fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBeatrice by H. Rider Haggard

Editor’s note: This book, which is in the public domain, is available free in Kindle format.

Beatrice was first published in 1890, and was H. Rider Haggard‘s 10th novel, out of 58 titles. Unlike so many of his other books, Beatrice is one that features almost no action scenes whatsoever; no lost races, no adventure, no battles, no supernatural elements. (My editors here at FanLit are thus indulging me once again by allowing me to submit a review of a book by my favorite author, despite the fact that this book has little in the way of fantasy content.) What it IS, is a beautifully written romance novel; indeed, is is one of Haggard’s most emotional works. It tells the story of the ill-fated love affair between Beatrice Granger, an unmarried Welsh school teacher, and Geoffrey Bingham, an unhappily married barrister who lives in London. This all starts after Beatrice saves Geoffrey’s life in a canoeing accident during a tremendous storm (in the book’s only true action set piece), and the two become interested in one another. Trouble awaits, in the form of Bingham’s wife Honoria (who’s only interested in money and social climbing), Owen Davies (one of the richest men in Wales, who is morbidly obsessed with marrying Beatrice), and Elizabeth (Beatrice’s older sister, who will do just about anything to marry Davies herself). So where in other books we might encounter a three-way love triangle, here we have what might be called a love … pentagon?

I said before that this book contains no supernatural elements, but this is not quite true. Beatrice and Geoffrey do seem to have some kind of psychic link with one another, so that at times they can sense each other’s thoughts and feelings, even when separated. Haggard’s recurring theme of eternal love – of a love that survives beyond the grave – is very much in evidence in Beatrice. This is a theme that was given play in his very first novel, Dawn; was much stressed in the four She novels; and appears in so many of his other works. Another theme that Beatrice seems to stress is the undesirability of the Victorian marriage state. Apparently, back in the late 19th century, divorce was seen to be a scandalous option, even for the most unhappily married couples. Haggard here shows us one such couple, and the problems that arise when this unfortunate union continues. Strangely, the author seems to have no sympathy for the problems that afflict Beatrice and Geoffrey as their romance continues. He even says so, in so many words. One must read between the lines to realize that Haggard does indeed feel for these poor unfortunates.

Of all the Haggard novels that I have read (almost four dozen at this point), this one seemed to me the most dated. It is hard to believe that so much scandal could attach to a couple because of a love affair. But hold on a moment! Didn’t our 42nd president get himself into major “mishegas” as a result of his dalliance with an unmarried woman? Indeed, wouldn’t a single school teacher in a small town TODAY find herself embarrassed if her affair with a married man of prominence were to come to light? Perhaps things haven’t changed so much after all! (Although it is doubtful that a scandalized woman of today would go to the extremes that Beatrice goes to to put matters right!)

Beatrice, then, is NOT a novel for those looking for an action and adventure spectacle. But for those wishing a deliciously written novel with characters you can really care for, this might be just the ticket. At one point in this tale, Geoffrey thinks about sitting down one night with a good novel, and Haggard tells us that Bingham was “not above this frivolous occupation.” Reading Haggard’s Beatrice, however, does not strike me as a “frivolous occupation.” It is a serious-minded novel that the author obviously felt deeply about, and one that I do recommend highly.


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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