She: A History of Adventure  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

She, subtitled A History of Adventure, is a novel by Henry Rider Haggard, first serialized in The Graphic magazine from October 1886 to January 1887. She is one of the classics of imaginative literature, and with over 83 million copies sold in 44 different languages, one of the best-selling books of all time. Extraordinarily popular upon its release, She has never been out of print. According to the literary historian Andrew M. Stauffer, "She has always been Rider Haggard's most popular and influential novel, challenged only by King Solomon's Mines in this regard".

The story is a first-person narrative that follows the journey of Horace Holly and his ward Leo Vincey to a lost kingdom in the African interior. There, they encounter a primitive race of natives and a mysterious white queen, Ayesha, who reigns as the all-powerful "She", or "She-who-must-be-obeyed". In this work, Rider Haggard developed the conventions of the Lost World sub-genre, which many later authors emulated.

She is placed firmly in the imperialist literature of nineteenth-century England, and inspired by Rider Haggard's experiences of South Africa and British colonialism. The story expresses numerous racial and evolutionary conceptions of the late-Victorians, especially notions of degeneration and racial decline prominent during the fin de siècle. In the figure of She, the novel notably explored themes of female authority and feminine behaviour. It has received praise and criticism alike for its gendered representation of womanhood.

Synopsis

A Cambridge University professor, Horace Holly, and his ward, Leo Vincey, together with their servant, Job, travel to Africa. They follow instructions on the "Sherd of Amenartas" left to Vincey by his father. They hire an Arab packman, Mahomed, before journeying into an unexplored part of the African interior, where they discover the lost kingdom of Kôr, inhabited by the primitive Amahagger people. The adventurers learn that the natives are ruled by a fearsome white queen, who is worshiped as Hiya or "She-who-must-be-obeyed". The Amahagger are curious about the white-skinned interlopers; She had warned them of their coming.

Billali, the chief elder of one of the Amahagger tribes, takes charge of the three men, introducing them to the ways of his people. One of the Amahagger maidens, Ustane, takes a liking to Vincey and during a tribal feast sings lovingly to him. Billali tells Holly that he needs to go and report the white men's arrival to She. In his absence, some of the Amahagger become restless and determine to eat Mahomed as part of a ritual "hotpot". In a scuffle Mahomed is killed and Vincey gravely wounded, but the three Englishmen are saved when Billali returns and declares that they are under the protection of She. As Vincey's condition worsens, he approaches death although tended by Ustane.

They are taken to the home of She, which lies under a dormant volcano amongst a series of cavernous tombs. There, Holly is presented to the queen, a white sorceress named Ayesha. Her beauty is so great that it enchants any man who beholds it. She, who is veiled and lies behind a partition, warns Holly that the power of her splendour arouses both desire and fear, but he is dubious. When she shows herself, however, Holly is enraptured and prostrates himself before her. He learns that She has lived in the realm of Kôr for over two millennia, awaiting the reincarnated return of her lover, Kallikrates (whom she had accidentally slain in a fit of jealous rage). After she veils herself again, Holly remembers Vincey and begs Ayesha to visit his ward. Having agreed, she is startled upon seeing him, as she believes him to be the reincarnation of Kallikrates.

She heals Vincey but becomes jealous of the girl, Ustane. The latter is ordered to leave the home of She-who-must-be-obeyed but refuses, and is eventually struck down by She. Despite the murder of their friend, Holly and Vincey cannot free themselves from the power of She's beauty. They remain amongst the tombs as Vincey recovers his strength, and She lectures Holly on the ancient history of Kôr.

In the climax of the novel, Ayesha takes the two men to see the pillar of fire, passing through the ruined city of Kôr. She is determined that Vincey should bathe in the fire to become immortal and remain with her forever. They come to a great cavern, but at the last Vincey doubts the safety of entering the flame. To allay his fears, She steps into the Spirit of Life. With this second immersion, she reverts to her true age, withering away in the fire. The sight is so shocking that Job dies in fright. Before dying, She tells Vincey, "I die not. I shall come again."

Characters

  • Horace Holly - protagonist and narrator, Holly is a Cambridge don whose keen intellect and knowledge was developed to compensate for his ape-like appearance. Holly knows a number of ancient languages, including Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew, which allow him to communicate with the Amahagger (who speak a form of Arabic) and She (who knows all three languages). Holly's interest in archaeology and the origins of civilisation lead him to explore the ruins of Kor.
  • Leo Vincey - ward of Horace Holly, Vincey is an attractive, physically active young English gentleman with a thick head of blond hair. He is the confidant of Holly and befriends Ustane. According to She, Leo resembles Kallikrates in appearance and is his reincarnation.
  • Ayesha - the title character of the novel, called Hiya by the native Amahagger, or "She". Ayesha was born over 2,000 years ago amongst the Arabs, mastering the lore of the ancients and becoming a great sorceress. Learning of the Pillar of Life in the African interior, she journeyed to the ruined kingdom of Kôr, feigning friendship with a hermit who was the keeper of the Flame that granted immortality. She bathed in the Pillar of Life's fire.
  • Job - Holly's trusted servant. Job is a working-class man and highly suspicious and judgmental of non-English peoples. He is also a devout Protestant. Of all the travellers, he is especially disgusted by the Amahagger and fearful of She.
  • Billali - an elder of one of the Amahagger tribes.
  • Ustane - an Amahagger maiden. She becomes romantically attached to Vincey, caring for him when he is injured, acting as his protector, and defying She to stay with him.
  • Kallikrates - an ancient Greek, the husband of Amenartas, and ancestor of Vincey. Two thousand years ago, he and Amenartas fled Egypt, seeking a haven in the African interior where they met Ayesha. There, She fell in love with him, promising to give him the secret of immortality if he would kill Amenartas. He refused, and enraged She struck him down.
  • Amenartas - an ancient Egyptian priestess and ancestress of the Vincey family. As a priestess of Isis, she was protected from the power of She. When Ayesha slew Kallikrates, she expelled Amenartas from her realm. Amenartas gave birth to Kallikrates' son, beginning the line of the Vinceys.

Adaptations

She has been adapted for the cinema at least nine times, and was one of the earliest films to be made in 1899 as La Colonne de feu (The Pillar of Fire). A 1911 version starred Marguerite Snow and in 1917 Valeska Suratt appeared in a production for Fox which is lost. In 1925 a silent film of She was produced with the active participation of Rider Haggard and starring Betty Blythe. A decade later another cinematic version of the novel was released, featuring Helen Gahagan, Randolph Scott and Nigel Bruce. This 1935 adaptation was set in the Arctic, rather than Africa, and depicts the ancient civilisation of the story in an Art Deco style, with music by Max Steiner. The 1965 film She was produced by Hammer Film Productions and starred Ursula Andress as Ayesha and John Richardson as her reincarnated love, with Peter Cushing and Bernard Cribbins as other members of the expedition.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "She: A History of Adventure" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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