The Sheik (novel)

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The Sheik is a 1919 book by Edith Maude Hull,[1] an English novelist of the early twentieth century. It is similar to many of her other books, but it was her most popular and was the basis for the film of the same name starring Rudolph Valentino in the title role. Published in 1919, it is still in print today. The novel is out of copyright in the USA and Europe and can be downloaded as an e-book.[2]

The plot[edit]

At the hotel[edit]

The novel opens in an hotel in the Algerian city of Biskra. A dance is being held, hosted by Diana Mayo and her brother Sir Aubrey Mayo. Lady Conway, a minor character in the book, is talking at some length of her disapproval of Diana.

It transpires that Diana is planning to go on a month-long trip into the desert, taking no-one with her but the Arab guides. Nobody thinks this to be a sensible idea. Lady Conway blames her "scandalous" upbringing. She was raised almost as a boy, since she had no mother or father. Her mother died giving birth to her; her father killed himself as a result.

In the desert[edit]

After some minor events, which serve only to elaborate as to Diana's character (these include a marriage proposal, in which she explains that she doesn't know what love is and that she doesn't want to know), she sets off to the desert. It doesn't take long until she is kidnapped, by the eponymous Sheik, Ahmed Ben Hassan. It turns out her guide had been bribed.

The Sheik's tent[edit]

He takes her to his tent and rapes her, in the space between the second and the third chapter.[3] She spends a few months there, being raped regularly; she hates him. In these months his character is brought out more.

The escape[edit]

As she is allowed by now to go riding in the desert, accompanied by his valet, Gaston, she formulates an escape plan; she goes riding one day and throws her handkerchief on the ground. Gaston, courteous as always, leaps off his horse to fetch it. She gallops off.

She is, of course, recaptured by Ahmed. As he is riding back with her, she is overcome by the sudden realisation that she is in love with him. She knows she can say nothing, as he will send her away if he realises she loves him—he finds it boring.

The kidnap[edit]

Trust grows between them, as she submits to his violent treatment. We learn that he is punishing her like this because she is English, but we don't yet know why.

Eventually she is allowed to go riding again. Unfortunately, she is kidnapped by a rival Sheik and taken away. When Ahmed finds this out, he realises his love for her, and sets out to get her back. He does this, but is wounded in the process.

The explanation[edit]

As he lies in the tent, desperately ill, his friend, who has been staying there for the past few weeks, explains to Diana why he hates the English. His father, apparently, was English, and he mistreated his Spanish mother dreadfully. Ahmed swore revenge on the English as a result.

The end[edit]

When he is better, he explains to Diana in a tense climactic scene that he is sending her away. She is upset, especially as he confesses to her that it is because of his love for her; he can't bear to mistreat her any more. Although she begs and pleads, declaiming her love, he stands firm. In utter despair, she reaches for a revolver in a desperate attempt to die as her father died. Ahmed wrenches the gun from her and clasps her to him, declaring he will never let her go. The book ends with them passionately declaring their love.


This book has attracted some controversy[citation needed] due to its depiction of a strong, self-sufficient woman being tamed and subdued by a man who rapes her repeatedly. This is exacerbated by the fact that she falls in love with her rapist. The plot has been compared to The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare.


  1. ^ Women's Library - List of papers accessed June 2007
  2. ^ The Sheik, full text, at Project Gutenberg accessed June 2007
  3. ^ Regis, Pamela (2011). A Natural History of the Romance Novel. U of Pennsylvania P. p. 70. ISBN 9780812203103.