“There is no death, only change.”

Science and the Supernatural in H. Rider Haggard’s The Days of My Life and She.


  • Margo Beckmann


Avenging ghosts, a near-immortal woman who claims to possess lost scientific knowledge, and mummies awaiting reincarnation assume a prominent position in H. Rider Haggard’s novel, She: A History of Adventure (1886/87). But how do we read the mummies or the near-immortal Ayesha’s Eastern “scientific” knowledge that appears more akin to sorcery than science? A strategic reading of She with an eye on Haggard’s autobiography, The Days of My Life (1925), yields intriguing insights into the author’s fascination and fear of the occult, which he sought to reconcile with prevailing scientific thought. These ideas reverberate through the mummies and Ayesha, expressing Haggard’s unique and syncretic understanding of reincarnation that accords with contemporaneous shifts in scientifically informed religious ideologies.

Haggard’s interest in connecting religious concepts to evolution, scientific materialism,4 and the nascent field of psychology adumbrates cultural shifts occurring at the fin de siècle as Christian theological positions on death and the afterlife were reimagined. The cultural contest between Eastern and Western knowledge emerges when examining how Haggard draws on ancient and modern Eastern religious concepts, new Western scientific theories, and particularly through his grudging acknowledgement that some Eastern thought was valid. Both texts intervene in the contemporaneous discourse on the tenuous distinction between Eastern and Western knowledge and “legitimate science” and “pseudo-science” that was liberally deployed to explain death, immortality, the subconscious mind, and past-life memories.