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Ml ELT FORUM A HUMBLE REMONSTRANCE By Edwin M. Eigner (The University of Kansas) Most readers have found that the heroines of Robert Louis Stevenson have too little flesh and blood, but Robert E. Bonds believes that Alison Graeme from THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE is made up of rather too much of these elements. For he suggests in his article, "The Mystery of THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE," ENGLISH LITERATURE IN TRANSITION, VM: 1 (1964), 8-11, that Miss Graeme is pregnant before her marriage to Henry Durie. This suggestion seems to me a mistaken one. In the first place, Stevenson's ladies don't do that sort of thing. To be sure, the author grumbled at times about the limitations which Victorian morality placed upon him. His stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, remembers his saying, "What books Dickens could have written had he been permitted! Think of Thackeray as unfettered as Flabuert or Balzac! What books I might have written myselfi But they give us a little box of toys, and say to us: 'You mustn't play with anything but these.'"' Nevertheless, Stevenson behaved himself remarkably well. He concluded, "I cannot be wiser than my generation,"2 anc¡ even Mr. Hyde is not allowed to express his evil through sexual misdeeds. The sexually irresponsible women who appear in his fiction are either lower class, like Jessie Broun of THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE and Janet M'Clour of "Thrawn Janet," or foreigners, like the Countess von Rosen of PRINCE OTTO. In the second place, Mr. Bonds's evidence is not good enough. He is led to suspect Alison by two considerations: the apparent lack of motive for her decision to marry Henry Durie, whom she does not love; and Henry's marked preference for his second child, Alexander, over his first-born, Katharine. Neither of these considerations has force. Stevenson felt that there was plenty of motivation for the marriage. The proud but nearly bankrupt Duries will not accept Alison's fortune under any other condition. In addition, Henry, and therefore the entire family, is in disgrace because he is believed to have-betrayed and caused the death of his brother James. Alison must think that if she, who was James' intended and his most loyal supporter, marries Henry, she will give the lie to the rumor. And, of course, this is what the marriage accomplishes. It quiets all but the most fanatic haters of Henry, and it stops the public stonings. Moreover, Alison pities Henry, and while Mr. Bonds is probably right in rejecting this as an "evident reason for her to sacrifice herself to marriage,"3 it was considered reason enough in a number of Victorian works. Although Stevenson never acknowledged the debt, THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE owes more to WUTHERING HEIGHTS than to any other novel, and in that book Catherine Linton is willing to marry Linton Heathcliff largely because she pities him. Finally, in Alison's case the pity is mixed with guilt, for she undoubtedly recalls that in her grief at hearing of James' supposed death, she was the first to unjustly accuse Henry of treason to his brother. And since she made this accusation in the presence of the servants, she perhaps holds herself responsible for Henry's loss of reputation. 112 As to Henry's preference for Alexander over Katharine, Stevenson is simply illustrating here that Henry makes the same mistake with his children that the old Lord Durrisdeer, Henry's father, had made. This repetition of folly is one of the principal ingredients of the novel's plot. Moreover, it is hard to see Mr. Bonds' point here; for after he has noted that James Durie was far away at the time of Katharine's conception, and after he has thoroughly questioned and dismissed each of the servants, he concludes that probably "Henry Durie was Katherine's [sic] real father."^ Is he suggesting that a father cannot love a child unless he is married to its mother at the time of the conception? This seems a strange notion. Besides, if the unloved Henry is the father after all, Mr. Bonds is still left with the problem of Alison's motivation in accepting him, not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 111-113
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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