The link below is to a book review of ‘Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes,’ by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Ask most people about the heavyweights of late Victorian fiction and they will probably mention the likes of Thomas Hardy, George Eliot or Oscar Wilde. Raise Robert Louis Stevenson, however, and you’ll struggle to attract more than dusty affection: his work is usually seen as the stuff of old illustrated copies of boys’ adventures such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped, left in the forgotten corners of people’s attics.
It was very different in Stevenson’s lifetime. The Scottish writer was renowned as an essayist and belle-lettrist like Henry James, who himself regarded Stevenson as an equal in intellect and talent. Stevenson’s subsequent journey to the lightweight fringe was no accident either. You can trace it through a series of decisions and events that demonstrate an unsettling truth: once you are no longer here, there is little you can do to protect your literary reputation.
When Stevenson died aged just 44 on Samoa in December 1894, reportedly of a brain tumour, the Victorian literary world was reeling. James wrote of the “ghastly extinction of the beloved RLS”. In Samoa, Stevenson had been known as “Tusitala”, the teller-of-tales, and his obituary in the Illustrated London News lamented his passing as such:
He is gone, our Prince of storytellers – such a Prince, indeed, as his own Florizel of Bohemia, with the insatiable taste for weird adventure, for diablerie, for a strange mixture of metaphysics and romance.
The high praise was not to last. After Stevenson’s death his family, notably his wife Fanny, and literary friends such as Sidney Colvin, began to manage and manipulate his legacy. When Colvin published Stevenson’s letters, he had redacted material they thought unsavoury, including the writer’s disputes with his family and his salacious youthful activities.
Probably motivated by a desire to protect the lucrative revenues from those boys’ adventures, this sanitised his image. It made him more palatable for a moralistic Victorian readership, securing his reputation as a non-controversial writer of children’s fiction. In 1901 Stevenson’s great friend, the poet and critic WE Henley, decried how he had been turned into a “seraph in chocolate” and a “barley-sugar effigy”.
Stevenson quickly became a target for other leading writers. Joseph Conrad denounced him, declaring to his agent, JB Pinker: “I am no sort of airy RL Stevenson, who considered his art a prostitute and the artist no better than one”. The American writer Stephen Crane was particularly disparaging, claiming: “That man put back the clock of English fiction fifty years”. Even HG Wells wrote that Stevenson’s interest in the romance tradition was a “pitiful instance of the way in which wrong-headed flattery, a feminine book market, and a man’s own talent may triumph over his genius”.
Whether they were inspired by Stevenson’s image-makers is unclear, but these writers were certainly in the vanguard of a new generation who felt the need to distance themselves from their Victorian forebears. Stevenson was also phenomenally successful, so professional jealously may also have been a factor. It set the tone for a long period in which he was frequently seen in the same kind of way.
The case for Robert Louis
Stevenson’s work is actually far more complex and wide-ranging than these reductive assessments allow. For Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde alone, he should be regarded among the great British writers. A book of massive influence and endurance, Vladimir Nabokov believed that it “belongs to the same order of art as […] Madame Bovary or Dead Souls”.
Treasure Island itself is more than meets the eye. It is actually a deeply subversive story of betrayal and divided loyalties, which deserves close reading. And beyond these household names, Stevenson also produced groundbreaking work that the likes of Wells and also 20th-century literary scholars unaccountably overlooked. Published in the year that he died, The Ebb-Tide is a dark tale of tyranny and imperial mismanagement, which anticipates Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and signals how Stevenson was beginning to question the morality of European interference in the Pacific. Together with the similarly themed The Beach of Falesá, it shows that had Stevenson lived, he could have gone on to rival even Conrad as an imperial sceptic.
Stevenson incidentally had a strong influence on his literary critics. Conrad and Ford Madox Ford used the opening page of Treasure Island as the model for the first sequence of their collaborative 1903 novel, Romance, actively seeking his fame and fortune whilst diminishing his art.
As for Wells, The Ebb-Tide is a considerable inspiration for The Island of Doctor Moreau, while The Invisible Man owes a great debt to Jekyll and Hyde. Put these arguments together and you begin to see why he was never denigrated in the same way overseas. Particularly in America, France and Italy, he has always been seen as a great writer.
Some more recent writers were kinder about Stevenson. Ernest Hemingway was a fan, for instance. Jorge Luis Borges considered him “among the greatest literary joys I have experienced”. In the 1990s he began to be welcomed back into the fold in literary academic circles. This was led by the likes of Alan Sandison and the rise of cultural studies, which argues that “high” and “low” culture are completely interdependent and don’t fit into separate boxes.
More than a century after his death, it finally feels like we have reached the point where Stevenson is fully gaining the reputation he so richly deserves. We at Edinburgh Napier University are playing our part with the Mehew Robert Louis Stevenson Collection of his books and papers, which officially opens to the public on March 17. For one of Scotland’s greatest writers, his homecoming is long overdue.
