This article argues through a biopolitical lens that R.L. Stevenson’s short-story cycle “The Suicide Club” anticipates the mass destruction of human life during WWI via the fictionalized case-study of London’s clandestine Suicide Club. In the heart of the British Empire, the Club facilitates suicidal desires in a perverse game of trading cash for dead bodies. When Prince Florizel of Bohemia, the quasi-protagonist, wages war on the Club, two competing sovereign games (sovereign in both the biopolitical sense of having power over the life and death of others and in the monarchical sense) clash in a conflict that enlists servile and expendable bodies for the purpose of defending the sovereign autonomy of the Club’s president and Prince Florizel, respectively. Playing on British fin de siècle anxieties about national and imperial stability, racial purity, and moral and aesthetic integrity, Stevenson depicts the struggle between two sovereigns in a thought-experiment that realizes those anxieties, embodied in the foreign “otherness” of Florizel, at home. His themes had their real-life counterparts in nation-state politics and post-colonial programs of the turn of the century and leading up to WWI. This work reveals how Stevenson recognized the possibility for a war born of these anxieties, specifically a war in which sovereigns mobilized en masse bodies to maintain national and imperial stability even if it meant the awesome loss of life.
Stephenson, Ethan T. "Convenient Death and Imperial Implications in R.L. Stevenson's 'The Suicide Club'." (Spring 2018).