The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

Twenty years ago today: RLS 2002, Gargnano

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Twenty years ago today, on Sunday 25 August 2002, the Gargnano Stevenson conference began with registration from 5 to 7 p.m., followed, on the lakeside terrace, by the first aperitivo and and the first cena (pasta all’amatriciana and ‘àrista al forno’—roast pork—con salsa svizzera) in the gathering dusk of the long Gargnano twilight. It was a memorable moment, in a unique location and one of the events that contributed to the revival of academic interest in Stevenson, including the New Edinburgh Edition.

Palazzo Feltrinelli, Gargnano

Stevenson, once the most famous and admired writer in English, from about 1918 was gradually excluded for serious consideration by Anglo-American critics. The situation continued for another seventy years: he was dismissed by F. R. Leavis and Raymond Williams and not even mentioned once in The Norton Anthology of English Literature from the first (1962) through to the seventh edition (2000).

Signs of a revival of interest started in the 1980s (with works by Roger Swearingen (1980), Paul Maixner (1981), Barry Menikoff (1984) and the influential collection of essays Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde After One Hundred Years (1988) edited by Veeder & Hirsch). In the same decade Penguin Classics and Oxford Oxford World Classics paperbacks made a number of Stevenson’s works (including the South Seas tales) easily available for the first time in decades.

With the centenary year of 1994 came exhibitions and biographies and the eight volumes of the Yale Letters (edited by B. A. Booth and E. Mehew), closely followed by Alan Sandison’s monograph of 1996, which presented Stevenson not as the tradition to be overcome by Modernism but as its forerunner.

All this activity and interest was further focussed in the milennial year 2000, associated with overviews and assessments in many fields, including the important Stirling Stevenson conference of 2000 (organized by Rory Watson and Eric Massie), which then gave birth to the Journal of Stevenson Studies (which flourished from 2005 to 2018). Stirling was intended as a single conference, but at its closing meeting Richard Ambrosini boldly stood up and proposed a biennial series, to be established by a conference in two year’s time at the Milan University conference centre on Lake Garda.

What a pleasure it was at Stirling and Gargnano to share interests and enthusiasms with a temporary gathering of like-minded others for the very first time. Stirling initiated a focussing of interest and Gargnano and the biennial conferences confirmed it.


Below are some photos of the event. If you wish to read my ‘picturesque notes’ on the conference, you will find them here.

Cena social (conference dinner), Tuesday 27 August 2002: Morgan Holmes and Dennis Denisoff at the head of the table, Caroline McKracken-Flesher next to Morgan, and Wendy Katz further up the table on the right

Dick Ringler wrote afterwards: ‘That was quite splendid, long-to-be-savored-and-remembered. A total success. And acquiring—in retrospect—something of the quality of a dream.’

Louis, Fanny and ‘Charles of Orleans’

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When Stevenson first met Fanny Osbourne and fell in love he accepted an addition she suggested to his latest essay. Her contribution was first noted when preparing the essay for the upcoming New Edinburgh Edition of Stevenson’s Familiar Studies of Men and Books.

Fanny Osbourne

On 30 July 1876 Stevenson reported that his essay on ‘Charles of Orleans’ was finished and had been sent off to the Cornhill. The following month he left Edinburgh for London and then Antwerp where he was to begin his Inland Voyage river and canal journey on 25 August. In a letter to Colvin written just before leaving Edinburgh he still hadn’t heard from the Cornhill about the essay (Letters 2: 178, 181).

In the same letter to Colvin he said ‘I have an ultimate purpose of reaching Fontainebleau by water’, but he in fact ended at Pontoise, about about 17 km via the river Oise to the Seine below Paris. On 13 or 14 September he wrote to his mother from Pontoise mentioning ‘a bold, desperado sort of post card from my father; anent a proof of mine; which he has carefully violated as usual’ (Letters 2: 190). This can only refer to the ‘Charles of Orleans’ proofs. The same incident is alluded to at the end of An Inland Voyage, where he says a packet of letters picked up in Compiègne ended the holiday feeling and at their next stop, ‘a letter at Pontoise decided us’, and brought the trip to an end (Tusitala 17: 88, 110).

It is not clear whether it had been agreed that Thomas Stevenson would read the proofs when they arrived, or whether he took it upon himself to open the envelope: certainly, Stevenson did not welcome this interference, and two-and-a-half years later made sure his father did not see the proofs of Travels with a Donkey (Maixner: 64).


After Pontoise Stevenson and Simpson continued by rail to Paris and Grez, where they presumably arrived around 16 September—along with the two canoes (Lloyd Osbourne remembers them there). And there at the artist’s inn of Chez Chevillon, Stevenson met his future wife Fanny Osbourne. We have Lloyd Osbourne’s later recollection of Stevenson arriving, vaulting though the open window from the street and being greeted with delight by the company around the dinner table. Louis was attracted to Fanny first; Fanny, we know from her letters, was attracted to Bob Stevenson, but at a certain point he told her that his cousin was more worthy of her attention. (All this un-Victorian fluidity and freedom of relationships must have seemed like a new world to Louis.)

RLS, 1876

Anyway, they fell in love, ‘step for step, with a fluttered consciousness, like a pair of children venturing together into a dark room’, as Stevenson puts it in ‘Falling in Love’. Lloyd Osbourne remembers how Stevenson and his mother ‘would sit and talk interminably on either side of the dining-room stove while everybody else was out and busy, under vast white umbrellas, in the fields’ (Tusitala 17: xi).


One day, Stevenson must have given Fanny those proofs of his latest essay, ‘Charles of Orleans’ to read. The text published in the Cornhill in December of that year contains the following passage:

The reader will remember how Villon’s mother conceived of heaven and hell and took all her scanty stock of theology from the stained glass that threw its light upon her as she prayed. And there is scarcely a detail of external effect in the chronicles and romances of the time, but might have been borrowed at second hand from a piece of tapestry. It was a stage in the history of mankind which we may see paralleled, to some extent, in the first infant school, where the representations of lions and elephants alternate round the wall with moral verses and trite presentments of the lesser virtues. So that to live in a house of many pictures was tantamount, for the time, to a liberal education in itself.

After reading the essay, Fanny suggested the parallel between knowledge conveyed through images in the Middle Ages and the images in the classroom of the infant school, and Stevenson (always interested in parallels between primitive and infant psychology) must have inserted it on the proofs.

We know this because when the essay was collected in Familiar Studies in 1882, Stevenson, replying to a letter from Alexander Japp, said, ‘The elephant was my wife’s: so she is proportionately elate you should have have picked it out for praise’ (Letters 3: 310).

Stevenson and Pacific Christianity

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A post contributed by L. M. Ratnapalan

author of Robert Louis Stevenson and the Pacific: The Transformation of Global Christianity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, March 2023)

Studying Robert Louis Stevenson’s Pacific writings and their contribution to anthropology, I was struck by their many references to religion: local beliefs and practices, churches, nuns, pastors, and converts. The published studies of Stevenson that I read focussed almost entirely on his view of Western missionaries. The consensus was: he was a critical friend of missionaries considering them to be ‘by far the best and the most useful whites in the Pacific’, but that he found their attempts to change Polynesian habits led to consequences that were ‘bloodier than a bombardment’.(1) These studies, however, typically paid little attention to the wider world of Pacific Christianity. Above all, the indigenous Christians Stevenson wrote so much about were hardly discussed at all.

I believe that the reasons for this are at least partly cultural. Growing up in Britain, I had come to think of Christianity as a personal belief, held by a diminishing number of people, who mainly practiced it in private. But when I moved to South Korea in 2012 I was struck by the centrality of Christianity, its practices and discourses, even in a modern city like Seoul: bright crosses light up the night sky; people pray with a rosary in the park; Church attendance is important; and the most popular evening talk show featured a famous pastor as a weekly contributor.

Neon crosses in Seoul

While living in Britain, I had gained the impression that organized religion was everywhere in decline and that secularization was the dominant force; now I could see that the bigger story was not the shrinking of religious affiliation but rather the explosive growth of Christianity (and Islam). The religious picture of the world was undergoing transformation and the key agents were indigenous Christians from Africa, Asia, South America, and the Island Pacific.(2) The vast majority of the world’s Christians now live outside Europe.(3)

In most Pacific Islands comfortably 95 per cent of the population describe themselves as Christian.(3) With this understanding, I felt that I was in a better position to analyze Stevenson’s South Seas writing. A well-known image of the author and his family in Samoa will help to explain what I mean.

