Posts Tagged ‘Robert Louis Stevenson’
At the end of November 2012, I was lucky enough to be part of a team that won a commission through the innovative REACT Books&Print Sandbox call for early 2013. I’ll be working as lead academic partner with Bristol-based creative company, SlingShot, to create a pervasive media experience that draws on the narrative and themes of Stevenson’s gothic masterpiece.
Humanity 2.0 is an understanding of the human condition that no longer takes the ‘normal human body’ as given. On the one hand, we’re learning more about our continuity with the rest of nature—in terms of the ecology, genetic make-up, evolutionary history. On this basis, it’s easy to conclude that being ‘human’ is overrated. But on the other hand, we’re also learning more about how to enhance the capacities that have traditionally marked us off from the rest of nature.
—Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, Warwick.
The core of our project draws on the fundamental questions of Jekyll and Hyde: What makes us human? Do our minds control our bodies or are we shaped by our urges, compulsions and appetites? Will technology radically transform us into a new organism, ‘Humanity 2.0’? Such questions are nothing new: during the 19th century, the cultural implications of emerging theories of identity and the dominance of science were explored by numerous works of literature. Drawing on this tradition, our project transforms this reading into play, to create a pervasive gaming experience that links individuals’ bio-data with one such text, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886), in order to stimulate participants into considering the condition of their own humanity. Read the rest of this entry »
Textual Editing in Principle and Practice: What Are You Reading? Lecture 2
Dr Alison Lumsden (University of Aberdeen) and Dr Anthony Mandal (Cardiff University)
National Library of Scotland, 9 November 2011, 6pm (free)
Why should you buy a book for £6.99 when you might have the same title for 1.99? Is it just the price? The quality of the paper and cover? Or might the text itself—the words you’ll be reading—be different?
Why does a research library like the NLS hold so many copies of the same title? What difference does it make to read one copy rather than another? Why are so many books even needed?
The books that we buy in bookshops or read in libraries may have the same titles, but they are often very different—they may contain different words; sometimes a crucial scene or even the ending may vary. Some editions will alert the reader to these differences—others will just print the most easily available text. In this series we will look at some famous examples of texts which have more than one version, and guide you through the choices editors make in order to produce a text for the informed reader.
In this lecture, the second of the series, scholars working on major editions of key Scottish authors will explore how modern editors set about producing an edited text. What are the principles we adhere to? What is the evidence that counts in valuing one state of the text over another? Should we prefer the author’s first or last version? How should we treat the author’s original manuscript? In the second part of the talk we will demonstrate the process of editing, in particular how we can benefit from the latest technological advances.
- Why we edit books. Dr Alison Lumsden (Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels)
- How we edit books. Dr Anthony Mandal (New Edinburgh Edition of Robert Louis Stevenson)
Part of the ‘What Are You Reading’ series of lectures and workshops. For more information download the ‘What Are You Reading’ information sheet PDF (122 KB, 2 pages).
Please book your tickets online or call the NLS directly on 0131 623 3918.
Ernest James Mehew, editor of the Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson
23 September 1923 – 24 October 2011
by Roger G. Swearingen
Ernest James Mehew, the world’s pre-eminent authority on the nineteenth-century Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, died peacefully in his sleep on 24 October 2011, a month after his eighty-eighth birthday. For approximately the last year, he had resided with his wife of more than fifty years, Joyce, in an Edgware, Middlesex, nursing home to provide her with support and companionship in her progressive and losing struggle with advanced-age dementia. She survives him; the Mehews had no children.
Ernest Mehew was born on 23 September 1923 at Bluntisham, Huntingdon and educated at Huntingdon Grammar School. In June 1942, at the age of eighteen, he joined the British Army and served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in the UK, France, Belgium, and India. Already fond of Stevenson from his school days, it was Janet Adam Smith’s 1938 biographical study, Mehew later recalled, that in 1942 made him a serious student of the author. After his time in the army, Mehew joined the Civil Service in 1947 and served in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Food, and (for most of his distinguished thirty-year career) the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food. He retired in 1983 at the level of Principal (G7).
He took advantage of his hour-long commute on the Bakerloo Line of the London Underground to and from his home in Stanmore to read not only everything that Stevenson himself wrote but practically everything that Stevenson himself had read and everything that had been written about him or about his family, his friends, and his times – whenever possible, from primary sources. Mehew’s knowledge was, as a result, encyclopaedic, not narrow, and besides frequent visits to second-hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road, he and his wife Joyce (herself a keen student of the period, and of the English author Maurice Baring) spent many a weekend searching bookshops for still more about Stevenson – notably in Peter Eaton’s sprawling establishment at Lilies near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and, later, in the many bookshops in Hay-on-Wye. The collection of books, periodical versions, reminiscences, and much else, soon filled every available corner of the house and attic.
