The story is a first-person narrative that follows the journey of Horace Holly and his ward Leo Vincey to a lost kingdom in the African interior. There they encounter a primitive race of natives and a mysterious white queen named Ayesha who reigns as the all-powerful “She”, or “She-who-must-be-obeyed“. In this work, Rider Haggard developed many of the conventions of the lost world subgenre, which many later authors emulated.
She is placed firmly in the imperialist literature of nineteenth-century England, and inspired by Rider Haggard’s experiences of South Africa and British colonialism. The story expresses numerous racial and evolutionary conceptions of the late Victorians, especially notions of degeneration and racial decline prominent during the fin de siècle. In the figure of She, the novel notably explored themes of female authority and feminine behaviour. It has received praise and criticism alike for its representation of womanhood.