Vailima family, May 1892

Seated and standing around the Stevensons, Osbournes, and their maid are Pacific Islanders, but who were they? The household retinue was composed not only of Samoans but also of Islanders from many other parts of the Pacific. For example, while the cook Talolo (seated directly in front of RLS) was Samoan, Savea (seated far left), who worked on the plantation, was probably a Wallis Islander, and Arrick (seated in front of Talolo) was from the New Hebrides. Yet though they originated from widely separated communities, they were united in a common Christian culture. The workers on the Stevenson estate reflected a mobile Pacific world in which Christianity was common currency, a situation also reflected in Stevenson’s writings, featuring the Pacific-wide movement of Islanders and religious talk.

My project developed to become a study of the impact of Pacific Islands Christianity on Robert Louis Stevenson. I argue that ‘the Beach of Falesá’ could be seen as a meditation on the social effects of missionaries in the Islands.(5) His Pacific fiction deserves reassessment, I thought, in the light of his fascination with the difference between Islanders’ adoption of Christianity as an outward façade (‘indigenization’) and a deeper cultural and spiritual engagement with it (‘inculturation’).(6) The quickness with which he was able to absorb what he experienced was remarkable. During the period 1888–94, as he moved from Pacific traveller to Samoan resident, he progressed from a somewhat sceptical assessment of the efficacy of local religious conversions to a view that mixed the personal with the political. (7) In a forthcoming book, I explore how his Scottish Presbyterian upbringing guided Stevenson’s understanding of Pacific culture, and how Pacific Islanders in turn helped to change the way that he thought about Christianity.(8)

A personal shift of viewpoint has produced these conclusions. Stevenson once wrote that ‘There is no foreign land; it is the traveller only that is foreign’.(9) In the Pacific, he found that ideas such as Christianity could also cover great distances to become foreign to the traveller, and so light up ‘the contrasts of the earth’.

L. M. Ratnapalan, Yonsei University

(1) Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas (London: Penguin, 1998), 64, 34.
(2) Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith
(New York: Orbis, 1996); Jehu J. Hanciles, Migration and the Making of Global Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021).
(3) Pew Research Center, ‘Global Christianity – A Report on the size and distribution of the World’s Christian population’ (2011): https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/
(4) Kenneth R. Ross, Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, and Todd M. Johnson, eds. Christianity in Oceania
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021).
(5) L. M. Ratnapalan, ‘Missionary Christianity and Culture in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Beach of Falesá”’, Religion and Literature, 53.3 (2021).
(6) L. M. Ratnapalan, ‘Half Christian: Indigenization and Inculturation in Stevenson’s Pacific Fiction’, Scottish Literary Review 12, 1 (2020).
(7) L. M. Ratnapalan, ‘“Our Father’s Footprints”: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Anthropology of Conversion, 1888-1894’, Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, 11.1 (forthcoming).
(8) L. M. Ratnapalan, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Pacific: The Transformation of Global Christianity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, scheduled March 2023).
(9) Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884), 113-4.


Seoul: https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2011/06/15/features/Blinded-by-the-light-Seouls-neon-pollution/2937613.html

Vailima family: https://www.thenational.scot/news/17887450.story-samoas-love-robert-louis-stevenson/

Upcoming volume: https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-robert-louis-stevenson-and-the-pacific.html

RLS and Graham Greene

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A first cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson on his mother’s side, Jane Whytt (1846–1903), was the maternal grandmother of the novelist Graham Greene (1904–1991). He was very conscious of the family connection and in an interview said that he reacted against the writing of Virginia Woolf ‘by being a storyteller. You see, my mother was a cousin to Robert Louis Stevenson and I’d like to think I’ve followed in his tradition’.(1) Leslie A. Fiedler links Greene with Stevenson, Melville and Doyle as writers who begin with ‘the Romance of the incident, the boys’ story or the thriller’, and move towards ‘evocation of myth’.(2)

In 1947 he started work on a biography of Stevenson but abandoned it because J. C. Furnas was working on a substantial biography and reassessment (Voyage to Windward, 1951); his notes for the project are now in the John J. Burns library of Boston College, and his views on Stevenson can be garnered from his Collected Essays.(4)

Graham Greene, late 1940s

Re-reading The Third Man

When recently re-reading Graham Greene’s novella The Third Man (1950), written to provide a screenplay for the 1949 film directed by Carol Reed, I was struck by certain elements that reminded me of Robert Louis Stevenson. Apart from the plot bordering on popular genres (of thriller, spy and detective story); the memorable linking of setting and incident; the ambiguity of characters and uncertainty of interpretation of events, there were other elements that stood out as reminiscent.

Prose style. The prose style is different, of course, but what about Greene’s ‘the thin patient snow’ and ‘curious free unformed laughter’ (chs. 2, 8; pp. 21, 56).(3) These seemed like unexpected Stevensonian epithets (such as ‘the deliberate seasons’, ‘the outrageous breakers’).

Duality. Then there was the element of elusive duality in human personality reflected in first and family name: ‘There was always a conflict in Rollo Martins—between the absurd Christian name and the sturdy Dutch […] surname. Rollo looked at every woman that passed, and Martins renounced them for ever’ (ch. 2; p. 18). And later when Martins hesitates to tell the waiting policeman that Harry Lime was escaping from the café where he had been lured by the detective Calloway, it is explained as follows: ‘I suppose it was not Lime, the penicillin racketeer, who was escaping down the street; it was Harry’ (ch. 16; p. 113).

This alignment of personal and public name with behaviour that is instinctive and controlled, or with the personalities that are private and public reminds me of Weir of Hermiston, when Frank Innes says of Archie Weir, ‘I know Weir; but I never met Archie’ (ch. 2), as well as the idea of divided, non-unitary personality in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and elsewhere in Stevenson. Martins, like Jekyll, feels this interior struggle: ‘It needed all Martin’s resolution to stop Rollo saying […]’ (ch. 3; p. 31).

Charming villain. Perhaps Harry Lime (in Greene’s novella and in the interpretation by Orson Welles in the film) owes something to Stevenson’s characters who combine charm and a-morality (Long John Silver and James Durie).

The famous final scene in the film. There was one other thing that rang a Stevensonian bell for me, this time not from Stevenson’s writings but from writings about his life. When Calloway and Martins drive away from the first (fictitious) burial of Lime at the beginning of the story, Calloway notices that Martins does not look back, though he has just taken part in the burial of his friend:

I noticed that Martins never looked behind — it’s nearly always the fake mourners and the fake lovers who take that last look, who wait waving on platforms, instead of clearing quickly out, not looking back. (ch. 2; p. 22)

That note about platforms and ‘not looking back’ reminded me of one of Lloyd Osbourne’s most memorable pieces of writing, which Greene must have known: the final sentences in an essay describing Osbourne and his mother parting from Stevenson at Euston station to return to California in 1878:

I had no idea of the quandary my mother and R. L. S. were in […] I prattled endlessly about ‘going home’, and enjoyed our preparations, while to them that imminent August spelled the knell of everything that made life worth living. But when the time came I had my own tragedy of parting, and the picture lives with me today as clearly as though it were yesterday. We were standing in front of our compartment, and the moment to say good-bye had come. It was terribly short and sudden and final, and before I could almost realize it R. L. S. was walking away down the platform, a diminishing figure in a brown ulster. My eyes followed him hoping that he would look back. But he never turned, and finally disappeared in the crowd. Words cannot express the sense of bereavement, of desolation that suddenly struck at my heart. I knew I would never see him again. (‘Stevenson at Twenty-Eight’; Tusitala Edition, vol. 25, p. x)

This reminds me of the famous last scene in the film, a full minute of one shot: Martins leaning against a wagon in the left foreground as Anna ‘approaches from a great distance, getting progressively closer, and — without so much as a glance in his direction — finally walking past him and out of frame’ (Richard Raskin).

It’s different from the passages from Greene and Osbourne given above (walking away vs walking towards; not looking back vs not looking to one side etc.), but there is an affinity and equivalence in walking down the long platform and walking down the long avenue, in the deep feelings of bereavement preventing any conventional interaction, and in the inexorable marking of an end.

In Greene’s screenplay Rollo and Anna actually decide to drive off together and it was the director Carol Reed who insisted on this striking end (Anna unforgiving, still held by her fatal love for Lime), but it could have been suggested by Greene’s comment about ‘not looking back’.

