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Robert Louis Stevenson

Writer of Boundaries

Edited by Richard Ambrosini and Richard Dury

Publication Year: 2006

    Robert Louis Stevenson: Writer of Boundaries reinstates Stevenson at the center of critical debate and demonstrates the sophistication of his writings and the present relevance of his kaleidoscopic achievements. While most young readers know Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) as the author of Treasure Island, few people outside of academia are aware of the breadth of his literary output. The contributors to Robert Louis Stevenson: Writer of Boundaries look, with varied critical approaches, at the whole range of his literary production and unite to confer scholarly legitimacy on this enormously influential writer who has been neglected by critics. 
    As the editors point out in their Introduction, Stevenson reinvented the “personal essay” and the “walking tour essay,” in texts of ironic stylistic brilliance that broke completely with Victorian moralism. His first full-length work of fiction, Treasure Island, provocatively combined a popular genre (subverting its imperialist ideology) with a self-conscious literary approach.

    Stevenson, one of Scotland’s most prolific writers, was very effectively excluded from the canon by his twentieth-century successors and rejected by Anglo-American Modernist writers and critics for his play with popular genres and for his non-serious metaliterary brilliance. While Stevenson’s critical recognition has been slowly increasing, there have been far fewer published single-volume studies of his works than those of his contemporaries, Henry James and Joseph Conrad.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xi

The small town of Gargnano (with its dependent villages of Villa and Bogliaco) lies on the northwestern side of Lake Garda in Italy, on a sliver of shore between a low shoulder of hillside to the south, around which the road curves on an oleander-lined corniche, and a mighty headland of precipitous lake-cliffs to the north. With mountain...

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pp. xiii-xxviii

Many were the geographical and social boundaries that Robert Louis Stevenson crossed in person. And many more as a writer: mixing genres, combining elements of high literature and popular narratives, introducing the personal and subjective into the "scientific" genres of biography and anthropology, repeatedly returning to situations...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xxix-xxx

Part 1. The Pleasures of Reading, Writing, and Popular Culture

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Stevenson, Morris, and the Value of Idleness

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pp. 3-12

I would like to begin by drifting idly down one river and then rowing vigorously—but not at all strenuously—up another. The ultimate destination of both journeys is a certain abstraction of mind. That abstraction, I will argue, is an important component of Stevenson's aesthetic theory. Using Stevenson as a touchstone, I will...

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Living in a Book: RLS as an Engaged Reader

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pp. 13-22

The way to read a book, Stevenson often seems to say, is to treat it as if it were life itself. Writing to John Addington Symonds about Crime and Punishment, "the greatest book I have read easily in ten years," Stevenson contrasts his way of reading the book with Henry James's way of reading. "James did not care for it because the character...

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The Four Boundary-Crossings of R. L. Stevenson, Novelist and Anthropologist

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pp. 23-35

Recent research on the affinities between certain passages in Robert Louis Stevenson's writings and specific anthropological theories of his time has revealed to what extent his South Seas and Scottish works are to be located within the history of Victorian anthropology. Particularly significant, in this sense, are the studies that have assessed the...

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Stevenson and the (Un)familiar: The Aesthetics of Late-Nineteenth-Century Biography

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pp. 36-47

The recent publication of the definitive edition of Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians (Levy 2002) is a testament to the enduring significance of a work regarded as a landmark in modern biographical practice. First published in 1918, Strachey's collection of essays is seen as signaling a break with both High Victorian values and scientific...

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The Greenhouse vs. the Glasshouse: Stevenson's Stories as Textual Matrices

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pp. 48-59

Jekyll's groundbreaking masterstroke of metamorphosis can be read as an intratextual metaphorical clue: indeed, his fascination with bodily proliferation, and his transgression of the taboo of individual integrity mirror Stevenson's own fascination with textual proliferation and his transgression of the contemporary naturalist...

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Trading Texts: Negotiations of the Professional and the Popular in the Case of Treasure Island

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pp. 60-69

In many of his letters and essays Stevenson engages with the idea of writing as a trade: what impact does the need to earn a living through his craft have on a writer's work?1 A further concern is the ways in which texts are traded: what distinguishes serious artistic endeavor from popular fiction aimed at the commercial market...

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Stevenson and Popular Entertainment

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pp. 70-82

Like our own, the late-Victorian public was fixated with popular entertainment. As the Scottish lawyer and man of letters Alexander Innes Shand explained in Blackwood's Magazine in August 1879: "[T]he ferment of thought, the restless craving for intellectual excitement of some kind, have been stimulated; till now, in the last quarter...

