This article reads the 1884 trial of The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens about the “custom of the sea”(cannibalism) alongside popular adventure novels of the same decade by R. L. Stevenson and H. Rider Haggard. The trial functioned ritually to impose and affirm a community conscience in which the rule of law itself became a kind of cultural fiction for condemning the necessity defense as unmanly and unEnglish. The legal authorities staged disorder in order to contain it. Their spectacular trial functioned ritually to transform the same symbolic patterns traced in the adventure novels into moral truth and legal precedent. This analysis restores the trial of Dudley and Stephens to the sensational status it had in 1884 and juxtaposes it with adventure novels to reframe it as an important episode in a larger cultural narrative about the form and fortunes of a hegemonic, late-Victorian imperial masculinity. [147 words]


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pp. 305-327
Launched on MUSE
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Will Be Archived 2021
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