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Book review: Stevenson in Samoa, Joseph Farrell - The Scotsman

1.8.17

Book review: Stevenson in Samoa, Joseph Farrell - The Scotsman: Stevenson’s friends were mistaken in fearing that his preoccupation with Samoan politics would divert him from novel-writing. On the contrary: the Vailima years were arguably the most productive of his too short life. He wrote Catriona, the sequel to Kidnapped. I think it a masterpiece; Farrell is more doubtful, saying that the relationship between David Balfour and Catriona “is recounted from within the frame of Victorian decorum”. This is arguable; I find David’s hesitations and misapprehensions entirely credible, likewise Catriona’s puzzled and resentful reaction. A difficult relationship is, to my mind, subtly developed. Stevenson developed as a writer in Samoa, capable of writing The Eb-Tide which is darker and grimmer than anything of which he had previously been capable, and, in collaboration with his much-loved stepson Lloyd Osborne, The Wrecker and the wonderfully comic novel, The Wrong Box. In Samoa, Graham Greene wrote, “his fine dandified talent began to shed its disguising graces, the granite to show through”. Finally, there was Weir of Hermiston, so marvellous that his admiring and most perceptive friend Henry James wondered if he could have kept it up. “Among prose fragments,” he wrote, “it stands quite alone”.


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