From the early 1950s, in part from his letters to the Times Literary Supplement correcting errors and omissions and setting the record straight, often for the first time, Mehew became recognized not only for his knowledge of Stevenson but of the late nineteenth-century literary scene generally. Forming life-long friendships in the process, he helped with Janet Adam Smith’s editions of Stevenson’s Collected Poems (1950, 1971), with the British edition of J. C. Furnas’s biography of Stevenson, Voyage to Windward (1952), and with Rupert Hart-Davis’s major edition of Oscar Wilde’s letters (1962). ‘Mr. Mehew has unearthed several dozen letters unknown to me’, Hart-Davis wrote in his introduction, ‘besides doing the most acute detective work on behalf of the footnotes: any of them that seem particularly ingenious, amusing or recondite can safely be attributed to him, while Mrs Joyce Mehew’s extensive knowledge of the Bible has proved invaluable’. He was a mentor, too, to a younger generation of scholars, notably the Stevenson bibliographer Roger G. Swearingen, whom he first met in 1969 when Swearingen was in graduate school and with whom he maintained an active friendship and correspondence for more than forty years, practically to the day of his death.
In 1966, Mehew was asked by Yale University Press to comment on an edition of Stevenson’s letters then in preparation by Professor Bradford A. Booth. Mehew submitted a commentary so lengthy, useful, authoritative, and detailed that he was asked to become assistant editor of the Yale letters – a task which became his alone when Professor Booth died suddenly on 1 December 1968.
The eight volumes of The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, published twenty-five years later in 1994 and 1995, included more than 2,800 letters, almost two-thirds of them never before published. Mehew’s careful transcriptions, dating, and detailed and incisive annotations, together with his introduction and linking commentaries, not only placed the study of Stevenson upon a whole new foundation of fact, but also set a standard for the scholarly editing and accessible presentation of such material that will never be surpassed. It is a testimony to the thoroughness and completeness of Mehew’s work that in the fifteen years since the publication of the Yale Letters fewer than a dozen new letters have come to light, none of them of any great importance, and that the physical locations of only a dozen or so other letters, then untraced, have now become known.
Mehew’s Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (1997) is an engaging and balanced selection illuminated throughout by Mehew’s introduction, annotations, and linking commentary. The result, in effect, is an authoritative and highly readable short biography. Another masterpiece of compression and detail is Mehew’s entry on Stevenson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
In addition to his work on Stevenson’s letters, Mehew also – somehow – found time to respond positively and in detail in the TLS, 13 November 1970, to Graham Greene’s observation that Stevenson’s comic novel written in collaboration with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, The Wrong Box (1889), had never been published correctly. This was indeed the case, and the book was a special favourite of Mehew’s. He was an enthusiastic, contributing member of The Wrong Box Club that dined annually in London for some years in the 1960s – and his definitive edition of The Wrong Box appeared in 1989.
Mehew’s thoroughness and passionate commitment to accuracy earned him, at times, an undeserved reputation for irascibility. All he ever wanted was that people get things right. He was disappointed when they did not, and took great pains to correct errors wherever he found them. A striking example was his meticulous, detailed riposte to Frank McLynn’s biography of Stevenson in an article, 2 July 1993, and subsequent correspondence in the TLS. Like Stevenson himself, Mehew had an unlimited respect and thirst for knowledge – and no patience at all with prejudice, errors or with what RLS called ‘Bummkopfery’, whether in the form of laboured pedantry or its flourishing modern counterpart, academic ingenuity. Scholars worldwide benefited from Mehew’s never-failing willingness to answer questions and to suggest improvements, however disconcerting to one’s self-esteem his helpful comments might occasionally have been at first. The only goal was to get things right.
In recognition of his life’s work, in July 1997 the University of Edinburgh awarded Mehew an Honorary Doctor of Letters, noting in the citation that with no academic affiliation Ernest Mehew ’has achieved . . . a contribution to literary studies which would be the envy of many a university-based academic, and has done so with a generosity to others and a self-effacing modesty which are the marks of a true scholar’. In 1999, Dr Mehew was elected as one of the 500 Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature.
