Robert Louis Stevenson and His World
Pictorial Biography S.
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This little essay is a gem. In few words, with perfect self-assurance and the lightest touch, Daiches draws upon his 30-year interest in Stevenson (his Revaluation of Stevenson appeared in 1946) to contribute to this popular series an attractive narrative of Stevenson's life laced with penetrating and persuasive comments on his personality and works. He shows Stevenson drawn to the romance of adventure during frequent childhood illnesses by diversions like cut-out dolls of pirates, and later by trips through the cities and landscapes of his native Scotland. Stevenson's "relish of experience" eventually forced a break with his Calvinist parents as he abandoned law for literature and the bohemian life, and pursued his beloved Fanny to California, where he married her against his parents' wishes. Amid the many literary friendships and the travels that occupied his next few years, which landed him permanently in Samoa, he became famous through his poems, essays, and especially tales of conflict and adventure. Daiches maintains that these tales are by no means mere entertainments but express Stevenson's "genius of place," with their arrestIng concreteness, and his sense of "moral ambiguity," which gives them psychological substance (this holds for Treasure Island as for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Daiches further strengthens Stevenson's stature by depicting his close friendship with Henry James as a comradeship of equals, concluding that "the first really sophisticated exchange of ideas in English about the art of fiction took place between these two." Although Stevenson did not achieve the full artistic maturity promised in his last, unfinished works, he remains for Daiches a "Figure" who embodies the richest contradictions and potentialities of both "modern literature" and "modern personality." (Kirkus Reviews)