That makes two levels of supposition: Stevenson at Euston station possibly linked to Greene’s passage about ‘not looking back’ when saying goodbye at a station platform, and this possibly linked to Carol Reed’s choice for the final scene in the film. Mmm, two imagined links could be used to connect almost anything, so let’s forget that possibility. But, just for our own amusement, let’s imagine a long one-minute single shot to conclude an imaginary film: Stevenson turning and walking, walking along the platform till he becomes very small and is lost in the crowd. Add a suitable film score. At the end, steam, released from among the wheels, gradually fills the screen.

  1. John R. McArthur, Graham Greene: The Last Interview (Brooklyn/London: Melville House, 2019), p. 112.
  2. ‘R.L.S. Revisited’, No! in Thunder (1960), qu. in Harold Bloom (ed.), Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Robert Louis Stevenson (Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005), p. 14.
  3. Penguin edition, 1971 and reprints.
  4. edited by John Maynard, 1969 (available on archive.org).

Written by rdury

17/07/2022 at 2:28 pm

André Gide’s Stevensonian tale

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This post is about Stevenson’s influence on the French novel in the early twentieth century, and in particular on André Gide’s Isabelle, a text in which such influence has so far not been noted.

André Gide looking Stevensonian in the 1890s

A strange experience

I recently read André Gide’s novella Isabelle (first published in 1911) and, as I did so, was continually reminded of Stevenson’s long short story ‘Olalla’.

Such were the affinities in characters, settings, events and even atmosphere that I was sure that Gide must have taken Stevenson’s tale as a conscious inspiration. This conviction was strengthened by my knowledge that Gide belonged to a group of of French writers and critics before and after 1900 who admired Stevenson and saw him as a model who could help the French novel find a new way forward.

Then I learnt that Gide recorded reading ‘Olalla’ in his Journal the year after he wrote Isabelle. I fell from the clouds (as they say in Italian). Where I wanted to find affinities, had I imagined them?

From what follows the reader will be able to judge between three possible explanations: 1. I had made a pattern out of unrelated elements and mere coincidences, 2. the two works share a common influence, or 3. Gide may have read ‘Olalla’ earlier than recorded in his Journal and had indeed been inspired by it.

‘Olalla’ and Isabelle: similarities

First of all, what was it about the narrative that made me think that Gide may have been thinking of ‘Olalla’ when writing Isabelle? In both texts

  • The narrator travels to and stays in a remote and decayed aristocratic residence inhabited by a family of declining fortune
  • The youngest members of the family are
    — a mentally handicapped boy (Felipe, Casimir), who is attracted to the narrator,
    — and a young woman (Olalla, Felipe’s sister; Isabelle, Casimir’s mother), with whom the narrator falls in love and who gives the title to the story.
    — There is also a priest in both (a visitor in ‘Olalla’, a resident tutor in Isabelle), who knows the family secret.
  • The narrator in both cases is ill-at-ease in the house,
    — not being an intimate friend of the family (foreigner and paying guest in ‘Olalla’; scholar consulting a manuscript and received as a guest in Isabelle);
    — he finds the house and its inhabitants strange (‘being in a strange place and surrounded by strange people’; ‘étranges êtres à peine humains’);
    — the house has elements from ‘Gothic’ tales and there are frightening noises at night.
  • In both cases, the narrator investigates and discovers the hidden truth about the family.
  • A turning point in both stories is when the narrator sees a portrait of the previously unseen young woman and becomes obsessed with it to the point of falling in love, an attraction which in both cases is ultimately frustrated.

‘Olalla’ and Isabelle: differences

There are important differences too:

  • An important theme in ‘Olalla’, absent in Isabelle, is the inherited degeneracy shared by all members of the family (except by Olalla herself, though she fears it will develop or be passed on to a child).
  • ‘Olalla’ is more ‘Gothic’: the narrator hears terrible screams in the night and finds himself locked in his room. In despair, the he puts his hand through a window and his wrist bleeds copiously; when he seeks help from the Senora, she leaps at the bleeding wrist and bites it to the bone.(1)
  • in Isabelle the main theme is that of the narrator’s self-deception: his idealistic and romantic view of Isabelle at the end is destroyed by crude reality: she is manipulative and mendacious (it’s a kind of Northanger Abbey in which events are expected by the protagonist on the basis of his reading but then turn out very differently).
  • It is also more realistic and Gide works in several autobiographical elements
  • It includes a number of metaliterary references and an outer frame to the main story,

On that last point, any influence of Stevenson in Isabelle is not going to be the only one, in view of Gide’s unusually large range of literary influences here and in all his writing, and of the way that — like Stevenson — he was constantly experimenting with different kinds of texts.

The following intertextual models have been identified for Isabelle: Chateaubriand’s René, Maupassant, Turgenev’s Virgin Soil, Laclos’ Les liaisons dangereuses, Hoffman’s The Sandman, the writings of Francis Jammes (friend and character in the frame narrative), Paul Bourget’s Le disciple, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute.(2)

So any influence of ‘Olalla’ will be only one of a whole range of others.

‘Olalla’ and Isabelle: shared influences

Some of the similarities between the two works are undoubtedly due to shared influences:

  • The gothic novel in which the ingénu visitor gradually discovering the secrets of an isolated house
  • Novels of the governess or tutor in an aristocratic mansion, their intermediate status, relations with the family members and romantic attractions
  • Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ in the gothic novel tradition; the decadent family and family home.

However, the composition of the family, the function of the portrait and the frustrated love story do seem strangely similar.

Other Stevensonian echoes in Isabelle

But right from the first chapter I noted what seemed to me a striking and pictorial incidents where the reader can picture the disposition of characters at an important moment — of the kind that Stevenson discusses in ‘A Gossip on Romance’ and that we typically remember from his narratives. In the introductory frame-narrative chapter, the unnamed narrator and and Francis Jammes are taken by Gérard Lacase to visit a nearby abandoned château, but then get separated from him during the exploration. Here it is in my translation:

We caught up with Gérard on the second floor near an unglazed corridor window through which a cord hung down from outside; it was a bell rope, and I was about to give it a gentle pull, when I felt my arm seized by Gérard; his movement, rather than check mine actually amplified it: a wild knell rang out, so close, so violent, that it made us painfully start; then, when it seemed that silence had closed round us again, two pure notes sounded again, at an interval, more distant. I had turned round towards Gérard and I saw his lips were trembling.

Isabelle, unnumbered introductory chapter

As I read, I came across other moments that seemed similarly Stevensonian. In the middle of a scene between Isabelle and her indulgent aunt (observed unseen by the narrator), Isabelle’s disapproving mother makes a theatrical entrance:

The baroness appeared in the doorway, rigid, in a low-cut gown, with rouged cheeks, in full formal array, and her head surmounted by a sort of plume of marabout stork feathers. She held aloft as best she could a large six-branched candelabra, all candles lit, which bathed her in a flickering light, and dropped wax tears on the floor.

Isabelle, ch. 6

This seemed to me a clear hommage to the scene between Flora and St Ives interrupted by the stately entrance of Flora’s aunt:

The words were still upon my lips when the door opened and my friend of the gold eyeglass appeared, a memorable figure, on the threshold. In one hand she bore a bedroom candlestick; in the other, with the steadiness of a dragoon, a horse-pistol. She was wound about in shawls which did not wholly conceal the candid fabric of her nightdress, and surmounted by a nightcap of portentous architecture.

St Ives, ch. 9

Other echoes I perceived may have been due to my pattern-making. For example, the scene between Isabelle and the coachman’s wife in the dark vestibule, observed but not heard by the narrator, in which the latter, holding a lantern, advances and the former retreats while ‘the lantern moved back and forth projecting leaping shadows’ (La lanterne s’agita projetant des ombres bondissants; ch. 6), reminded me of Stevenson’s penchant for describing such ‘dancing shadows’ (as he puts it in The Wrecker), for instance in ‘A Lodging for the Night’, where he writes: ‘there was no light in all the neighbourhood but a little peep from a lamp that hung swinging in the church choir, and tossed the shadows to and fro in time to its oscillations’.

But there was a more general influence of Stevenson in the narrative presented as an adventure, about which I will say more in the following section.