Scholars and friends worldwide mourn his loss while celebrating his lasting and extraordinary achievements.
by Robert Irvine
Editing a Stevenson novel can involve some very small matters as well as some big questions. Robert Irvine describes how one of the smallest points of all—the hyphen—raises questions about historical usage.
I have been working recently to establish a ‘copy text’ of Stevenson’s 1885 novel Prince Otto. A ‘copy text’ is a particular instance of a text which is taken as a base-line by the editor, against which variations in other versions of the text can be listed, and variations from which in the final published version must be justified. We have chosen the first book edition to perform this function for the New Edinburgh Edition. So my first task as editor is to ensure that the electronic copy text on my screen conforms in all aspects to the text published by Chatto and Windus in 1885. In principle, no editorial decisions are to be made at this stage: where there are mistakes, even an obvious printing error like the omission of a quotation mark, those remain in the copy text, to be corrected when the text is edited and the correction noted.
That pesky hyphen
No editorial decisions to be made in principle at this stage: but one set of editorial decisions is, in fact, unavoidable. In transcribing prose, we pay no attention to line-endings in the text from which we are transcribing, line-endings in prose being dictated by space available on the page, and nothing more. To preserve the line-endings in the transcription of a prose text irrespective of the size of your new page would be to turn it from prose into verse. But to make the most efficient use of the length of line available to him the type-setter of the printed text will sometimes split words at the end of a line with a hyphen. Usually the transcriber of the copy text can ignore these hyphens and restore the complete word. The problem comes when the word that has been split across two lines might have been hyphenated to start with. Deciding whether or not to preserve the hyphen in the copy text in such cases is no longer a case of simply preserving what is on the page in front of you, but requires reference to other sources of information: requires, that is, an editorial decision. Read the rest of this entry »
You can now follow regular updates from our linked Twitter page, managed by Lesley Graham, through this blog. The Twitter feed carries updates about the project, as well as matters of interest relating to all things Stevenson and tidbits from RLS himself … all in the space of 140 characters! You can view the last five tweets on the right navigation bar of this blog and can view the full Twitter feed by clicking on the links.
You can also follow our tweets directly @
We’re delighted to announce that a bid submitted to support EdRLS earlier this year to the Royal Society of Edinburgh was successful. The bid was entered into the recently launched RSE Arts & Humanities Major Research Grants competition, which makes awards of up to £175,000 provided by the Scottish Parliament in order to support ‘investigations in Scotland that will lead to advances in creativity, intellectual insights and knowledge that are of value to the research community and of use in wider social contexts’ [RSE website].
We are grateful to the RSE, whose generous support will ensure that the EdRLS team will be able to generate a sizeable quantity of volumes in our first phase, while maintaining the highest scholarly and production standards.
William Gray’s upcoming volume of the Fables is featured in today’s Observer newspaper. Here Bill explains about Colvin’s manipulation of the stories for the original Edinburgh Edition and discusses how his new edition will restore Stevenson’s own ideas for the way the Fables should be read together:
Update: the story runs and runs!
Fill His Head First with a Thousand Quotations is blog edited by Wesley Wraabe (Kent State University) with threads on digital humanities and scholarly editing.
Wraabe is a specialist on Beecher Stowe and the production and variation of magazine and volume publication – so just before our period, though dealing with many of the same problems.
Mervyn Peake and the Fantasy Tradition : A Centenary Conference
An international conference hosted by the English & Creative Writing Department, University of Chichester and the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy
15–16 July 2011 Chichester, UK
Keynote Speakers include: Joanne Harris | Michael Moorcock | Peter Winnington |Colin Manlove | Farah Mendlesohn | Sebastian Peake
This conference and related events next July to mark the centenary of Peake’s birth include exhibitions of his paintings and illustrations in Chichester (Peake lived in nearby Burpham while writing the Gormenghast books, and is buried there). July 2011 is also the publication date of Titus Awakes, Maeve Gilmore’s conclusion of her husband’s Gormenghast sequence. The conference will celebrate, explore and discuss the many facets of Peake’s rich creativity, including his work as fantasy novelist, children’s writer, playwright, poet, writer of nonsense verse, artist and illustrator (both of his own books and classics such as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Hunting of the Snark, the Alice books, Treasure Island and the Grimms’ Household Tales).
Proposals are invited for papers, presentations and panels on any aspect of Peake’s work. We especially welcome proposals relating Peake to the broader traditions of fairy tales, fantasy and children’s literature.Relevant topics might include:
- thematic explorations of Peake’s oeuvre
- textual / linguistic / rhetorical analyses
- issues of genre (e.g. in what sense is Peake’s work ‘fantasy’?)
