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

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‘The Isle of Voices’ Manuscript

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The Rosenbach ‘Isle of Voices’ MS: Some Notes & Queries

by Bill Gray

The MS of ‘The Isle of Voices’ from the Rosenbach Museum, Philadelphia, has provided some interesting new readings and puzzles. Several of these are in deleted words or passages, so will only appear in the Notes to the EdRLS volume (Short Stories 4 – or Fables and Fairy Tales). These range from the amusing:

‘I can see cocoanuts’ (prompting Richard Dury to reply ‘I can see cocoanuts too!’), to the more challenging:

Being a landlubber I was quite pleased with myself for deciphering:

islands; and by a very good chance for Keola she had lost a man off the bowsprit
[when he was handing the flying jib] in a squall…

Not only flying jib but also the verb to hand are technical nautical terms.

Another nautical term still puzzles me however; when the mate shouts:

it’s not clear whether the correct term is romping (as in all previous editions) or ramping. The latter appears to be a nautical term, and seems to fit Stevenson’s handwriting, which is notoriously tricky. But I’m a landlubber. Any suggestions?

A couple of changes to the actual text of ‘The Isle of Voices’ in the EdRLS edition are, I think, more definitely required. Firstly, the reference to the wizard’s hunting ground looks more likely to be the wizard’s haunting ground:

–there seem too many ‘peaks’ for hunting, and haunting makes at least as much sense.

‘Peak counting’, as well as arguably better sense, suggest that in the following passage:

and hold his secret.”  With that he spoke to his wife Lehua,
and complained of her father’s ???.

Keola actually complains to his wife Lehua about her father’s meanness rather than his manners as it’s usually transcribed. Kalamake (with all his silver dollars) has after all just refused to give Keola the concertina he so desires.

A more fundamental change seems required in the sequence where Lehua unexpectedly turns up on the Isle of Voices to save Keola. As she fans the fire required to operate the magic mat, there is a question of which part of Keola’s anatomy gets scorched. Custom has it that it’s his hands, but a closer look at:

and the flame burned high, and scorched Keola’s ???

suggests that it’s actually his hams that are getting burned. RLS refers to Thorgunna ‘squatting on her hams’ at the end of ‘The Waif Woman’, which was written as a ‘companion piece’ to ‘The Isle of Voices’.  And anatomically it seems to make more sense.

Finally, in the following:

were wise; they wrought marvels, and this among the rest; but that was at
night, in the dark, under the ??? stars and in the desert.  The same will
I do here in my own house and under the plain eye of day.”

is it the fit stars (the usual transcription, though the meaning seems obscure), the fix stars or the first stars (my suggestion)?