- Robert Louis Stevenson, Literary Networks, and Transatlantic Publishing in the 1890s: The Author Incorporated by Glenda Norquay
This monograph responds to a growing interest in what might be termed the social environment of publication. It offers an account of the various figures whose efforts – financial, editorial, critical – were integral to Robert Louis Stevenson’s successful publication on both sides of the Atlantic. For all of Stevenson’s idiosyncrasies, this offers a case study for understanding the mechanisms of fin-de-siècle publishing, and an insight into how the name of an author depends as much on their social networks as it does on their native ability. Glenda Norquay provides a representative sample of the figures that determined Stevenson’s financial success in the 1890s, and who helped define his authorial reputation after his death. That these figures range from publisher’s scouts, through editors, informal literary agents, and family members, to younger authors influenced by Stevenson indicates, as Norquay concludes, the diverse way in which the author becomes a divided body, contested in its definition.
In one sense, this study can be taken as a companion piece to Norquay’s earlier work in Robert Louis Stevenson and Theories of Reading: both are concerned with the reception of the text; both are concerned with literary networks. However, the former book dealt with networks of readers, while the book currently under consideration concerns itself with networks of publication – the missing link between author and reader, whose significance in mediating and defining perceptions of the author are often overlooked. Stevenson, as Norquay details, is particularly valuable in considering these networks: in absenting himself from the metropolitan centres of publishing, he left the placement of his work to be arranged by others. Norquay sees in the rather chaotic and disunited efforts that Stevenson’s associates brought to their task the beginnings of a movement towards the formal professional role of the literary agent, which began to supersede the honour-based personal connections between author and publisher that Stevenson had known in his earlier career.
In exploring the publishing and, indeed, publicising networks involved in the dissemination of ‘Stevenson Incorporated’, Norquay offers a consideration of [End Page 189] several key figures instrumental to Stevenson’s commercial and critical success. Some of these are well known, at least among Stevenson scholars: the impact of Sidney Colvin, in particular, on the development of Stevenson’s reputation is frequently noted and much lamented. Nevertheless, Norquay makes extensive use of new archival research which illuminates previously unexplored aspects of Colvin’s management of Stevenson’s literary remains. Similarly, her work on Charles Baxter shows a meticulous attention to detail in archival research which brings out both the detail of the commercial transactions he made on Stevenson’s behalf, and the rumbustious personality which often jeopardised those deals.
As strong as these segments are, the book has still greater value in its consideration of players previously overlooked in the story of Stevenson’s posthumous afterlife. Of the two figures studied here that fit this description, the better known is Richard Le Galliene, whose enthusiasm for Stevenson helped to rescue the Scottish writer from becoming the exclusive possession of the more conservative elements who contested his legacy. If the other studies in the book relate to the material transmission of Stevenson, Le Galliene deals with Stevenson ‘in spiritual communion’. In this, Norquay demonstrates that Stevenson’s ultimate association with the martial, the masculine and the imperialistic was by no means a fait accompli: in the literary milieu of the 1890s he could equally be a source of inspiration to the high aestheticism of the Decadents. It should be noted, however, that Le Galliene himself is given in the round here: with a fine attention to critical justice, Norquay contextualises Le Galliene in his entirety and, unusually, extends consideration of his writing beyond the period of the 1890s and beyond the genre of aesthetic poetry. Following Le Galliene beyond the bounds of the usual critical discourse also entails following him to...