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Things and Masculinities in H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines

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From the very beginning, H. Rider Haggard’s novel King Solomon’s Mines is presented as an essentially masculine novel. The story follows and depicts those aspects of the world that are of interest mostly and almost exclusively to men, according to Victorian beliefs. The representation of women is very limited and confined to a male point of view. The role of the feminine in this novel consists of maintaining the male reader interested in the story by fulfilling male fantasies and expectations.

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The author dedicates the novel “to all the big and little boys who read it. Through this statement, Haggard makes clear the division of spheres that existed, and in some cases still exists, between male and female activities: the male sphere includes, amongst others, education, work and adventure; whereas the female sphere primarily consists of taking care of the household and bringing up children. The novel, being an adventure story, portrays exclusively the male sphere and, therefore, is not supposed to be of interest or relatable for a female reader. In consequence, anything that appears in this novel is seen from a male and patriarchal point of view. “The pictures [described in this novel] fit male patterns of memory, desire and dream” and therefore are meant to be attractive to the reader. 

This can be seen in the exclusion of female characters in the novel. Allan Quatermain himself states that: “there is no woman in [this story] — except Foulata”. He also mentions Gagool, but he does not consider her a woman because she is not “marriageable”. This shows that there are few female characters as a consequence of the aforementioned patriarchal sphere division. Moreover, these few female characters are expected to meet some specific characteristics to be considered as such, manly they have to be fertile. 

Female characters are limited in their description as well. As stated by Burrow , male characters are developed throughout the story and become heroes by the end of the adventure, while females maintain a secondary, if now lower, status and their main role is enhancing the adventurer’s masculinity.

Another relevant aspect of female representation in this novel is the lack of individuality. Except for Foulata and Gagool, women are represented as a group and the characteristics used to describe them in various scenes apply to all of them equally. Through the othering of female characters, the novel emphasises the masculinity of the identifiable and thoroughly described male adventurers. That is, by not presenting any relevant female character the reader focuses on the heroic and attractive male protagonists.

All this, however, does not apply to Foulata. She is the only female and somewhat positive character of the novel. This is because she fits and represents the exotic version on the perfect Victorian woman. When Foulata is nearly sacrificed she pleads for her life and cries out “I shall never see my father’s hut again, nor feel my mother’s kiss nor shall men children be born of me!”. In these words, the Victorian reader sees a domesticated and family oriented woman, similar to the figure of the Angel in the House. She fits into the category of “Submissive Wife who willingly and happily submits to her husband — and father” . On the other hand, Foulata belongs to an inferior race and therefore is not fit for marriage with a western man. Through this character, the male reader is presented with an ideologically likeable but exotic woman, who is attractive, yet a morally forbidden fruit.

The preference for domesticated and submissive women can be seen in other characters of the novel. Gagool is not considered a woman because of her old age and unattractive physical appearance. Moreover, she is a powerful entity in the Kukuana community. Although she uses her power and knowledge to strengthen the patriarchal structure of the Kukuana society,–she guides and supports male leaders–she operates in male spheres and, therefore, is considered “unfeminine and unnatural”. Her power and control over male characters are unattractive for male readers and, therefore, she is viewed as a monster.

The notion of an obedient woman is applied equally to European and, in this case, African women as part of the ideological colonisation. The idea that women belong to the domestic sphere exclusively is applied to native females in the novel, although it is well known that many native tribes had a different social organisation. With the rise of feminism, this ideology somewhat changed in Western societies, but mostly for white women only. In the case of black women, the domesticated image is, unfortunately, more present due to the supposed racial inferiority. Slavery and white superiority over other races defined black or native women as inferior in two binary divisions: inferior as a non-white race, and inferior as female.

These binary divisions are fairly clear in King Solomon’s Mines. On the one hand, because Westerners do not accept African women as wives because of the “endless complications that anything of the sort would involve” . In other words, it seems morally unacceptable for the adventurers to maintain any kind of relationship with native women, mostly because of their racial inferiority. On the other hand, in the eyes of the Kukuana men “Girls are pleasant, and were it not for such as these we should none of us be here  but men are better”. Native males consider that the purpose of women in their society is nothing more than bearing, preferably male, children.

To sum up, King Solomon’s Mines is made for male readers and, therefore, narrates a story for and about them. It focuses on male bravery and masculinity, enhancing the positive image of the coloniser, both physically and morally. Female characters are mostly unnoticeable, inferior to men both racially and through gender, and represent ideal femininity: obedience, domesticity and submission. Moreover, the unbelievable adventure is embellished with a new version of the ideal woman, who both meets male expectations of femininity and fulfils male fantasies. All this attracts and captivates male readers, while magnify the heroism of the adventurers.

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