RIDER HAGGARD: A Biography by D. S. Higgins


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Though not always entirely convincing, this critical biography of the epically best-selling author (King Solomon's Mines, She) does a sturdy job of relating Haggard's inner emotional turmoil to his novels--and to the ebb and flow of his career. Least favorite son of a tyrannical landowner-father, sensitive, slow young Rider was fiercely attached to his poetry-writing mother. . . and later fell deeply in love with beautiful young Lilly Jackson (whose real name was a longtime Haggard-studies secret). But, sent off by his father to join the colonial staff in Natal, Haggard lost Lilly forever, apparently drowned his sorrow in sexual adventures, and was plagued by both guilt and lovesickness thereafter--though Africa did bring him self-confidence and abundant material for future books. He returned to England, married a minor-league heiress, studied law, failed at first writing attempts, was still ""a waif and a stray"" at 28. Then, in 1885, he tried a ""book for boys,"" producing the King Solomon phenomenon (thanks, in part, to helpful Andrew Lung). And, with a soon-sexless marriage and an undying devotion to now-married Lilly (who eventually received fatal syphilis from her foul husband), Haggard made writing ""a substitute for sexual passion and a means of escaping from the commitment required in a sexual relationship."" (Higgins finds plenty of sexual repression and guilty lust, of course, in She and Love Eternal.) But, after the death of his mother and his son, Haggard's creativity waned: he wrote thereafter only for much-needed money; he suffered constant attacks from the literary establishment; and, driven by the need ""to expiate his youthful sins,"" he devoted the last decades of his life to government service--campaigning for rural reforms, serving on committees, determined to become ""an establishment figure."" With generous excerpts from the novels and conscientious pinpointing of the autobiographical references therein: a worthy, if rarely compelling, study--primarily for curious devotees of the Haggard canon.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1983
Publisher: Stein & Day