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Pursuing Respect in the Cannibal IslesAmericans in Nineteenth-Century Fiji$
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Nancy Shoemaker

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781501740343

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501740343.001.0001

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By a Lady

By a Lady

Moral Authority

(p.105) Chapter 4 By a Lady
Pursuing Respect in the Cannibal Isles

Nancy Shoemaker

Cornell University Press

This chapter analyzes sea captain's wife Mary D. Wallis's Life in Feejee: Five Years Among the Cannibals, By a Lady (1851) to illustrate how she challenged the double standard of gendered respectability in her own society by claiming the credentials to speak about Fijians' moral inequities. On its surface, Life in Feejee is formulaic in its awe for sublime scenery, lurid fantasies of cannibal feasting, and hopes for Christian redemption. On a deeper level, Wallis's book endures as one of the most highly regarded sources for nineteenth-century Fiji history. Since Life in Feejee had origins in Wallis's private journals, presumably she initially wrote with only herself and intimate acquaintances as audience. However, as a published book, Life in Feejee became useful to others—people in her own time and historians, who would later appreciate her careful recordkeeping of events and personages. For her contemporaries, Life in Feejee's advocacy of the missionary cause sounded a call to arms for changing Fijian culture through foreign intervention. More profoundly, the example Wallis set of a bold and knowing woman conducting a kind of personal conquest in Fiji offered readers an entry point into questioning and reframing their own society's rules surrounding gendered propriety.

Keywords:   Mary D. Wallis, gendered respectability, Fijians, moral inequities, cannibal feasting, Christian redemption, Fiji history, Fijian culture, foreign intervention, missionary cause

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