Roman d’aventure — not exactly ‘adventure novel’

After about 1890 it was generally felt that the French Realist or Naturalist novel (which had dominated the literary scene for several decades) had run its course. The need to explore aspects of fictional narrative apart from the naturalist world view (of the individual at the mercy of oppressive and mechanical social forces) was debated in the French periodical press by young writers and critics, especially a group around André Gide and the Nouveau revue française (which he was closely associated with from 1909). For them, a precious indication of how to move forward could be found in the example of Stevenson, Conrad and the ‘roman d’aventure’.(3)

The precise interpretation of this term was influenced by Marcel Schwob’s preface-manifesto to his collection of short stories Cœur double (1891), in which he wrote:

If the literary form of the novel persists, it […] will undoubtedly be an adventure novel in the broadest sense of the word, the novel of the crises of the inner world and the outer world

By roman d’aventure the writers of the period did not mean a sensational adventure tale, but a narrative, distinct from the naturalist novel, with an ethical core of choice and conduct (as in Stevenson and Conrad), and a novel that also highlights the importance of the imagination in human perception and understanding for both writer, characters and reader.(4)

To get an idea of how far all this was from any simplistic yarn of derring-do, it’s enough to look at two remarkable declarations by Jacques Rivière, author of the study-manifesto ‘Le roman d’aventure’, which first appeared in Gide’s Nouveau revue française in three parts in 1913. The first is at the very end of his study when Rivière finally gives an example of what he means by a roman d’aventure — and it is the scene from Stevenson’s Ebb-Tide when the schooner enters the lagoon of the pearl island. This episode involves not only anticipation and suspense but also a quickening of sense perceptions and a density of mental activity on the part of the observer Herrick, reflected in the prose, and responded to by the reader. When reading this ‘I feel my life expanding to infinity’, Rivière comments.(5)

The second is in a letter of 1923, when Rivière was in the middle of editing Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, in which letter he says that his 1913 study now ‘appears to me today as an announcement and almost a prophecy of a work that was to appear at the end of the same year: the work of Proust, to be precise’.(5) Here he refers to Du côté du chez Swann, the first volume of the Recherche, published in 1913, and — although this might be difficult to believe — seen as a realization of the roman d’aventure !

If we think back to Rivière’s example from The Ebb-Tide, however, the affinity becomes clear. At the same time clearly the word ‘aventure’ had become a catchword to identify the new kind of French fiction: in the text of Isabelle it stands out as the last word of the very first sentence. And in Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes (also from 1913 and another example of the new modern novel), ‘nos aventures’ is isolated at the end of a periodic sentence closing the fourth paragraph, chapter 8 is titled ‘L’Aventure’, and the word ‘nouvelles aventures’ are the last words of the whole text.

Stevenson, Gide, ‘Olalla’ and Isabelle

Gide wrote Isabelle in 1910 and it was published in the Nouveau revue française in 1911. According to his Journal he read ‘Ollala’ in the summer/autumn of 1911 and re-read it again in The Merry Men in 1913.(6)

It is possible, however, that he had read it earlier, in the translation by Alfred Jarry published in La Vogue in 1901. This magazine, together with the Mercure de France (where Gide published most of his books between 1897 and 1911) published many first translations of Stevenson in this period. As a reader of literary magazines, a member of a network of Parisian literary friends, and a writer interested in Stevenson, it is probable that Gide read this translation of ‘Olalla’ in 1901. And he had certainly read ‘Will o’ the Mill’ in the same magazine in Schwob’s translation in 1899.(7)

This possible (or probable) early reading could lie behind the interesting parallels between ‘Olalla’ and Isabelle. In any case Gide had read many works by Stevenson before writing his novella and its elements of roman d’aventure and the echoes of Stevenson’s style mentioned above seem clear influences of a writer who Gide admired and saw as a valuable model for renewing the French novel. And although Isabelle has a good number of other literary references and influences, I think that Stevenson and ‘Olalla’ should be numbered among them.


(1) For Gothic and other influence on ‘Olalla’, see Hilary J. Beattie, ‘Dreaming, doubling and gender in the work of Robert Louis Stevenson: The strange case of “Olalla” ‘, Journal of Stevenson Studies 2, pp. 16–17.

(2) Doris Y. Cadish, ‘Ironic Intertexts: Echoes of René in Gide’s Isabelle’, International Fiction Review, 121 (Jan 1985), 37–9; Émile Lavielle, ‘L’intertexte d’Isabelle’, Bulletin des Amis d’André Gide, 86–87 (avril-juillet 1990), pp. 307–320.

(3) Fitzpatrick, ʻR. L. Stevenson, Joseph Conrad and The Adventure Novel: Reception, Criticism and Translation In France, 1880-1930ʼ, Thèse de doctorat, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3, 2015, pp. 247, 382, 425. For Gide’s reading of Stevenson, see Fitzpatrick, pp. 425–8. The ‘Manifeste des cinq’ against Zolian Naturalism was published in the Figaro 18 Aug 1887.

(4) For articles in the Nouveau revue française on the roman d’aventure, see Fitzpatrick, pp. 425–56, 546–49. For the way Schwob’s thoughts isnpired the Nrf critics, see Aleksander Milecki, ‘ “Isabelle” ou le refus du roman’, Bulletin Des Amis D’André Gide,18. 86/87 ( 1990), pp. 226–7.

(5) For more on this, see Richard Ambrosini, ‘The Miracle: Robert Louis Stevenson in the History of European Literature’, In Ambrosini and Dury (eds.) (2009), European Stevenson (Cambridge Scholars Publishing), pp. 138–9.

(6) André Gide, Journal I : 1887-1925, ed. Eric Marty (Gallimard, 1996), pp. 682, 745 (as cited by Fitzpatrick, p. 428).

(7) He mentions it in ‘Lettre à Angèle’, published in L’Ermitage, 10 May 1899 (cited by Fitzpatrick, p. 206 n).


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In his essay ‘A Gossip on Romance’ (1882, then in Memories and Portraits, 1887), Stevenson writes

There is a vast deal in life and letters both which is not immoral, but simply a-moral.

The word ‘a-moral’ would have struck contemporary readers as something new.

  • It is the earliest citation in the OED
  • It is apparently not a borrowing from French: in Trésor de la Langue Francaise the earliest use of amoral is attributed to the critic and dramatist Jules Lemaître in 1885, again in contrast with ‘immoral’: ‘[If we consider the world devoid of the idea of merit], S’il n’est pas immoral, il faut qu’il soit amoral‘ (italics in the original) (Les Contemporains, Première série, undated (the Preface says the articles were written in 1884 and 1885), 67).

The word unmoral had previously been used with the same meaning. The OED entry confuses matters by giving one definition for it: ‘Not moral; having no moral sense or standards, immoral; unconcerned with morality’, where they would have done better to distinguish two: ‘1. Not moral; having no moral sense or standards, immoral’ and ‘2. unconcerned with morality’. From the citations, the first use of the word in this second sense is c. 1840–50. So the concept was in the air but expressed by the ambiguous term unmoral.

It was clearly new in the 1880s, as both Stevenson and Lemaître use it in a context that brings out its meaning, and they additionally draw attention to it by the hyphen after the prefix and the use of italics.

However, Stevenson seems to have been preceded in the use of the word by a few years. Advanced Google Book Search reveals an earlier use of amoral in an article in the Quarterly Review for 1874 ‘Primitive Man: Tyler and Lubbock’, which I have found referred to in the Pall-Mall Budget for 31 July 1874, p. 13: ‘[There exists no evidence] for the evolution of a moral state from a pre-existing brutal and amoral (sic) condition of mankind’ (says the PMB reviewer quoting the article in the QR and pointing out the unusual word by the use of sic). The PMB reviewer says that the story of the Fall refers to ‘such an evolution from an “amoral” state of innocence to a moral knowledge of good and evil’ but adds that the important point is that the ‘scruples of savages’ are not ‘real morality’ ‘but rather morality in the act of being evolved out of something “amoral” (we thank the reviewer for that word)’. This shows the coining of the word in the QR in 1874, where it is used of a society ‘without moral standards’ and given a negative connotation in the phrase ‘brutal and amoral’. The PMB reviewer goes on to use it to refer to a society in a state either of Edenic innocence or of savagery, where in the second case amoral again designates a more primitive, less evolved state.

Stevenson therefore did not invent the concept (as it was around in the use of unmoral since c. 1850), nor did he invent the form (which seems to date from 1874), but his innovation is the use of amoral in a neutral and ethical sense: not of primitive and inferior individuals and societies but of morally-neutral choices and actions, since then the dominant use.

