A compelling tale of shipwreck told by Dickens in the first section, followed by a kind of Decameron of tales told by survivors of the shipwreck as they waited for rescue, and the story of the rescue as told by Collins.
p. 48-5, Dickens on cannibalism, not long after his pieces in Household Words on the subject, as related to Franklin’s demise: Foreseeing that if the boat lived through the stormy weather the time must come, and soon come, when we should have absolutely no morsel to eat, I had one momentous point often in my thoughts. Although I had, years before that, fully satisfied myself that the instances in which human beings in the last distress have fed upon each other are exceedingly few, and have very seldom indeed (if ever) occurred when the people in distress, however dreadful their extremity, have been accustomed to moderate forebearance and restraint—I say, though I had, long before, quite satisfied my mind on this topic, I felt doubtful whether there might not have been in former cases some harm and danger from keeping it out of sight and pretending not to think of it. I felt doubtful whether some minds, growing weak with fasting and exposure, and having such a terrific idea to dwell upon in secret, might not magnify it until it got to have an awful attraction about it. This was not a new thought of mine, for it had grown out of my reading. However, it came over me stronger than it had ever done before—as it had reason for doing—in the boat, and on the fourth day I decided that I would bring out into the light that uniformed fear which must have been more or less darkly in every brain among us. Therefore, as a means of beguiling the time and inspiring hope, I gave them the best summary in my power of Bligh’s voyage of more than three thousand miles, in an open boat, after the Mutiny on the Bounty, and, of the wonderful preservation of the boat’s crew. They listened throughout with great interest, and I concluded by telling them that, in my opinion, the happiest circumstances in the whole narrative was that Bligh, who was no delicate man either, had solemnly placed it on record therein that he was sure and certain that under no conceivable circumstances whatever would that emaciated party, who had gone through all the pains of famine, have preyed on one another. I cannot describe the visible relief which this spread through the boat, and how the tears stood in every eye. From that time I was as well convinced as Bligh himself that there was no danger and that this phantom, at any rate, did not haunt us.