[The following passage comes from the author’s The Sexual Imperative in the Novels of Sir Henry Rider Haggard, which is reviewed on this site. — George P. Landow]

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he sexual imperative is overwhelmingly present in Haggard’s novels, his consideration of various aspects of the theme developing as he grows older and as his writing career progresses. His two earliest, and most intensely autobiographical, novels, Dawn and The Witch’s Head, speak of youthful male anger at sexually exploitative and sexually disloyal women and the power they have to lacerate men emotionally. Colonel Quaritch V. C. depicts the price to be paid for early sexual follies and the violently destructive power of sexual passion. Joan Haste documents how a father’s sexual passion and moral weakness blight the life of his daughter. The anger and violence of these novels gives way to a more measured consideration in Jess and Beatrice of the intellectual aspirations, social position and sexual passions of a woman and especially of the validity of emotional, and sexual, relations outside marriage. While both books formally uphold the sanctity of the marriage contract, the compatibility and emotional relationship of the participants notwithstanding, they also leave little doubt as to the superior moral worth of genuine love. Stella Fregelius and The Way of the Spirit entertain the merits of a love that is prevailingly spiritual, but while endorsing a strong spiritual component to a loving relationship, insist, in an exploration and eventual dismissal of sexual renunciation, upon the innate primacy of the sexual. Love Eternal, reflecting the particular spiritual and religious climate of the Great War, is insistent upon the spiritual and eternal aspects of love, but is also emphatic about the inevitability of the pull of the sexual imperative. Haggard’s final novel, Mary of Marion Isle, replays the capacity of sexual betrayal to wound the male but asserts an outcome that is unreservedly happy and sexually liberated.

Related material


Reeve, Richard. The Sexual Imperative in the Novels of Sir Henry Rider Haggard. London and New York: Anthem Press: 2018.

Last modified 9 September 2018