An echo of Dickens

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The following observation comes in a message from Alberto Meschiari (author of Le lanterne di stagno. Dieci racconti di commento a Stevenson [Tin lanterns. Ten short stories as a commentary to Stevenson] (2004), which, in indirect ways, develop ideas from ‘The Lantern Bearers’).

Has anyone previously commented, Alberto writes, on the affinities between the following two listings of miscellaneous but eloquent objects in a mysterious chest?

After some search, it [Barkis’s will] was found in the box, at the bottom of a horse’s nose-bag ; wherein (besides hay) there was discovered an old gold watch, with chain and seals, which Mr. Barkis had worn on his wedding-day, and which had never been seen before or since ; a silver tobacco-stopper, in the form of a leg ; an imitation lemon, full of minute cups and saucers, which I have some idea Mr. Barkis must have purchased to present to me when I was a child, and afterwards found himself unable to part with ; eighty-seven guineas and a half, in guineas and half-guineas ; two hundred and ten pounds, in perfectly clean bank-notes ; certain receipts for Bank of England stock ; an old horse-shoe, a bad shilling, a piece of camphor, and an oyster-shell. From the circumstance of the latter article having been much polished, and displaying prismatic colours on the inside, I conclude that Mr. Barkis had some general ideas about pearls, which never resolved themselves into anything definite.

For years and years, Mr. Barkis had carried this box, on all his journeys, every day.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850), ch. 31


Ill. by Hablot Browne (Phiz) (1849)

A strong smell of tobacco and tar rose from the interior, but nothing was to be seen on the top except a suit of very good clothes, carefully brushed and folded. They had never been worn, my mother said. Under that, the miscellany began–a quadrant, a tin canikin, several sticks of tobacco, two brace of very handsome pistols, a piece of bar silver, an old Spanish watch and some other trinkets of little value and mostly of foreign make, a pair of compasses mounted with brass, and five or six curious West Indian shells. I have often wondered since why he should have carried about these shells with him in his wandering, guilty, and hunted life.

[…] Underneath there was an old boat-cloak, whitened with sea-salt on many a harbour-bar. My mother pulled it up with impatience, and there lay before us, the last things in the chest, a bundle tied up in oilcloth, and looking like papers, and a canvas bag that gave forth, at a touch, the jingle of gold.

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (1881), ch. 4

Ill. by Henriette Munière (1982)

Alberto adds: ‘Despite the their interests in very different areas and their practical lives untouched by art, both pirate and carrier feel a need for beauty, that both approach through a shell that they carry with them wherever they go. This seems a wonderful metaphor. And perhaps here Stevenson was inspired by Dickens.’

To my knowledge no-one has commented on the parallels between these two passages: the examination of the contents of a travelling chest belonging to a person who has just died, and the resulting heterogeneous list of objects (both ending with a shell or shells) that reveal aspects of the owner’s life and inner life. It is not remarked on in the notes to John Sutherland’s edition of Treasure Island for Broadview Press and searches in Google Advanced Book Search with combined key phrases from the two lists has not produced any results.

The two lists, though similar, bring out differences between the two authors: the humorous prose of Dickens, his sentimentality and interest the grotesque detail and human folly; Stevenson’s more concise listing, the brief suggestion of dialogue in ‘They had never been worn, my mother said’ (bringing out the woman’s interest and understanding, and sketching in her pause in the search), and the greater mystery surrounding imaginative life of the owner of the box (unsurprising in the author who was to write ‘The Lantern Bearers’ on this very topic). The narrative voice is very different: Dickens ends with a barrister-like ‘I conclude that’, while Stevenson ends with a more intimate ‘I have often wondered since’.

Stevenson had read David Copperfield: his copy (with marginal notes) was sold in 1914, its present whereabouts unknown. But the person unconsciously influenced by Dickens’s inventory of the dead man’s chest may well have been Thomas Stevenson

My father […] set himself acting to collaborate. When the time came for Billy Bones’s chest to be ransacked, he must have passed the better part of a day preparing, on the back of a legal envelope, an inventory of its contents, which I exactly followed

(‘My First Book: Treasure Island‘)

We may imagine that Thomas Stevenson wrote out the list, while Stevenson fitted it into sentences.

Any such influence (unprovable of course), would in any case not be surprising in a text which Stevenson himself admits (in ‘My First Book’) was created in a spirit of intertextuality both conscious and unconscious.

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15/11/2020 at 7:09 pm

Dedications to Stevenson

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After the post on ‘Stevenson’s dedications to others‘, here are the printed dedications by other to him. These trace a network of friendships and give an idea of his growing repute, while several of them allude to friendship (as in Stevenson’s dedications) and to shared Scottish sentiments. They were appreciated by the recipient; referring to the first from Symonds and Low’s proposed dedication, Stevenson wrote to Low: ‘It is a compliment I value much; I don’t know any that I should prefer’ (L5, 87).

  1. The first book dedicated to Stevenson was by John Addington Symonds, a friend of many conversations at Davos in the winters of 1880–81 and 1881–2, in his Wine, Women, and Song: Mediæval Latin Students’ Songs (London: Chatto & Windus, 1884). It’s in the form of the letter to a friend, a kind of dedication that if not invented by Stevenson, was developed and popularized by him:

2. The following year brought the a dedication to Stevenson from someone not personally known to him (though they had mutual friends), an American couple who had moved to London: the illustrator Joseph Pennell and his wife the writer Elizabeth Robins Pennell. They dedicated their illustrated account of journey from London to Canterbury on a tandem tricycle: A Canterbury Pilgrimage, ridden, written and illustrated by Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell (London: Seeley, 1885). It is an inscription with something of Stevenson’s charm and graceful phrasing:

(For Stevenson’s letter of thanks, see L5, 121–2.)

3. Another admirer unknown to Stevenson personally was Joseph Gleeson White who dedicated to him his Ballades and Rondeaus, Chants Royal, Sestinas, Villanelles, &c. (London: Walter Scott, 1887). This takes the form of a brief inscription followed by a message, not fully in the form of a letter, but with address directly to Stevenson:

(For Stevenson’s thoughts on whether he deserved such praise, See L5, 370.)

4. The following year Will Low, an old and close friend, dedicated to Stevenson his illustrated edition of Keats’ Lamia (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1888) within an illustration:

On the thin scroll above the top border is a quotation in Latin from Cicero ‘There is no more sure tie between friends than when they are united in their objects and wishes’. The text of the dedication displayed by an amoretto is: IN TESTIMONY OF LOYAL FRIEND- / SHIP AND OF A COMMON FAITH IN / DOVBTFVL TALES FROM FAERY LAND, / I DEDICATE TO / ROBERT LOVIS STEVENSON / MY WORK IN THIS BOOK : WHL

The use of ‘doubtful’ to mean (probably) ‘open to many interpretations’ (a meaning not found in the OED) is influenced by a use of French douteux; it imitates Stevenson’s own use of epithets and Gallicisms, creating new meaning through the context of use.

In Stevenson’s copy, sold 1914 (now at Brown University) Low, in 1928, added a long note to the flyleaf, in which he says it was 

a book which held for Stevenson and myself more than the text, more than the drawings, would imply. The common faith “in doubtful tales from fairyland”, was more than a form of words it was the basis of our friendship.

Stevenson wrote to Low thanking him for ‘the handsome and apt words of the dedication (L5, 62–3) and sent him a poem in thanks (‘Youth now flees on feathered foot’, L5, 164)

5. The same year brought a dedication on a work of visual art, the gilded copper plaque by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Robert Louis Stevenson, in the first version (1888):

The panel includes Stevenson’s poem ‘To Will H. Low’ above Stevenson’s lifted hand holding a pencil, and in the top right-hand corner the dedication: TO ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON / FROM HIS FRIEND AUGUSTUS / SAINT-GAUDENS. The bond of friendship (here, between three friends) is again specifically mentioned, as in many of Stevenson’s own dedications to others.

6. In 1891 Marcel Schwob dedicated to him his Cœur double (Paris: Ollendorff) with the the simple inscription: A / ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON. But in the presentation copy he sent to Stevenson he added the following in English below:

To Robert Louis Stevenson this book is dedicated in admiration of ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Kidnapped’, ‘The Master of Ballantrae’, in the name of the new shape he has given to the romance, for the sake of our dear Francis Villon — Marcel Schwob.

