Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885) suggests a level of reciprocity between civilization and barbarism in the rejuvenating encounter of the white adventurer with the primitive people of Africa. Morris read the novel in November 1885, shortly after its publication, and wrote to his daughter, May, that it is 'amusing if a good deal made of Poe and C. Read'." Ideas of fellowship in battle, courage in fighting, and leadership by force represent an alternative, in this tale, to what had begun to be seen by some in the late 1880s as effete British civilization. The adventurous manliness of the tale's narrator, Allan Quatermain, the slightly foppish but brave Captain Good, and their aristocratic companion, Sir Henry Curtis, is enhanced by their encounter with the fictional Kukuana tribespeople (identified by Haggard as the Matabele), in a hybrid exchange which allows them to admire and learn from the Kukuanas' courage and ferocity, while maintaining their superiority over them. . . .

King Solomon's Mines (1885) already mourn[s], to an extent, what he sees as the necessary destruction of the Zulu culture with its 'system of chieftainship and its attendant law'. He writes that 'surely even the most uncompromising of those marching under the banner of civilisation must hesitate before they condemn this deep-rooted system to instant uprootal.' He is committed to the 'march of progress', but at the same time is attracted by the idea of the savage and wild warrior as 'an emblem and a type of the times and the things which are passing away'. This savage stands in contrast to the British traders who have, he avers in terms similar to Morris's own, 'supplied the natives with those two great modern elements of danger and destruction, the gin-bottle and the rifle." While Morris's political stance and purpose is quite different from Haggard's, his literary depiction of exotic, primitive cultures in contrast with the corrupt Victorian present draws on similar conventions of battle and adventure in a barbaric lost world.

In King Solomon's Mines, the tale itself is mediated by the colonial adventurer, Allan Quatermain, whose status sets him on the edge of English civilization. It is a tale to titillate and shock, an investigation of alternative models of manliness in the uncivilized spaces of empire. As John Tosh points out, 'the empire was inscribed in British masculinities not only as a source of imagined "others", but as a space where redundant masculinities could flourish.'to Adventures with the Kukuanas are a brief, though exciting, contrast to civilization for the maverick Quatermain, an invigorating brush with the colonial Other, not a viable alternative to the societal norms of the colonizers. In entering their world, Quatermain and his companions are able to enjoy, temporarily, the sanctioned violence and lack of restraint offered by immersion in the barbarian world.

Morris's tales offer his readers a similar, but rather more demanding opportunity. Like Quatermain in Africa, the readers of the Germanic romances are invited to enter, in imagination, the lost worlds of the ancient barbarian people and throw off the trammels and hypocrisies of civilization for a simpler and more warlike way of life. The tale itself offers no possibility even of Haggard's attenuated version of what Homi Bhabha terms 'hybridity': 'strategies of subversion that turn the gaze of the discriminated back upon the eye of power'. King Solomon's Mines allows the values of the Kukuanas, as Haggard perceives them, to reflect on those of the colonists and their home country, albeit without relinquishing the power of the colonist. Morris's are romances of absolute war, with no possibility of compromise between his barbarian heroes and civilization. The Roman civilization in The House of the Wolffings is not able to benefit from barbarism, but is utterly degraded and corrupt. There is a kind of grudging respect for aspects of the Romans' warcraft, but this is cancelled out by scorn at their venality and cowardice. The reader is expected to learn from the tale or at least to benefit from immersion in it. as the verse introductions suggest, but cannot influence it by intervention as Haggard's heroes do. [106-107]

Related Material


Hanson, Ingrid. William Morris and the Uses of Violence, 1856-1890. London: Anthem Press, 2013. [Review in the Victorian Web]

Last modified 1 May 2010