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Title: Rider Haggard and the 'Imperial Occult' : hermetic discourse and romantic contiguity
Author: Magus, S.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7654 5867
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis critically examines the literary oeuvre of H. Rider Haggard, placing it in the nineteenth-century occult milieu in which he wrote, and from which he took ideas which remained with him into the first decades of the twentieth century. Building upon earlier trajectories of Haggard studies, notably postcolonialist, psychoanalytic, and feminist platforms, it critiques and nuances them whilst taking a novel approach in elucidating the religio-philosophical and esoteric ideas which are prolific in his work. To do this I employ the over-arching concept of what I have termed the 'Imperial Occult', by which British occultism is understood to be an epiphenomenon of the counter-invasion and reverse-missionising of religious ideas on the colonial periphery, namely those from Egypt, India, Tibet and South Africa. Whilst it is a commonplace assumption that occultism is one of many countercultural movements, I argue that in Britain it represented an attempt to revitalise and shore-up metropolitan religiosity in the face of continental biblical historicism, Darwinism, and scientific naturalism in general. More especially, this was in response to the stripping away of supernaturalism by Broad Church Liberal reform, notably in the wake of the influential Broad Church Essays and Reviews. In this context I examine the syncretic processual mechanisms and discursive religious construction which resulted from an attempt to accommodate religions from the colonies to the Empire as Christendom. Therefore, whereas previously much scholarly work has focussed on Haggard as a writer to be understood in the context of the centripetal force of imperial patriarchy, this study focuses on the impact of the colonial periphery upon Victorian and Edwardian culture and society. In the context of theological controversy, I argue that Haggard took a more High Church, Anglo-Catholic stance, even though his Anglicanism was far from orthodox, and that his work attempted to convey ideas of the occult or esoteric in this context. Analysing these ideas, the thesis is divided into three sections representing three broad intellectual currents of the Imperial Occult: Christian Egyptosophy, Romanticism, and Theosophy. Within these currents I examine how Haggard's literature presents strategic narratives of religious legitimisation, which frequently seek to endorse biblical historicity. These narratives are considered both in the teeth of Anglican controversy and in the context of Empire, and I analyse how Haggard engaged with the doctrinal controversies of the period. In addition, I examine the intertextuality of Haggard's 'Romance of Anthropology', the purpose of his posited alternative fictional biblical stories, and the importance of the imagination as a spiritual noetic organ of transcendental apperception. In this context I discuss the 'metaphysical novel' considered as a source of religious truth and occult lore, and as ancillary to scripture, particularly the letters of St Paul. Throughout the thesis, Haggard's engagement with this 'occult lore' is apparent as a pervasive Hermetic discourse of initiatic religion, esoteric/exoteric dichotomy and a secret wisdom tradition. This takes a number of manifest forms including Egyptological, Romantic and Theosophical tropes. As a result the thesis will engage with a rich panoply of esoteric ideas constellated in a Victorian religio mentis which was born of the British Imperium.
Supervisor: Young, P. ; Barry, J. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Rider Haggard ; Occultism ; Egyptology ; Romanticism ; Theosophy