7. In 1892 the critic George Saintsbury, fellow Savile Club member, dedicated to Stevenson his edition of The Essays of Montaigne Done into English by John Florio (London: David Nutt), with another simple inscription:

The ‘contrivers’ included W. E. Henley, general editor of The Tudor Translations series of which this was one. Henley’s original idea had been to dedicate it to ‘To the R.L.S. of Virginibus Puerisque, Memories & Portraits, Across the Plains’ (letter to Baxter, 4 May 1892; Yale, B 4633), associating the volume of Montaigne specifically with Stevenson the essayist (possibly also intended as the early Stevenson, from in the period when they had both been close friends). Perhaps Saintsbury, the austere critic, did not approve the association of Stevenson the essayist with the acknowledged master of the genre; for whatever reason, the resultant dedication seems strangely unbalanced.

8. The same year Alan Walters dedicated to Stevenson his Palms & Pearls; or: Scenes in Ceylon (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1892). Walters, clearly trying too hard, produced an elaborate classical-style inscription:

9. A classical inscription, but in contrast concise and densely poetic, was also chosen by S. R. Crockett for his dedication to The Stickit Minister (London: Fisher Unwin, 1893):

Stevenson was touched by this evocation of the hills of Galloway (seen on his ‘Winter’s Walk’ in January 1876), while ‘the graves of the martyrs’ made him think instead of Allermuir close to Swanston (familiar from his student days and through his early career) (L8, 159, 193–4). It inspired him to write a poem (later included in the posthumous Songs of Travel of 1895) and include it in the letter of thanks to Crocket (L8, 152–4). The first of the three stanzas is: ‘Blows the wind today, and the sun and the rain are flying, / Blows the wind on the moors today and now, / Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying, / My heart remembers how!’ The last line of this first stanza then inspired Crocket to change the last line of his dedication in future editions so that it echoed Stevenson’s poem:

In addition to the changed last line to the Dedication, the ‘second edition’ (1894) has a ‘Letter Declaratory’ beginning ‘Dear Louis Stevenson’ modeled on Stevenson’s own elegant dedicatory letters, preceded, on the page facing the dedication, by a facsimile of Stevenson’s MS poem and a transcription of it .

10. The last dedication to Stevenson was a dedicatory poem in Scots by his friend Andrew Lang in The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, ed. by Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang (London: David Nutt, 1893). This addresses ‘Louis’ in a far land where the inhabitants know nothing of Scottish religion (self-mockingly presented) but have many supernatural tales, and encourages him to tell them Scottish supernatural tales, which ‘stamped wi’ TUSITALA’S name / They’ll a’ receive them’ and ends with the world-weary poet wishing himself to be taken away by the fairies. Here is the first of the seven verses:

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06/10/2020 at 4:53 pm

Stevenson’s dedications to others

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Cope Cornford on Stevenson’s Dedications

Leslie Cope Cornford, a novelist and journalist specializing in maritime matters, published one of the earliest studies of Stevenson in 1899: Robert Louis Stevenson, a short volume just under two hundred pages, part biographical, part critical. The last section of the penultimate chapter, devoted to ‘His Style’, begins as follows:

But Stevenson’s most notable achievements as an executant were, perhaps, his Dedications. It is upon record that Thomas Stevenson, when all books failed him, as books will fail us all at times, would take down the volumes of his son and read the Dedications therein. These, at least, never, to the last day of his life, failed to give him the same pleasure. Since Ben Jonson wrote, there have been no better examples of this form of composition, made up, as the perfect Dedication must be, of tact, delicacy, eloquence, and cunning craftsmanship.

(p. 191)
Leslie Cope Cornford (1867–1927)

The present-day reader is surprised; why would Cope Cornford pick out Stevenson’s Dedications for such praise?

Cope Cornford was a friend and later biographer of W. E. Henley, and had worked for him on the National Observer, and in the Preface he thanks him for his help. We know that Henley felt he had been mistreated by Stevenson, so we can perhaps see Henley’s influence in the choice of the word ‘executant’ (also the last word in the book), which implies that Stevenson was essentially a wonderful craftsman, attentive to form, and the choice of his Dedications for high praise may fit into the same relativization of achievement.

Yet at the same time Cope Cornford also admired Stevenson, and, no doubt inspired by Treasure Island, was to publish his own pirate romance The Last Buccaneer in 1902. In the quotation just given he seems to be in two minds: his acclaim seems genuine, he really does find the Dedications worthy of praise, and he goes on to quote with approval from those for Virginibus Puerisque (to Henley). The Merry Men (to Lady Taylor), Travels with a Donkey (to Colvin), The Master of Ballantrae (to Sir Percy and Lady Shelley) and Catriona (to Baxter).

The anecdote of Thomas Stevenson at the end of his life reading Stevenson’s Dedications is touching, and gives an idea of the pleasure, gracefulness and charm of Stevenson’s style in these short texts: ‘tact, delicacy, eloquence, and cunning craftsmanship’.

What follows is an attempt to understand more fully why anyone should select Stevenson’s Dedications as one of his notable achievements.

Dedications before Stevenson

The dedication in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries typically took the form of the dedicatory letter displaying rhetorical skill to a high-status dedicatee who is treated with ceremonious praise, while at the same time the ‘little book’ is modestly down-played. The heyday such long epistolary Dedications was ca. 1560 to 1720 (Manfred Görlach, Text Types and the History of English (Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2004), 114) and ‘the long type of dedicatory letter was definitely dead by 1800’ (ibid., 120).

After this, dedications were either absent from a volume or confined to the brief, centrally aligned inscription headed by the word ‘To’. However, the importance placed on friendship by the Romantic poets led to a brief season in which the link of friendship is stressed in an affectionate dedicatory letter.

Byron dedicated The Corsair (1814) to his friend Thomas Moore in a long letter (also functioning as a preface) beginning ‘My dear Moore’; and dedicated the fourth canto of Child Harold (1818) to another friend John Cam Hobhouse in a similar long letter, beginning ‘My dear Hobhouse’, praising him as ‘a friend often tried and never found wanting’. Shelley, similarly, dedicated his verse drama The Cenci (1919) in a letter to Leigh Hunt, which starts as follows:

and ends thus:

Dedications in Stevenson’s day

The first study of Dedications was Henry Wheatley’s Dedication of Books to Patron and Friend: A Chapter in Literary History (1887). In his last chapter ‘Modern Dedications’ he says ‘As formerly no book was issued without a dedication, so now few are published with them’. Although Wheatley unfortunately overlooks Stevenson, his testimony shows how at this time Stevenson’s books—almost every one with a dedication—must have stood out as unusual.

Novels were not normally associated with dedications: Dickens has brief inscriptions in only two of his (Hard Times and Our Mutual Friend), Thackeray dedicated Pendennis (1850) to his doctor in a brief letter of gratitude for his attentions the previous year; George Eliot and Thomas Hardy did without dedications; Meredith and later Conrad confined themselves to brief inscriptions.

As for essays, Lamb’s Essays of Elia are playfully dedicated ‘To the Friendly and Judicious Reader’, but there are no dedications to Leigh Hunts Essays, Hazlitt’s Table Talk, Alexander Smith’s Dreamthorp or Thackeray’s Roundabout Papers.

