Prefiguring the cross
A typological reading of H. Rider Haggard’s Cleopatra
in Victorian literary culture and ancient Egypt
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This chapter examines how the Victorians sought to understand and redefine Christianity by examining its relationship and connectedness to ancient Egyptian religion and vice versa. Specifically, it presents a typological reading of H. Rider Haggard’s Cleopatra (1889) informed by his posthumously published autobiography The Days of my Life (1926), arguing that the novel is both a microcosm of shifting Victorian attitudes towards Christianity and representative of Haggard’s personal struggle with traditional Protestantism. Haggard capitalised upon the sensationalist discourse that surrounded Egypt and used a loose, typological structure within Cleopatra to present a complex, imaginative dialogue on religion in the nineteenth century as well as explore his own personal doubts surrounding the Christian faith. In Cleopatra, this chapter demonstrates, Haggard establishes that what passed long ago in Egypt still resonates with, and could possibly alter, preconceived assumptions regarding faith and humanity in nineteenth-century England. The inherent tensions produced by Haggard’s own fluctuating faith are reflective of a society keen to define its faith in the face of advancing scientific and archaeological discoveries.

Editor: Eleanor Dobson

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