Discussion Questions for The Sheik CHs 1-4

Flapper Magazine

Flapper Magazine cover, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

1. In the early chapters of The Sheik, Diana Mayo is repeatedly characterized for her boyish characteristics and her asexuality:

“She was only of medium height and very slender, standing erect with the easy, vigorous carriage of an athletic boy” (9).

“’I was brought up as a boy, my training was hard’” (14).

“Dressed as a boy, treated as a boy, she learned to ride and to shoot and to fish—not as amusements, but seriously, to enable her to take her place later on as a companion to the man [her brother, Aubrey] whose only interests they were…With that end in view her upbringing had been Spartan, no allowances were made for sex or temperament and nothing was spared to gain the desired result” (19-20).

Diana, in fact, has difficulty seeing herself as a woman: “’God made me a woman. Why, only He knows’” (14). Plus, she assures Aubrey that she will be at his wedding “’in time to be best man’” rather than a bridesmaid in his wedding party (28) .

What does the novel gain, both in terms of character development and plot, in giving Diana such gender-bending characteristics?

Sheet music cover for the "Sheik of Araby"

Sheet music cover for the "Sheik of Araby," courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

2. The Sheik is an unusual romance novel in that the meeting of the heroine and hero consists of a criminal act: kidnapping and rape. After the Sheik kidnaps Diana and brings her back to his camp, he rapes her, but E. M Hull never uses the word rape to describe what happens.

What language does Hull use to depict the sexual assault, and how does that language simultaneously convey a sense of the erotic? What is the “strange fear” that Diana repeatedly refers to when she thinks of the Sheik?

3. Pamela Regis explained that the first element of a romance novel, “Society Defined,” is the “society that the heroine and hero will confront in their courtship” that “is in some way flawed” and “oppresses” the couple (31). Given this definition, what constitutes the society in which Diana and the Sheik begin their courtship, and how is it “flawed?”

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This entry was posted in E. M. Hull, Female Chastity, Gender, Pamela Regis, Rape, sex, The New Woman, The Sheik. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Discussion Questions for The Sheik CHs 1-4

  1. JG says:

    For the first question I think that Diana (and in turn the novel, at least the first half) becomes more relate-able to modern modern readers. I know for me at the beginning I thought Diana was awesome, if I could live the life she lives with her brother I totally would. She also exemplifies a lifestyle that most women of that time did not have and even if they didn’t necessarily want it, it was exotic which makes the entire book an adventure within the exotic. Also unfortunately it makes her transition in the middle of the book all the more dramatic which could have made that part more appealing to women who found the Diana of the beginning distasteful.

  2. ET says:

    In response to the first question, Diana’s boyish personality and appearance only adds to the intensity of the romance and rape within the novel. The fact that Diana did not have the ideal figures of a woman and found herself more associated with men rather women rises the question on what caused Ahmed to be innately attracted to her.

  3. MG says:

    In response to question three, Diana and the Ahmed do not actually meet, but rather he admires her from afar. The society in which they were currently in is one of high status and weathly. The couple’s relationship is flawed because no matter his status, Ahmed will be considered a “nigger” in the opinion of her brother and the society of which she comes from.

  4. AT says:

    In response to the first question, it creates a huge element of mystery about Diana. There is such a focus on her boyish qualities and how she does not even feel like a girl yet a lot of men seemed to be really attracted to her. It is kind of strange to hear the description of her and then hear a man confess his love to her and have her turn him down. It also makes the rape that more shocking because she talks about how she was raised to not even think about sex or anything to do with it.

  5. HC says:

    For the first question, Diana’s characteristics as a woman are unexpected because she even questions herself being a woman. However still, that is the part where Ahmed is attracted and that is the part where the novel gains the intensity and tensions of the novel.

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