The only example I have found from the immediately preceding period that seems close to Stevenson’s dedicatory letters—perhaps the gentle reader may find some others—is Edward Bulwer Lytton’s dedication to Caxtoniana of 1863, one of the essays of which is referred to by Stevenson in 1868 (L1, 147). This has the same allusion to shared memories and emphasis on friendship:

Stevenson’s dedications

As we have seen, apart from Caxtonianiana (and any other—I suspect, rare—examples), the lack of dedications in contemporary collections of essays must have meant that to the first readers it would have been a surprise to open Virginibus Puerisque in 1881 and see the collection of previously published essays presented as a self-standing work and with a dedicatory letter (not even preceded by the title ‘Dedication’) written in a foregrounded style, with a bold beginning reminiscent of the brusqueness of Bacon or Thomas Browne:

and ending elegantly, emphasizing the bonds of friendship with the dedicatee:

Leaving aside the volumes co-authored with Lloyd Osbourne, for which there are no dedications, Stevenson wrote ten dedicatory letters, six inscriptions and four dedicatory poems (and also inscriptions, to Lang and Meredith, to two of the plays written with Henley). They are notable for their elegant style and affectionate tone, emphasizing in most cases the ties of friendship and shared memories. In some cases there are allusions that only the dedicatee can understand, as in the dedication to Baxter of Kidnapped, in which he refers to ‘the old Speculative’, ‘the inglorious MacBean’ and ‘that great society, the L.J.R.’ Such details emphasize that this is indeed a private communication, and in the dedication to Sidney Colvin of Travels with a Donkey he even playfully suggests that the ordinary reader is just helping to pay for the delivery of the dedicatory letter to the dedicatee:

Stevenson’s influence

To estimate Stevenson’s influence in the writing of dedications would require a separate study, but here are two examples. First of all, the dedication to Critical Kit-Kats (1896) by Stevenson’s friend Edmund Gosse. It is a long, personal, friendly, stylishly witty dedication letter to Thomas Hardy, with reference to conversations and long friendship:

It ends, like Stevenson’s dedication to Henley with a hope for continued friendship in the future:

And for a second example, let us take John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), an adventure romance that owes something to Kidnapped, dedicated to the Scottish rugby player and publisher Thomas Arthur Nelson (killed in France two years later):

Other examples of such dedications are welcomed from the gentle reader. For the moment, though, perhaps we have understood a little more why Stevenson’s dedications stood out for his first readers as artistically innovative, as something unexpected and new.

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23/09/2020 at 7:55 am

RLS’s Bournemouth reading

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Following the post on Stevenson’s Bournemouth, here are four listings of books that were acquired and read in the Bournemouth years. They were obtained by filtered searches on the RLS Library Database (http://bit.ly/RLSLibrary) .

Facts, raw data, bits of information etc. as stored in records and surveys, are themselves sterile and need to be selected, isolated and linked to stimulate understanding. This explains the eternal fascination of lists and the way the few facts on a series of tombstones can open up unsuspected stories. Let’s see what we can do by grouping together some of the entries in the RLS Library Database concerning books that Stevenson read while in Bournemouth.

None of the descriptions of Skerryvore mention bookshelves or bookcases, but we may imagine that books would have been kept in the drawing room and in the separate bedrooms of Fanny and Louis. The following lists contain the books that were probably acquired in the Bournemouth years. There were other books, with the Skerryvore bookplate too, but they had been acquired earlier and had been transported from Edinburgh or Hyères, and these have been excluded. Like the casual visitor who looks over the bookshelves or at the books lying on tables while waiting alone in a room, running the eye down these lists (in the momentary absence of the master and the mistress of the house) gives us some idea of the interests, current interests, and character of their owners.

The first list gives an idea of a network of literary friends sending each other copies of their latest books. One unexpected result of this listing is that it includes two books published in 1886 that their authors call a shilling romance or shilling dreadful—the same format/genre adopted by the Stramge Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, suggesting how this work inspired others to try their hand at something similar. There are also presentation copies from their Bournemouth friends the Taylors and (following Stevenson’s growing repute) a number of unsolicited books, some welcome, others less so.

Stevenson’s Skerryvore bookplate


1. Presentation volumes from friends and other writers

received 1884

Vernon Lee [Violet Paget], The Countess of Albany (1884)
          probably a presentation copy, untraced; discussed in a letter to the author, Oct 1884

received 1885

John Webster, Edmund Gosse (ed.), Love’s Graduate (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘Robert Louis Stevenson from his friend Edmund Gosse 5. 6. 85.’

Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, A Canterbury Pilgrimage, Ridden, Written, and Ilustrated by J. and E. R. P. (1885)
          a tandem tricycle journey from London to Canterbury; volume dedication to Stevenson: ‘To Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, We, who are unknown to him, dedicate this record of one of our short journeys on a Tricycle, in gratitude for the happy hours we have spent travelling with him and his Donkey’; RLS replied with thanks in July 1885: ‘when I received the Pilgrimage, I was in a state (not at all common with me) of depression, and the pleasant testimony that my work had not all been in vain did much to set me up again.’ (L5, p.121).

Julian Russell Sturgis, John Maidment (1885)
          presentation copy, untraced; letter from the author, 27 Nov 1885: ‘I venture to send you my new book, hoping you may find something to like in it’ (McKay, 4, 5825, p. 1654)

Sir Henry Taylor, Autobiography of Henry Taylor, 1800-1875 (1885)
          probably a presentation copy, untraced; letter to the author 24 Dec 1885: ‘I have at last read your autobiography, and that with so lively a pleasure that I cannot resist writing to thank you etc.’ (L5, pp.160-1); reply 25 Dec 1885: ‘It is a real and fine pleasure to me that that book of mine has given you pleasure & especially that your admiration of those whom I admired has fixed itself upon my step mother’ (McKay, 4, 5838, p.1658)

John Keats, Will H. Low (ill.), Lamia (1885)
          volume dedication to Stevenson: ‘In testimony of loyal friendship and of a common faith in doubtful tales from faery land, I dedicate to Robert Louis Stevenson my work in this book          WHL’; see letter from RLS to Low, 2 Jan 1886: Lamia has come and I do not know how to thank you not only for the beautiful art of the designs, but for the handsome and apt words of the dedication etc.’ (L5, p.163)

Charles Warren Stoddard, A Troubled Heart and How it was Comforted at Last (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘Louis and Fanny Stevenson – with the love of their devoted friend, the author.’

Henry James, The Author of Beltraffio, etc. (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘Robert Louis Stevenson, from his friend of many evenings, Henry James’

William Wilberforce Newton, Summer Sermons from a Berkshire Pulpit (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription to RLS; at Yale, inscription not seen

Gabriel Sarrazin (ed.), Poetes modernes de l’Angleterre (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription to RLS; inscription not seen

received 1886

William Sharp (ed.), Sonnets of this Century (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘To Robert Louis Stevenson in slight acknowledgment of an irredeemable debt of pleasure—from William Sharp January ‘86’; Sharp produced a second edition including ‘The Touch of Life’, one of the two sonnets that Stevenson sent with his reply (Letters 5, pp. 191–2)

William Sharp (ed.), Sonnets of this Century (large paper copy) (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘To Robert Louis Stevenson, with high regard — William Sharp’, from a letter sent in Dec, this was sent early Nov 1886 (McKay, 4, 5488, p.1574)

John Coventry [John Williamson Palmer, After his Kind (1886)
          untraced presentation copy from an American physician and poet; see RLS’s cool reply, 13 Feb 1886: ‘Thank you for your letter and book, which is of more promise (in my eyes) than performance’ etc. (L5, p. 201)

Edmund Gosse, From Shakespeare to Pope. An Inquiry into the Causes and Phenomena of the Rise of Classical Poetry in England (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘Robert Louis Stevenson from his friend Edmund Gosse – 28/3/86’

Andrew Lang, The Mark of Cain (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription : ‘A. L. can scribble, A. L. can scrawl, / A. L. can rhyme all day, / But he can’t hit it off with a shilling romance, / For, – he never was built that way! / A. L. // To the author of / The Hells of Gourock. / Mr. Hide and Dr. Seek-ill. / A Sequel. / In Fact / To R. L. Stevenson. / puris omnia pura’ (L5, p. 253); see letter from RLS to Lang, May 1886: I have never thanked you for the magnificent Mark de luxe. I had already read it in the bob [= shilling] form etc.’ (L5, p.253); Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was also in price and format ‘a shilling romance’(see note for Vernon Lee below)

William Archer, About the Theatre. Essays and Studies (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription on half-title: ‘Robert Louis Stevenson  from W. A. 5 June: 86’

Edmund W. Gosse, Raleigh (1886)
          probably a presentation copy, untraced; letter from RLS to Gosse, 29 July 1886: ‘I must not lose a moment in congratulating you on your Raleigh. It is a thoroughly sound piece of narrative, and brilliant, not in patches, but by general effect etc.’ (5, p. 295).)

