Places: She

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1887

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Cambridge University

*Cambridge SheUniversity. 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 proves to be part of a system of quays and canals built by some ancient civilization. These ancient remains lend a sense of mystery and foreboding to the novel. Haggard also describes some of the region’s exotic animals, including species that have never been cataloged before, thereby adding to the sense of mystery.

Amahagger caves

Amahagger caves (ah-muh-HAH-ger). Large underground complex that is part of an ancient stone city, to which the castaways are taken by a tribe of light-skinned men. Carved within the crater of an extinct inland volcano, the caves are inhabited by the stone-age Amahagger people, who prefer living in the catacombs, amid ancient mummies, to living in the stone ruins of the city itself. The mummies suggest a connection with Egypt, and the whole setting creates an atmosphere soaked in morbidity combined with a sense of dread.

The novel is filled with images of decay and death that include brutal executions and torture, caverns in which people sleep on burial slabs, embalmed figures of long-dead people, heaps of human bones, a wild dance illuminated by burning corpses, and, finally, the image of the queen Ayesha disintegrating before the eyes of her appalled comrades.


Kôr. Hidden city, deeper in the interior, to which the Englishmen are taken. The route from the caves leads through deep swamps that eventually give way to an open plain that in turn leads to a tunneled mountain, through which the men are taken, blindfolded, to another plain and then to apartments cut into solid rock. There, they are introduced to the white queen Ayesha, “She-who-must-be-obeyed.” The Englishmen learn that the ruins of Kôr have remained in exactly the same condition for more than two thousand years, since the city’s people were destroyed by a plague.

Cave of Fire

Cave of Fire. Another terrible and dangerous journey faces the travelers as they discover the cavern of the fire of eternal life in which Ayesha renews her vitality.

BibliographyBarclay, 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 Press, 1991. Etherington’s critical introduction is the single best source for the beginner. This edition also includes a brief bibliography.Higgins, D. S. Rider Haggard: A Biography. New York: Stein and Day, 1983. The most accessible and detailed survey of Haggard’s life and works. Higgins discusses She’s sources and genesis as well as the book’s reincarnations on stage and screen. Good bibliography.Katz, Wendy R. Rider Haggard and the Fiction of Empire: A Critical Study of British Imperial Fiction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. A study of Haggard’s interest in and influence on the British Empire. Important for placing Haggard clearly in the psychological and sociological context of his times. Katz’s final chapter, “A Negro Excepted,” explores aspects of racism in Haggard’s writing.Moss, John G. “Three Motifs in Haggard’s She.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 16, no. 1 (1973): 27-34. Moss summarizes but dismisses most critical interpretations of She, concluding that “it escapes definition or explanation.” Also faults the sequels for failing to maintain the enigmatic quality of the original.
Categories: Places