Hero-worship, imperial masculinities and inter-generational ideologies in H. Rider Haggard’s 1880s fiction

H. Rider Haggard’s early adventure novels, such as King Solomon’s Mines, have often been dismissed as jingoistic, and formulaic, albeit popular, genre fiction, designed to stimulate and exploit the emerging mass market for boys’ fiction in the 1880s. However, this essay suggests that the author’s years as a secretary in southern Africa furnished him with an unabated thirst for adventure and a more imaginative perspective on hero-worship masculinities than Henty and his other militarised competitors. It traces how Haggard’s multi-faceted revision of conventional ‘muscular Christianity’ blended realism and fantasy, integrated humour, capitalised on the inter-generational potential of Carlylean hero-worship and adapted to contemporary military conflict in Africa and the discovery of diamonds. This surprisingly sophisticated approach enabled Haggard’s early novels to function as a highly robust form of what Louis Althusser has called ‘ideological state apparatus’, inculcating imperialist military masculinities in the ‘little and big boys’ who were ‘still young enough at heart to love a story of treasure, war, and wild adventure’.

in Martial masculinities