- issues of race and/or gender and/or class in Peake’s oeuvre
- questions of ‘applicability’ (in Tolkien’s sense)
- the relation of image and text in narrative (both in Peake’s own books and in those he illustrated)
- adaptations of Peake’s work
- Peake’s literary precursors and sources, for example in (Gothic) fantasy, children’s literature and nonsense verse
- Peake’s influence (from Moorcock and Miéville to mannerpunk)
- creative responses to Peake’s work in both literature and the visual arts
It is planned to publish a selection of the conference papers.
Please submit abstracts (max. 300 words) for papers not exceeding 20 minutes (with 10 minutes for discussion). For other kinds of presentation, for example creative responses to Peake’s work (both visual and literary), please send a sample, rather than an abstract. All proposals must be received by 14 January 2011.
For further details, including the proposal submission form, please see the conference website at:
There are some fascinating connections between Mervyn Peake and Stevenson. Sebastian Peake has noted that ‘Treasure Island was the first book my father read, and loved, given him by his father.’ Some of Peake’s best illustrations are of Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; these are to be shown at the exhibitions accompanying the conference.
by Glenda Norquay
The parts played by Stevenson’s friends, as editors and business negotiators, particularly after his death, was one area of focus in my recent research trip to Princeton and to the Beinecke Library at Yale working on St Ives.
Baxter takes on American publishers and gives it to them straight
One of the unexpectedly fascinating aspects of this research has been the complicated publishing history of the material, with American and British publishers wrangling over book publication and serial rights, a debate made difficult not just by Stevenson’s death but also by the ‘disappointment’ (to put it mildly) of Charles Scribner at The Ebb-Tide going to Stone & Kimball and their claim to have rights to future works.
Scribner’s had been Stevenson’s publishers since 1885, when Stevenson had been delighted at receiving any money at all from US sales. He was, however, disappointed at sales of The Wrecker in 1893 in the US (where it had sold about a third of the number sold in the UK) and suspected them, with Baxter’s encouragement, of dishonesty or incompetence. He therefore made Baxter his business manager and asked him to get the best offer for future items.
The Americans are highly suspicious of Charles Baxter and his deal-making. And perhaps with some justification: in a letter of July 1894 he writes to RLS: ‘There is no being sentimental with American publishers […] If you want their respect, you must “do” them, and they will think you real smart’. Cultural differences and prejudice, combined with the need for income to keep Vailima going, seem to have created a difficult situation.
Colvin’s helpful ideas for a historical novel
Colvin is not exactly a business intermediary (Baxter had warned Stevenson in February 1893 that Colvin ‘is not much use at selling’) but becomes the more acceptable face of Stevenson’s representatives to the Americans. Colvin’s role, however, is more than a mediator. His contribution to St Ives includes the suggestion: ‘Couldn’t you let Scott walk across the stage in one or other of your 1812 novels? Also I want Boney, why not, in St Ives.’ (1 Dec 1893) Stevenson doesn’t seem to have been too enthusiastic about the Napoleon suggestion but a cameo of Scott provides one of the book’s most memorable chapters.
Colvin, Quiller-Couch and the conclusion of St Ives
It was also Colvin who negotiated the ‘Conclusion’ to the novel, first approaching Conan Doyle who declined by asserting ‘I’d as soon think of putting a new act on to Hamlet’ (n.d.) then working with Arthur Quiller-Couch.
The extended correspondence over the ending, which Quiller-Couch was working on while chapters were appearing in the Pall Mall Magazine, shows Colvin as recipient of all ‘Q’s anxieties over the impossibility of the ending apparently planned by Stevenson. The correspondence between them is an unusual one, in that Colvin is an editor of the material, responsible for the revisions that went to the publisher, while Quiller-Couch is both author and a reader. So in April 1897 he notes that: ‘I have just read the May installment in the P.M.M. [chapters 19–21] Alain doesn’t work out as I had expected—or perhaps a very bad illustration has something to do with it. At any rate I had expected a grander air with him and more gusto in his villainy.’
Colvin’s editorial role is also an important one, although he is dismayed to find that revision notes incorporated in the English version by Heinemann did not reach Scribner in time for the American edition. It is, nevertheless, his approved version of the novel that dominated for over a hundred years.
Of Quiller-Couch’s role in shaping the ending, of the mystery of the American Privateer and of my first encounter with the 800 manuscript pages for St Ives, more to follow.