Thursday, 24 December 2015

She, Bryant and May Matches, and the Gladstone Bag

In ‘She’, author H. Rider Haggard refers several times to the Gladstone Bag, alongside several other brand name products and commercial organisations, such as Bryant and May matches, Colt revolvers, Army and Navy Stores, and Martini.  

Regular mentions of brand name products and concepts in his work resembles product placement marketing in novels and television programmes today.  Indeed, one wonders if Haggard was overtly helping promote sales of some items featured in his writing and whether his work helped the Gladstone Bag remain so popular more than one hundred years since its original appearance.

Critics, then and now, seem more concerned about close proximity mentions of commercial concerns and their impact on the quality of his writing, and perhaps demeaning and turning a brilliant novel into little more than a commercial. 

Close proximity mentions of the Gladstone Bag and other commercial goods can be found in ‘She’ where Haggard writes: ‘I wrapped up this relic of the past in the remnants of the old linen rag which had evidently formed a portion of its owner’s grave-clothes, for it was partially burned, and put away in my Gladstone Bag, which I had bought at the Army and Navy Stores - a strange combination, I thought.’

In her research paper, Dr. Julia Reid talks of the serial version of ‘She’ being ‘..frankly connected with the world of imperial commerce.  It is peppered with references to commodities, brand names, and commercial outfits, some of which also appear in the advertisements.  ….. Their (subjects in the novel) hardships are tempered by trappings of civilisation such as ‘Bryant and May’s wax matches’ and Gladstone Bags.’ 

‘It strikes a hopelessly jarring note to be dragged down suddenly from the heights of the supernatural, the immortal and the divinely fair, by the sudden and superfluous mention of Gladstone bags, shooting boots, and Bryant & May's matches .... The equipment of the African expedition at the Army and Navy Store may be a very good advertisement, but it does not work as literary art.’  (Source: ‘Studies in the Novel, University of North Texas’

Widespread scepticism of frequent mentions of the Gladstone Bag and other commercial products and concerns led to most commercial references being removed from a subsequent edition of ‘She’, when the Gladstone Bag became a ‘travelling bag’ or ‘handbag’.

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