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Tontines, Tontine Insurance, and Commercial Culture: Stevenson and Osbourne's The Wrong Box

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pp. 83-94

In 1887 while they were staying at Saranac Lake in upstate New York, Robert Louis Stevenson encouraged his nineteen-year-old stepson Lloyd Osbourne to type away at the humorous book first called The Finsbury Tontine, then A Game of Bluff, and eventually The Wrong Box. In his letters Stevenson called the work-in-progress...

Part 2. Scotland and the South Seas

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The Master of Ballantrae, or The Writing of Frost and Stone

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pp. 97-108

Stevenson began The Master of Ballantrae during the winter of 1887–88 while staying with his family at Saranac, "a hill and forest country on the Canadian border of New York state" (Ltrs 6: 32). While Fanny was chronically out of health and soon preferred to leave and visit family and friends, Stevenson found the below zero temperatures...

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Quarreling with the Father

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pp. 109-120

Questions of authorization of the individual subject in the Victorian age have been haunting me for a long time: particularly while studying late-nineteenth- century fiction I have repeatedly been struck by the peculiar position of the individual situated at a historical junction when, on the one hand, he or she appears to be fully...

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Figures in a Landscape: Scott, Stevenson, and Routes to the Past

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pp. 121-132

Scott and Stevenson both wrote "road novels," fiction that takes its characters on actual and metaphorical journeys through Scotland as a means of drawing together disparate cultures and conflicting histories. Journeys are rooted deep in Scottish literary traditions, and the palpable diversity in the structure of the land, MacDiarmid's...

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Burking the Scottish Body: Robert Louis Stevenson and the Resurrection Men

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pp. 133-144

Robert Louis Stevenson's tale "The Body Snatcher," written in 1881, is just one in a series of Scottish stories that reaches before and after the nineteenth century, revealing the degree to which Scotland is haunted by the horrible reality of the corpse that walks.1 This chapter focuses on the peculiarly Scottish anxieties that animate...

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Stevenson's Unfinished Autopsy of the Other

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pp. 145-157

In 1850, Robert Knox published The Races of Men, in which he argued that race is "everything" in human history. Twenty years earlier, when he was an anatomy professor in Edinburgh, Knox had been implicated in the Burke and Hare scandal, accused of buying murdered bodies for his anatomy classes. Robert Louis Stevenson alludes...

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Voices of the Scottish Empire

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pp. 158-168

Among the diverse representations of imperialism in late nineteenth-century literature, one image in Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Isle of Voices" is surely a contender for maximum symbolic suggestiveness. The short story describes a beach infested with a cacophony of speech, produced by a sorcerers' league of nations...

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Stevenson and the Property of Language: Narrative, Value, Modernity

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pp. 169-180

"If you adopt an art to be your trade, weed your mind at the outset of all desire of money," Stevenson declares (1888b: 181). He is possibly exaggerating for dramatic or rhetorical purposes: he seems to violate his own totalizing injunction on numerous occasions, judging by his frequent mentions of the pecuniary pressures...

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Light, Darkness, and Shadow: Stevenson in the South Seas

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pp. 181-189

According to the accounts of Stevenson's missionary acquaintances, the Polynesians gave precedence to the moon over the sun and counted by nights, not by days. The fluctuating moon and its varying play of light and shadow against a background of darkness structured their understanding of the passing of time.1 As if this orientation...

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Violence in the South Seas: Stevenson, the Eye, and Desire

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pp. 190-198

The subject of this paper, that of the eye as a focus of violence in Stevenson's South Seas writing, was first suggested by a remark of the French philosopher Georges Bataille (1897–1962). In an early essay simply titled "Oeil" (1929) Bataille alludes briefly to Stevenson's travel book In the South Seas (1896). Bataille's theme is the uncanny...

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Cruising with Robert Louis Stevenson: The South Seas from Journal to Fiction

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pp. 199-212

By the 1890s, Robert Louis Stevenson enjoyed international fame as the author of such masterpieces as Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and Master of Ballantrae (1889). Yet Stevenson suffered from a growing fear that his literary output was "inadequate," an anxiety that reached a crescendo during his cruises in the South Seas...

Part 3. Evolutionary Psychology, Masculinity, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Stevenson, Romance, and Evolutionary Psychology

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pp. 215-227

"The fortune of a tale lies not alone in the skill of him that writes," Stevenson wrote in 1887, "but as much, perhaps, in the inherited experience of him who reads; and when I hear with a particular thrill of things that I have never done or seen, it is one of that innumerable army of my ancestors rejoicing in past deeds" (Stevenson...

