The Making of a Master Criminal: The ‘Chief of the Thugs’ in Victorian Writings on Crime
In Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne takes his protagonist Phileas Fogg to India, and remarks in passing that the countryside through which he is travelling is “under the sway of Feringhea, the chief of the Thugs, the king of the Stranglers”. While sati provides one of the main plot-engines in Around the World, thuggee is alluded to only in passing. The mention of Feringhea, however, encapsulates a narrative of crime and criminality that pervades the popular culture of the nineteenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century, the discourse on thuggee was well established as part of popular culture, sharing with other varieties of crime-writing a semi-fictional, semi-factual status; as well as a tendency to foreground a “master criminal” possessing attributes of both hero and villain. The master criminal, created at the intersection between an instance of “wrong-doing” and its public presentation, has to be continually re-invoked and reinvented to explain the persistence of criminality.