Restoring the Lost Empire: Egyptian Archaeology and Imperial Nostalgia in H. Rider Haggard’s ‘Smith and the Pharaohs’ (1912)

Leonard Driscoll


This article focuses on H. Rider Haggard’s ‘Smith and the Pharaohs’, a long short story published across three consecutive issues of The Strand Magazine (December 1912- February 1913). An occult tale of Egyptian fantasy, it depicts the adventures of James Ebenezer Smith, an archaeologist, as he searches for the long lost remains of an ancient Egyptian queen, a search that culminates in his perilous confrontation, in the Cairo Museum, with the assembled ghosts of the Pharaohs of Egyptian antiquity. The story, it is argued, represented a specific intervention in contemporary debates over the status of Egypt as a colonial protectorate, as a popular tourist destination, and as the object of a new wave of British archaeological endeavour. Drawing on a range of Haggard’s nonfiction, in particular a series of polemical articles he wrote for the Daily Mail in 1904, I argue that ‘Smith and the Pharaohs’ should be understood as both a statement of Haggard’s idiosyncratic views and a commentary upon the popular craze for Egypt at the beginning of the twentieth century. In this largely overlooked short story, he establishes an ideal of authentic interest in ancient Egypt to counter what he saw as the debasement of Egyptian antiquity in popular culture. I conclude by noting that Haggard’s idealised relationship to Egypt, despite being predicated upon Conservative, imperialist, and orientalist attitudes, presents an intriguing parallel to the ideals of an emergent Egyptian nationalist movement.

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