The link below is to a book review of ‘Kidnapped,’ by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The link below is to a book review of ‘Kidnapped,’ by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at seven things that you may not have known about Robert Louis Stevenson.
I am into my last days of annual leave, so it is doubtful I’ll be able to read anywhere near as much as I have this last week. I’ll probably have the Kindle out at lunch for a bit, so I’ll still be getting some reading in even while I’m at work. The Kindle has certainly made it a lot easier to have good reading material available no matter where I am. Loving the Kindle.
Social Networks, Web Applications & Other Tools
Not a lot has happened with the social networks in the book/reading niche over this last week, except that I have been updating Goodreads on a regular basis as to what I am reading, progress and cataloguing the books as I go.
I did do a quick addition to Quotista, which has a lot of potential but doesn’t appear to be being developed any further, which is quite disappointing. It could really be something good if it was improved from time to time. It looks so good. So, I have also been using a personal WordPress.com blog for filing quotes. This will be able to be searched and catalogued as I go and will make a very good tool down the track, curating my reading over the years, while still being able to use my books as valuable tools for further research and study. I think it works OK.
Currently, I am reading two books – well one actually, but about to start another. These are listed below:
I have started reading this twice – it is an excellent read and I wanted to absorb what I had read, so I thought why not start again. Highly recommend this one.
– Phantoms on the Bookshelves, by Jacques Bonnet
I haven’t really started this book as I finish this post, but it will be one I’ll be starting some time today.
– One of these book was ‘Treasure Island,’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. I read this on the Kindle and it was a very quick read, finishing it in two days. My book review is linked to below.
I haven’t yet completed a book review on this one, it will be coming soon.
I haven’t yet completed a book review on this one either, but it will come this week sometime hopefully.
Purchased & Added to Library:
I again grabbed a heap of free ebooks from Amazon. These are all of the books I’ve posted on my Blog ‘The Book Stand,’ so all posted there I also downloaded for myself. I’ll certainly have more books than I can ever read that’s for sure, but certainly never wanting for choice. No harm in grabbing them while there free and in digital format – if I don’t read them all, what does it matter? At least I’ll have them if I want to read them.
Among the books I actually purchased this week:
Treasure Island was the first major novel of Robert Louis Stevenson. It was first published in 1883 and has remained a much-loved book. First penned as a story for boys, it was as a young boy that I first came across Treasure Island. It was the first real book that I ever read – certainly of my own choice. If I remember correctly, the copy I had was a small book, not much bigger than my hand and illustrated throughout. The illustrations weren’t coloured as such, but I think I may have started to ‘colour them in’ as I read the story several times. The name of the ship, ‘Hispaniola,’ came back to me in one of my first compositions at school. In that early attempt at writing I wrote a story about piracy and a ship called the Hispaniola. I believe I was written into the story, along with several of my classmates, though the original composition has long since been lost and the
plot a thing of the past.
Not until the last couple of days however, did I take up the novel once again and begin to read the story of Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins, and the journey to Treasure Island. It has been a long time now, since that first book I read and my taking it up again. It must be at the very least thirty years and then some by my reckoning. Remembering this book as the first I had really read, was the reasoning behind my picking it up again for another read.It is an easy read. It is not a long read. But it is an enjoyable read. If it is that then the author has achieved his goal in fiction I believe. To be sure there are many things that can be learned in reading a novel and many lessons that can be taught through a novel, but without enjoyment all else is lost. This is a short novel that can be enjoyed greatly.
I read this book by way of a Kindle, which shows that the future of Treasure Island lies assured into the digital future and beyond. I also own Treasure Island in traditional form and as part of a set of works, being the entire works of Robert Louis Stevenson. One day I hope to read more, if not all of this man’s printed contrinution to English literature and I look forward to doing so.
Treasure Island is the classic pirate story, coming fully equiped with the pirate talk which is so popular even to this day and the vivid description of a pirate adventure. The story is a great one that may well bring younger generations to read and pull them away from the Xbox and other gaming devices. It is a short read, with short chapters, which may be a useful tool in getting a young one to start reading – but it is the adventure of a life time for Jim Hawkins that will really draw them in and the promise of buried treasure.
If you have not read Treasure Island, pick up a copy and have a read. It is free in the Kindle Shop at the time of posting this review and well worth spending a couple of hours a day reading this classic – by the end of the week the story of Treasure Island will be completed and you will be the richer for having read it.
Buy this book at Amazon:
The link below is to an article that lists 6 Kindle Classic Books available for free. The six books listed are:
– The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
– The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
– King Solomon’s Mines, by Henry Rider Haggard
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
– Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
– Dorothy & the Wizard in Oz, by Lyman Frank Baum