fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsStella Fregelius by H. Rider Haggard fantasy book reviewsStella Fregelius: A Tale of Three Destinies by H. Rider Haggard

At the beginning of his 25th novel, Stella Fregelius (1903), H. Rider Haggard deemed it necessary to offer an apology to his public. In this brief foreword, the author warns prospective readers that Stella is not one of his typical tales, and one with “few exciting incidents.” Indeed, those expecting the typical Haggardian mix of lost races, African adventure, big-game hunting, massive battle scenes and historical sweep may be disappointed with this book. However, I feel that Rider Haggard need not have bothered with an apology, as Stella Fregelius turns out to be one of his most beautifully written, deeply felt and truly romantic works.

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The story here concerns one Morris Monk, a British inventor who is trying, when we first meet him, to perfect a device that he calls an “aerophone” (it seems, from the description, to be a bulkier version of today’s ubiquitous cell phone). As his name implies, Monk is a scholarly man with little to no interest in women. Soon, however, he is coerced into marrying his wealthy first cousin (don’t ask), Mary, as a means of saving his family’s debt-ridden estate. Trouble is not long in coming, when Morris saves the life of the eponymous Stella from a shipwreck in the North Sea. As in Haggard’s earlier novel Mr. Meeson’s Will (1888) and the later Benita (1906), a shipwreck does play a pivotal role in this story. This shipwreck scene and its aftermath, by the way, constitute the only true action set pieces in the novel. It doesn’t take too long for the reader to realize that Morris and Stella are “soul mates,” which situation leads to all sorts of Edwardian mishegas, including… (if you want to read the spoiler, highlight this text:) Stella’s death (end spoiler). And it is here that the novel reveals its true purpose, that of showing us that there are loves that survive beyond the grave, and that a spiritual connection is so much more important than the physical and temporal. Toss out your Harlequin paperbacks, ladies; this story is a TRUE romance!

The theme of “eternal love” was one that Haggard returned to repeatedly, from his very first novel Dawn (1884), through all four She novels, and elsewhere. He himself was involved with a “soul mate” who he just happened to NOT be married to, and thus one can understand why Stella meant so much to him. This novel is somewhat reminiscent of his Jess (1887) and also his Beatrice (1890), in that it deals with a married man who finds his perfect match … elsewhere. All three tales end tragically, but in Stella Fregelius, at least Haggard holds out the hope of a happy ending in the form of a blissful afterlife. The scenes in which the bereaved Morris attempts to communicate with his lost Stella are truly touching, and are written in some of Haggard’s most beautiful, lyrical prose. This is also one of the most symbolic and metaphor packed of all Haggard’s novels(at least, of the nearly four dozen that I’ve been fortunate enough to have read), and contains many passages that the reader may want to peruse over and over, or at least underline for future reference.

Filled with warm and touching characters; featuring a few genuinely exciting scenes; and crammed with Haggard’s thoughts on life, love, religion and the afterlife, Stella Fregelius is a wonderful read. And certainly nothing to apologize for! I hope that Haggard felt, when he reread this finished work, something akin to the sentiment that Stella describes in one scene: “I have done something; it is good; it cannot be changed; it is a stone built forever in the pyramid of beauty, or knowledge, or advancement.”


  • 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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