- Stevenson in the Classroom
MLA’s Approaches to Teaching the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Caroline McCracken-Flesher, is a wide-ranging, accessible, illuminating, and oftentimes fascinating read. Those who know little of Stevenson beyond his canonical works will be surprised to learn of Stevenson’s adventurous, peripatetic life and of his astonishingly varied oeuvre. Through a section of background and contextual materials and thirty short essays from different authors, the collection successfully presents Stevenson as a course chameleon, as an author who can be assigned in (or even form the linchpin of) any number of courses including composition, creative writing, science fiction, detective fiction, transatlantic literature, travel literature, Scottish literature, and Victorian literature. The continuing popularity of Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and A Child’s Garden of Verses potentially limits Stevenson in the public—and occasionally academic—view as a writer of boys’ adventure stories, shilling shockers, or children’s poetry. But, voicing a sentiment that pervades the entire collection, contributor Martin Danahay declares: “It is impossible to pigeonhole Stevenson.”
Stevenson’s relentless travels, and the many books he penned about them, are foregrounded by this collection. Despite his chronic illness, he voyaged across land and sea, eventually building a home and dying in Samoa. He documented his journeys in a number of travelogues including [End Page 435] An Inland Voyage, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, The Amateur Emigrant, Across the Plains, The Silverado Squatters, and In the South Seas. McCracken-Flesher’s useful background materials include a chronology that delineates Stevenson’s major travels and a section about the centrality of maps to Stevenson’s life and work. In “Stevenson in His Place: Scotland, England, the Unites States, and Samoa,” Jenni Calder concisely traces Stevenson’s movements between the four locales and deftly illustrates Stevenson’s “dual awareness” of place: moments where he created a palimpsest of topography by mapping his Scottish homeland onto a new landscape. Essays by Penny Fielding, J. Derrick McClure, and Ian Duncan examine Stevenson’s representation of Scotland, particularly by comparing Stevenson’s Scotland-set novels to Walter Scott’s historical novels. McClure’s informative “Stevenson and Scots” clearly defines, contextualizes, and characterizes the Scots language before analyzing Stevenson’s masterful and inventive use of Scots in his poetry collection Underwoods. Stevenson twice travelled to the United States: once to California to pursue his future wife, Fanny Osbourne; later, as a celebrity author, to restore his health in the Adirondacks. Essays by Glenda Norquay, Oliver S. Buckton, and McCracken-Flesher tackle his American travels and related literary output. Firmly establishing Stevenson as a transatlantic author, Norquay describes his engagement with transatlantic literary debates, identifies the American authors—Twain, Melville, Whitman, Thoreau—that markedly influenced Stevenson, and tracks Stevenson’s influence on later American writers.
Following a trend in recent Stevenson scholarship, several essays in this collection reassess and complicate Stevenson’s stance on empire. Contributors frequently reference Stevenson’s late, bleak novel The Ebb-Tide, cowritten with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne. Three desperate men land on an unknown island where they encounter Attwater, an Englishman who runs a pearl farm and tyrannizes the native workers. Graham Tulloch analyzes the “unsettling of colonial power” in The Ebb-Tide and The Beach of Falesá. Robert L. Caserio highlights the critique of the active and driven Attwater through the novel’s insistence on the value of inaction and failure. Comparing The Ebb-Tide’s critique of colonialism to the one found in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Roderick Watson identifies the former as Stevenson’s “modernist masterpiece.” H. Aram Veeser questions Treasure Island’s position on empire by considering the representations of violence, masochism, and hypocrisy in the adventure story. Stevenson also spent time in Hawaii, [End Page 436] and Richard J. Hill studies “The Bottle Imp” and “The Isle of Voices,” two stories set there. While he acknowledges the possibility of cultural appropriation in Stevenson’s use of native language, Hill also recognizes the stories...