Two Dianas In Somaliland: The Record Of A Shooting Trip, by Agnes Herbert
This is a strange and somewhat fascinating book that simply begs to be viewed from a variety of perspectives. The fact that the author claims herself to be a socialist (although she is critical of other socialists for their utopian schemes) makes the book even more interesting to read from the point of view of critical theory. The language of this work appears to be somewhat coded in a fashion familiar to contemporary readers of leftist works of textual criticism, to the level where the author speaks at one point of “penetrating” the forbidden region of Ogaden with a native Somaliland hunting guide, and regularly makes off-hand comments about failing to live up to the standards of the hunting genre where men show an interest in describing their guns in great detail. Throughout this book there are many references to matters of gender, class, and ethnic identity, as well as pointed discussions about the nature of female reputation and a discussion of the family life of the local inhabitants whom the author comes across. There is also in this book a strong undercurrent of cattiness between the author and her “distant cousin” Cicely, who was her companion on this trip, and whose account of the hunting trip would be worthwhile as a comparison to this obviously biased account.
This book consists of twenty-one chapters of about 300 pages or so in length that record the author’s shooting trip, published in 1908 and dedicated to the leader of the opposition shooting trip, who the author casually libels as a sometime misogynist, as if she has any room to talk when it comes to sexism. The chapters of this book are introduced with one or more quotations from Shakespeare, thus demonstrating the author’s identity as a high class Englishwoman of culture, regardless of the trackless wilderness in which she searches for lions, elephants, rhinos, gazelles, and various other animals to kill. The book’s materials are heavily slanted towards the trip of the author and of her party from Berbera into rural Somaliland and then (apparently knowingly and illegally) into Ethiopian territory to kill large amounts of the local fauna, some of whose heads end up photographed in the pages as good heads. The discussion demonstrates the author’s high level of skill with guns and her knowledge of her effective range of around 200 yards or so and even if this reader cannot approve of the author’s behavior or the language she uses to describe other people who she obviously does not like or respect, the contents of the book are certainly interesting at least.
Ultimately, when reading a book like this, there is an obvious question as to what is the purpose of all of this. The author comments that there is hardly a need for more books about one’s glorious shooting trips (a genre of book that, for better or worse, is no longer in vogue), and yet she contributes to this genre anyway feeling that her perspective as a female British imperialist hunter bagging big game in the remote wilderness of Somaliland and Ethiopia is worthy of the reader’s interest and attention. Even more to the point is the question of why it was that this shooting trip was undertaken in the first place. The author rather coyly considers her and her cousin to be of thirty years of age and that no woman would admit to be older, and Cicely is reported to be concerned about being viewed as an old maid, expressing a willingness to be in an arranged marriage rather than living alone, something the author views with undisguised sarcasm. Yet rather than rejoice in engaging in unfeminine activity in blasting at animals, sometimes with fatal consequences for member of her hunting party (as when a rhino gores one of her party to death, and in another case where a Somali guide dies of infected water, apparently) as a means of showing herself a suitable partner to men engaged in similar activities, Agnes views the other men hunting at the same time and place to be competition and rivals in a way that she is self-aware enough to recognize is unjust to them. What is the point of going into the wilderness to shoot at a bunch of animals who could simply be left alone to live in peace? The author never seems to ask this question, even if the contemporary reader cannot help but to do so.