Monday, August 21, 2006


I am becoming a big Robert Louis Stevenson fan. A year or so ago, I re-read Treasure Island. And on Saturday, I read his Kidnapped. I find a number of things fascinating about Stevenson, which I would pursue more, especially if I was an English literature professor instead of a church historian.
  • There are some obvious parallels with his career and Mark Twain's. They both find their initial popularity in writing "travel" books, but they make their huge successes in writing profound novels that have subsequently become viewed as "children's books." Both Kidnapped and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have important commentary on place, religion, dialect and language, and identity. In addition, they wrote at the same time, both explored the South Pacific, and wrestled with/against their native Presbyterianism.
  • That leads to the second thing that would be interesting to explore, namely Stevenson and religion. Most of the quick hitting biographies in the internet suggest that RLS rebelled against his father's "rigid Calvinism." And yet, at least in Kidnapped, Church of Scotland ministers are presented in a positive light, offering guidance and friendship that is only paralleled by the lawyer, Rankeillor. It would be fun to comb through Stevenson's letters, especially; my guess is that he was something of a rake, but doesn't appear to have the same agnst over a "benevolent" diety as other Victorians (like Twain or Charles Darwin) .
  • One other thing that might be interesting would be RLS's reception in America. It doesn't appear that he was as popular in the US as he was in Scotland and England. I wonder why that would be--was it because he wasn't as high brow as Henry James or William Deans Howell? Was it the result of Twain's own huge popularity and marketing brilliance? Was it because he was too easily lumped together with Walter Scott? Was it because the height of his powers (1883-1894) were during a time of economic recession and political upheaval? Was it because this period was followed by a time of heightened "realism" that would eventually produce Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dresser, and Mencken?

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