William Smith, Morley, Ancient and Modern (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘To R. L. Stevenson, Esq., with the Author’s kind regards, Morley, Aug. 17, 1886.’; Skerryvore bookplate; in a letter accompanying the book dated 17 Aug 1886, the author asks if he could have a copy of one of Stevenson’s works with an autograph inscription; local history and description of a Yorkshire town

Vernon Lee [Violet Paget], A Phantom Lover (1886)
          presentation copy, untraced, sent with a letter in which the author calls it a ‘shilling dreadful’, McKay, 6, p. 2556; see letter from RLS, late Aug 1886: I am just but returned and have found the dreadful and your note etc.’ (L5, pp. 306-7); another ‘shilling dreadful’ possibly inspired by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (see Andrew Lang above)

Aubrey de Vere, The Search after Proserpine and other Poems (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘R. Louis Stevenson, from Aubrey de Vere, August 31, 1886’; letter from RLS to Ida Taylor, late Aug / early Sept 1886: I am death on [= (slang) enthusiastic about] Aubrey de Vere’s poems, and shall write to him soon (L5, p. 308); de Vere was a cousin of the Stevensons’ Bournemouth friend Lady Taylor

John C Dunlop & Alison Hay Dunlop, William Hole (ill.), The Book of Old Edinburgh (1886)
          presentation copy from Stevenson’s friend William Hole, illustrator of Kidnapped and author of the illustrations in the book; see letter from RLS to Hole, late Sept 1886: ‘Many thanks for the beautiful book: some of the pictures are most engaging, and some very spirited’ (L5, p. 325)

Ida A. Taylor, Allegiance: a Novel (1886)
          probably a presentation copy, untraced

Richard W Gilder, Lyrics (1885)
          presentation copy with inscription: ‘To Robert Louis Stevenson, with the regard & admiration of his friend, R. W. Gilder – Oct. 1887’; Skerryvore bookplate; Gilder was poet and editor of the Century Magazine in which The Silverado Squatters had been published in 1883

received 1887

Sir Stephen Edward de Vere, Translations from Horace and a few original Poems (1886)
          presentation copy with inscription to RLS, 1887; elder brother of Aubrey de Vere


2. English language literature

Excluding books known to have been acquired and read later

published 1884

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
          read enthusiastically immediately upon London publication in Dec 1884; Henley was among the earliest reviewers (Athenæum, 27 Dec 1884 (L5, pp. 41, 80; L6, pp. 161–2)

published 1885

H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (1885)
          probably sent by Henley with recommendation: cf. Henley’s letter to RLS, 16 Oct 1885: ‘How do you like King Solomon’s Mines? I think it is blamed good. Not art, of course; but a good deal of blazing imagination’ (Atkinson, p.144).

George Meredith, Diana of the Crossways (1885)
          published 16 Feb 1885; in a letter c. 6 May 1885 RLS says he is ‘sitting now in the porch, now out on the gravel, reading Meredith, looking at the rhododendrons and red hawthorn’

Brander Matthews, The Last Meeting (1885)
          sent by Henley; letter from Henley to Brander Matthews 24 Dec 1885: ‘I am going to send Louis the Last Meeting. Whatever he says of it you shall hear’; letter from RLS to Henley early Jan 1886: ‘Brander Matthews is one of the damndest idiots on record. He had better stick to criticism; the reviews on his swindle of a story are a disgrace to journalism’ (L5, p. 174); how Henley replied to Matthews is not known

Henry James, Stories Revived (1885)

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (1885?)
          Skerryvore bookplate

Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1885?)
          Skerryvore bookplate

published 1886

George Bernard Shaw, Cashel Byron’s Profession (1886)
          recommended by William Archer (perhaps sent as a gift by him); see RLS’s enthusiastic letter to Archer of March 1886 (L5, 224–5)

Andrew Lang, Letters to Dead Authors (1886)
          untraced; bought by Stevenson himself; see letter from RLS to Lang, c. 10 March 1886: Letter from [Bournemouth to Andrew Lang, [c10 Mar 1886: ‘I treated myself to your Dead Authors, by way of an unbirthday present; and I can fancy none better. I think it the best thing you have done, I have read it once, much of it twice, and am not yet done reading etc.’ (L5, pp. 226–7).

Andrew Lang, In the Wrong Paradise: and other Stories (1886)

Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)
          untraced; see letter from RLS to Hardy, June 1886: ‘I have read The Mayor of Casterbridge with sincere admiration: Henchard is a great fellow, and Dorchester is touched in with the hand of a master. Do you think you could let me try to dramatise it?’ (L5, p. 259)

Alfred Tennyson, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After etc. (1886)
          possibly acquired later

Eric Sutherland Robertson (ed.), The Children of the Poets. An Anthology from English and American Writers of Three Centuries (1886)
          sold at auction 1914, untraced; possibly a presentation copy; Robertson was a London-based Scottish man of letters who RLS probably knew


3. French and Russian literature

Excluding books known to have been acquired and read later

published 1884

Dostoievsky, Le Crime et le chatiment [Crime and Punishment] (1884)
          see letter Letter Henley, early Nov 1885: ‘Dostoieffsky is of course simply immense: it is not reading a book, it is having a brain fever, to read it etc.’ (L5, p. 151

Dostoievsky, Humiliés et offensés [The Insulted and the Injured] (1884)
          see letter to Symonds, early March 1886: ‘even more incoherent than Le Crime et le Chatiment; but breathes the same lovely goodness, and has passages of power’ (L5, pp. 220–1)

Alexandre Dumas, Le vicomte de Bragelonne (1884)
          ‘I have now just risen from my last (let me call it my fifth) perusal’, ‘Gossip on a Novel by Dumas’ (1887)

published 1885

Alphonse Daudet, Tartarin sur les Alpes (1885)
          possibly acquired later

Alexandre Dumas, La tulipe noire (1885)
          possibly acquired later

Ernest Renan, Dialogues et fragments philosophiques (1885)
          possibly acquired later

Jules Verne, La Jangada: huit cent lieues sur l’ Amazone (1885)
          with inscription: ‘Mrs. Osbourne’s copy — Eastham, Bournemouth West’; Eastham was the name of the house in Bournemouth West (exact location unknown, but somewhere near Skerryvore) where Lloyd was a resident pupil of the Rev. Henry John Storr (see L4, p. 41n), though he had left to go to Hyères in 1883 and by late Feb/early March 1885 he was a student at Edinburgh University (L5, p. 80); perhaps Fanny lent the book after a social visit

published 1886

Octave Feuillet, La Morte (1886)
          possibly acquired later


4. Other books acquired and read 1884–87

Excluding books bought in the USA, Sep-Dec 1887

published 1881

George Meredith, The Tragic Comedians (1881).
read on the train to London during his years in Bournemouth (1884–87) as reported by William Sharp (Literary Geography (1904), 20–23).

published 1884

Margaret Stuart (Mrs. Calderwood), Alexander Fergusson (ed.), Letters and Journals of Mrs. Calderwood of Polton, from England, Holland and the Low Countries in 1756, (1884)
          sold at auction 1914, untraced; Skerryvore bookplate; much local colour in chapters 21–3 of Catriona comes from here

published 1885

Horace Beng Dobell, The Medical Aspects of Bournemouth and its Surroundings (1885)

Henry Bruce and David Chalmers, Mr Gladstone and the Paper Duties, by Two Midlothian Paper-Makers (1885)
          untraced, sold at auction 1914; possibly left behind at Skerryvore by Thomas Stevenson

William Kingdon Clifford, The Common Sense of the Exact Sciences (1885).

Clifford was a fellow member of the Savile Club, first met through Sidney Colvin in late August 1873 (see the continuation of ‘Memoirs of Himself’ dictated in Samoa, Vailima Edition, 26 (1926), 235-236)

John S. Keltie, A History of the Scottish Highlands, Highland Clans and Highland Regiments (1885)

Fulke Greville, The Greville Memoirs (Second Part). A Journal of the Reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1852 (1885)
          sold at auction 1914, untraced; Skerryvore bookplate; for the planned Wellington biography

Leslie Stephen, Dictionary of National Biography (1885–), earliest volumes

Lady Adelaide Cadogan, Illustrated Games of Patience (1885)
          Skerryvore bookplate

Gustave Strauss, Philosophy in the Kitchen: General Hints on Foods and Drinks. By an Old Bohemian (1885)
          RLS’s Skerryvore visiting card as bookplate

published/read 1886

William Youatt, The Dog (1886)
          veterinary treatise

Charles Warren Stoddard, Summer Cruising in the South Seas (1881)
          Skerryvore bookplate; orignally published in 1873, the same year as the American edition (with the title South-sea Idyls), which Stevenson also possessed (probably a gift from the author in San Francisco in 1880). Stevenson was re-reading one of these in Feb 1886 for the purpose of choosing extracts for a proposed anthology of prose to be selected with Henley (L5, pp. 198, 200, 203)


Written by rdury

27/07/2020 at 4:15 pm