Saturday, November 13, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson: "Lacked Originality?!"

Another day, another Google doodle.

This one's about Robert Louis Stevenson. The "Treasure Island" fellow.
"Google Doodle marks Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday: Poems and Quotes" (November 13, 2010)

"Google is honoring yet another person with Google Doodle today. Google, which also celebrated its own birthday few weeks ago, has decorated its homepage to mark the Birthday of Scottish Poet and Novel Writer, Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert Louis Stevenson was born 160 years ago on 13 November 1850...."

That article is chiefly notable for mentioning the Google doodle.

The next one was clearly written by an academician.
"Robert Louis Stevenson | November 13, 1850-December 3, 1894"
Written by: Richard A. Boyle, Whiting, Indiana
Source: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 57: Victorian Prose Writers After 1867. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by William B. Thesing, University of South Carolina. Gale Research, 1987. pp. 294-305.
via Brandeis University, Massachusetts

"When one reads the nonfiction work of Robert Louis Stevenson along with the novels and short stories, a more complete portrait emerges of the author than that of the romantic vagabond one usually associates with his best-known fiction. The Stevenson of the nonfiction prose is a writer involved in the issues of his craft, his milieu, and his soul. Moreover, one can see the record of his maturation in critical essays, political tracts, biographies, and letters to family and friends. What Stevenson lacks, especially for the tastes of this age, is specificity and expertise: he has not the depth of such writers as John Ruskin, Walter Pater, or William Morris. But he was a shrewd observer of humankind, and his essays reveal his lively and perspicacious mind. Though he lacked originality, he created a rapport with the reader, who senses his enthusiastic embrace of life and art...."

"Lacked originality?" Okay. The Lemming, while doing time in American academia, learned that William Shakespeare copied many (most?) of the plots and characters for his plays from other folks - many of them in Italy. No big surprises there: Shakespeare had a business interest in the Globe theater, and there weren't copyright laws in his day.

On the other hand - the only reason that the stories of these other playwrights are known - other than to a handful of dusty archivists and scholars - is that William Shakespeare re-wrote their stories. I suppose the argument could be made that Hamlet, King Lear, and Much Ado About Nothing 'lack originality.' But the Lemming thinks that there's at least craft involved in writing something that folks might want to read. Or see performed.


That Brandeis U. page as a Stevenson bibliography, with links, too.

And now, more of the same, only different:
"Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)"
(Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008)

"Scottish essayist, poet, and author of fiction and travel books, known especially for his novels of adventure. Stevenson's characters often prefer unknown hazards to everyday life of the Victorian society. His most famous examination of the split personality is THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1886). Many of Stevenson's stories are set in colorful locations, they have also horror and supernatural elements. Arguing against realism, Stevenson underlined the "nameless longings of the reader", the desire for experience...."

This is a fairly long read, and includes this bit:

"...The story has been considered an criticism of Victorian double morality, but it can be read as a comment on Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species – Dr. Jekyll turns in his experiment the evolution backwards and reveals the primitive background of a cultured human being. Henry James admired Stevenson's 'genuine feeling for the perpetual moral question, a fresh sense of the difficulty of being good and the brutishness of being bad'. ('Robert Louis Stevenson' by Henry James in Century Magazine 35, April 1888) Modern readers have set the story against Freudian sexual theories and the split in man's psyche between ego and instinct, although the 'split' takes the form of a physical change, rather than inner dissociation. And it has been argued, that the conflict between Jekyll and Hyde reveals era's class phobias...."

The Lemming notes that someone referred to the great pyramids of Egypt as a sort of cosmic Rorschach test: what folks said they were 'really' for revealed more of what was going on inside the writer's head, than what those piles of stone were about.

Recapping, the 'real' meaning of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were 'obviously:'
  • Victorian double morality
  • Origin of Species and evolution
  • Freudian sexual theories
  • Class phobias
What the 21st, 22nd, and other centuries will make of it? Well, at least we don't hear so much about Freud any more.
"Robert Louis Stevenson"
Literature Network

With a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson, and Biography of Robert Louis Stevenson and a searchable collection of his writing.


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