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Robert Louis Stevenson and Nineteenth-Century Theories of Evolution: Crossing the Boundaries between Ideas and Art

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pp. 228-236

Robert Louis Stevenson, a writer of wide and eclectic interests, has been seen as someone who made a serious effort "to account for the forces of science" (Paradis and Postlewait 1985: ix–x).1 I contend that Stevenson attempted to do no such thing, and that this was especially true of his attitude toward Darwinism. Instead, he was...

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Crossing the Bounds of Single Identity: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and a Paper in a French Scientific Journal

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pp. 237-251

Commenting on the origins of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson's wife suggested that the story evolved first of all from the writer's fascination with Deacon Brodie, combined with thoughts provoked by an article on psychology in a French periodical: "In the room in Edinburgh occupied by my husband as a child, was a bookcase...

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"City of Dreadful Night": Stevenson's Gothic London

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pp. 253-264

In his study of crowds, published in translation in Britain in 1896, Gustave Le Bon warned of the atavistic nature of crowd behavior, declaring that "an individual in a crowd resembles primitive beings" (Le Bon 1895: 3). In 1886 Jekyll and Hyde had concentrated on individual duality, separating the moral from the immoral...

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Pious Works: Aesthetics, Ethics, and the Modern Individual in Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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pp. 265-274

On 13 May 1871, Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud—Charleville malcontent, budding anarchist, future Communard, poet of precocious talent, and not yet seventeen—corresponded with his old schoolmaster Georges Izambard. In what has become known as the "seer" letter, Rimbaud set out his manifesto for modern poetry claiming...

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A "Men's Narrative" of Hysteria and Containment

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pp. 275-285

In Western cultural imagination, Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become a metaphor, almost the very name for the duplicitous self. The categorical tradition of the good/bad, normal/deviant construction of the subject is revealed in the numerous attempts to fix Hyde's identity. Critics have read Hyde as a figure...

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Consumerism and Stevenson's Misfit Masculinities

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pp. 286-298

At the end of the nineteenth century, a matrix of mutually reinforcing cultural values privileged a masculinity characterized by responsibility, industry, and new money. And yet, as Martin Green notes in Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire, despite the glorification of a mature, productive masculinity, it was "a striking feature...

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"Markheim" and the Shadow of the Other

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pp. 299-311

At the core of "Markheim" (1885), a short, but highly concentrated story, is a ruthless and apparently gratuitous crime and its aftermath leading to the murderer's final confession. Through a web of intertextual references ranging from Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, and Poe, Stevenson explores both the psychology of crime and the ethics...

Part 4. Textual and Cultural Crossings

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Masters of the Hovering Life: Robert Musil and R. L. Stevenson

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pp. 315-326

To justify mentioning in the same breath Robert Musil—the Robert Musil of The Man Without Qualities, that is—and Robert Louis Stevenson might seem, on the face of it, to require some ingenious argument. On reflection, though, we may be just a little too ready to apologize for juxtaposing Stevenson with a writer of such high...

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Whitman and Thoreau as Literary Stowaways in Stevenson's American Writings

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pp. 327-337

Stevenson's The Amateur Emigrant and The Silverado Squatters, the works based on his 1879–80 journey to America, are, for several critics, the products of a travel experience that altered not only the man but also his writing.1 J. C. Furnas says that the American travel writings "have a new energy and pith," and he suggests that...

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The Pirate Chief in Salgari, Stevenson, and Calvino

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pp. 338-347

Piracy entered modern Western prose narrative in the seventeenth century with the autobiographer Alexander Exquemelin, and in the eighteenth century with the novelist and biographer Daniel Defoe.1 But arguably the two most influential creators of fictional pirates worked at the end of the nineteenth century, presenting...

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Murder by Suggestion: El sueño de los héroes and The Master of Ballantrae

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pp. 348-358

It was a slightly odd experience for me to be at the Stevenson Conference in Gargnano. I finished a dissertation on Borges and Stevenson in 1981 and published it in Spanish in Argentina in 1985, and apart from an occasional reference to Stevenson's work (and its importance to Borges) I haven't really worked on the Scottish writer since. I was...


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pp. 359-364

Index of Stevenson's Works

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pp. 365-367

General Index

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pp. 369-377

E-ISBN-13: 9780299212230
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299212247

Publication Year: 2006