Henty’s Literary Compatriots
Henty died in 1902, the year Conrad published his Heart of Darkness. The novel that won Haggard worldwide acclaim, King Solomon’s Mines (1884), was published about the same time Henty’s reputation as the favorite boys’ writer was established. Haggard and Conrad were born a year apart, respectively in 1856 and 1857, but the former published his works alongside Henty. In other words, Henty and Haggard could be classified as late-nineteenth-century contemporary writers, and Conrad as a late-nineteenth-early twentieth-century one. This demarcation is important mainly because as we move from Henty’s works to those of Haggard and Conrad, we notice a change in the representation of the Other-in the way these writers conveyed their views on empire. While Henty delights in Hughes’s muscular
Haggard and Conrad battle with human beings’ “nearness to apes.” The journey motif in the works of Haggard and Conrad amounts to what Daniel Bivona, in Desire and Contradiction, calls a “historical return”—a return to the characters’ and authors’ supposed savage past believed to have been located in the “adventure land” inhabited by the Other, thus suggesting a connection between the past (the Other or savagery) and the present (the Self or civilization). Bivona notes that this return has political ramifications because the “privilege of returning is often only enabled by the existence of world-wide European empires and the self-confident proprietary attitudes which they engender” (77). This historical return to the past raises questions as to the very origins of European civilization. In other words, if one adhered to the evolutionary theory of the Darwinian era (as these writers did), then where could European civilization have originated? Could it have been in Africa where the first human was supposed to have lived? Obviously this was a very disturbing question for late Victorians-a question that called for a reexamination of Victorian values (Bivona 76). While eighteenth-century thinkers such as Edmund Burke defined civilization as “what savagery is not,” the nineteenth-century saw the savage as the progenitor of civilization. For instance, the narrator of Haggard’s Allan Quatermain voices his disgust with “civilization”—specifically English civilization-in these terms: “This prim English country, with its prim hedgerows and cultivated fields… now for several years I have lived here in England, and have in my own stupid manner done my best to learn the ways of the children of the light…and found civilization is only savagery silver-gilt…. It is on the savage that we fall back in emergencies…. Civilization should wipe away our tears, and yet we weep and cannot be comforted” (16). Of course Haggard had been largely influenced by Darwinism. In Darwinism in the English Novel, Leo Henkin argued that the fin de siècle saw the proliferation of what he called the “evolutionary romance” that embraced the “anthropological romance, dealing with the prehistoric past and vestiges of that past in the present, the romance of eccentric evolution…and the romance of the future” (173).