfill, which nevertheless assumes the shape of an impromptu pyramid, an ironic monument to the loss of individuation and of history. Like the burning mummies of Kor used for Amahagger torches, these skeletal bodies figure a radical erasure of history that haunts this “history of adventure.”

            But if Haggard, working on pulp paper in cheap publication formats, is concerned about the long –term preservation of what he is creating, there is recompense in the promise of dissemination and the reincarnation enjoined with it. Of the many white mummies in the tombs of Kor, the corpse of Kallikrates is the most important, having been preserved and cherished by Ayesha herself. As she reveals Kallikrates to Leo, she does so with the words again invoking the handling of a codex: “I do but turn one page in thy Book of Being, and show thee what is writ thereon. Behold!”(p. 217). In the symbolic logic of the novel, then, Leo is the second edition, the modern reprinting that obviates the need for the original body, which Ayesha then destroys. In this way, reincarnation in She seems to figure the process of print reproduction, whereby the self or work finds a new material body. Like reincarnation, print culture offers a way to continue beyond the destruction of one’s physical container via a kind of migration. As Ayesha says in her last extremity, in words that evoke her eponymous novel, “I shall come again, and shall once more be beautiful” (p. 263).

Modern publishers and editors of Haggard’s She have had some hand in providing for latter-day incarnations of this kind. She has indeed come again in many formats and editions, and has never gone out of print. Whether these reincarnations are beautiful may depend on the reader. On the cover of my Broadview edition of the novel, I placed an early-twentieth-century photograph of the mummy of an Egyptian princess (Nsikhonsou or Neskhons, c. 980 BCE), who was unwrapped by Gaston Maspero in 1886, in the same year that She began to appear in the Graphic. I have heard a number of objections to this choice of an image, which some thought too ghoulish or repulsive to serve as an appropriate cover. I meant it to evoke Ayesha’s final transformation as well as her beauty, since Neskhons (who died as a young woman, probably in childbirth) is amazingly well-preserved, with a look of sublime peace on her face. Her unwrapping was the product of the archaeological enthusiasm of Haggard’s era, a version of the curiosity that prompts Holly to the uncovering of the Kor mummies and, more fatally, to the unveiling of Ayesha. In any case, I like to think that the shades of Neskhons and of Ayesha are not entirely displeased with their new incarnation, a link to the future accomplished by the power of paper.

[1] Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (1994), p. 225.

[2] Shawn Malley has written evocatively on this theme in She: “’Time Hath No Power Against Identity’: Historical Continuity and Archaeological Adventure in H. Rider Haggard’s She,” English Literature in Transition 40:3 (1997), pp. 275-97.

[3] H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure, ed. Andrew Stauffer (New York: Broadview, 2005). Citations of this novel will refer to this edition by page number, unless otherwise noted.

[4] The British Paper Industry, 1495-1860: A Study in Industrial Growth (Oxford: Clarendon, 1958), 344.  See also Rob Banham, “The Industrialization of the Book, 1800-1970,” A Companion to the History of the Book, ed. Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose (London: Blackwell, 2008), pp. 273-90.

[5]  See Nicholson Baker, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, for a survey of this paper’s durability, along with a rebuttal to assertions that it is doomed to disintegrate (New York: Random House, 2001)

[6]  On pulp fiction in the early 20th century, see Erin A. Smith, Hard-Boiled: Working Class Readers and Pulp Magazines (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 2000) and Scott McCracken, Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1998).

[7] Criticism of the imperial Romance, and Haggard in particular, includes Lindy Stiebel, Imagining Africa: Landscape in H. Rider Haggard’s African Romances(Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001; Laura Chrisman, Rereading the Imperial Romance (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000); R. Phillips, Mapping Men and Empire: A Geography of Adventure (New York: Routledge, 1997); Ann McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (New York: Routledge, 1995); G. Dawson, Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire and the Imagining of Masculinities (New York: Routledge, 1994); );  J. Bristow, Empire Boys (London: Harper Collins, 1991); William Scheick, “Adolescent Pornography and Imperialism in Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, “ English Literature in Transition 34 (1991), pp. 19-30; Rebecca Stott, “The Dark Continent: Africa as Female Body in Haggard’s Adventure Fiction,” Feminist Review 32 (1989), 69-89; Patrick Brantlinger, Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988); Wendy R. Katz, Rider Haggard and the Fiction of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987); and Sandra M. Gilbert, “Rider Haggard’s Heart of Darkness,” Partisan Review 1 (1983), pp. 444-53..

[8]  OCLC lists only twenty copies extant, I have examined those at Columbia, UCLA, and the University of Virginia, and all have tanned and brittle pages.

[9] Allan Quatermain (1886) may be seen as an exception, but it too is ringed round with documents: it begins with the transcription of a diary entry and ends with various “additions to the manuscript” and post-scripts attesting to the material nature of the text one has just read.

[10]  The Annotated She (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1991), p. 214n8.

[11] “The Nugent and Haggard Collection…” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 4 (Jan 1917)….

[12] Philip Callow, Louis: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), p. 146.

[13]  “My First Book – ‘Treasure Island’” The Novels and Tales of Robert Louis Stevenson, Volume Two: Treasure Island (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1899), pp. xii-xiii, xviii.

[14] As Herbert Tucker writes in “Literal Illustration in Victorian Print,” The Victorian Illustrated Book, ed. Richard Maxwell, pp. 163-208, “Haggard had in his accurate sights a reader whose imaginative empire over space and time was immune to exaggeration, with an appetite for documentary verification to match” (p. 182).

[15] Thomas Hardy seems to have invented this pictorial strategy for fiction, with his map of Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native (1878); Stevenson and Haggard followed close behind.  However, the fictional use of ‘authentic’ documents in facsimile goes back at least to 1824, in James Hogg’s novel, The Private Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which opens with a handwritten page of the narrator’s diary.

[16]  On the composition and publication history of Treasure Island, see Roger G. Swearingen, The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson: A Guide (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1980), pp. 63-70.

[17]  “Maps and Metaphors: Topographical Representation and the Sense of Place in Late-Victorian Fiction,” The Victorian Illustrated Book, ed. Richard Maxwell (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2002), pp. 129-62; p. 155.

[18]  H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines, ed. Gerald Monsman (New York: Broadview, 2002), p. 55.  Citations of this novel will refer to this edition by page number, unless otherwise noted.

[19]  Sandra Gilbert and Rebecca Stott, for example, have paid keen attention to Quatermain’s map as a rough version of an inverted female body (see note 4). However, the ‘original’ linen rag map is innocent of the charge, casting the responsibility more squarely on Quatermain himself.

[20] Alexis Wheedon, “From Three-Deckers to Film Rights: A Turn in British Publishing Strategies, 1870-1930,” Book History 2 (1999), pp. 188-206; p. 192.

[21] For the archaeological reading see Malley (op. cit.) and Carolyn Burdett, “Romance, Reincarnation, and Rider Haggard,” The Victorian Supernatural, ed. Nicola Brown et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004 ), pp. 217-38.

[22] Kelly Hurley, “The Victorian Mummy-Fetish: H. Rider Haggard, Frank Aubrey, and the White Mummy,” Victorian Freaks: The Social Contexts of Freakery in Britain, ed. Marlene Tromp (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 2008), pp. 180-199; p. 195-6.