Caroline A. Howitt (University of St Andrews)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘The Wood and the Wave: Relocating Romance’
‘There fell a war in a woody place, / Lay far across the sea’ recounts the Stevensonian ballad ‘Ticonderoga’; meanwhile, ‘green days in forests and blue days at sea’ are evoked together in his poem ‘Romance’. Throughout Stevenson’s oeuvre – one in which romance is an ever-present if changeful landmark by which critics navigate – forests and seas recur as fundamental sites in or upon which his prose works are enacted.

Plots – both locations and narrative trajectories – drive much of Stevenson’s writing. The first half of this paper draws out the importance of woods and waters to that collusion, focussing upon texts produced between 1878 and 1885. Investigating The Black Arrow, Treasure Island and selected essays including ‘The Old and New Pacific Capitals’, it demonstrates Stevenson’s development upon (and away from) R/romantic literary influences (including Byron’s The Island) in his use of setting.

The above works find themselves sandwiched, chronologically, between Stevenson’s two homages to the Arabian Nights – 1878’s New Arabian Nights and 1885’s More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter. Set primarily in London (with sections in Paris and Glasgow), these texts relocate romance to the Victorian city, which they present as a labyrinth of chance adventure and comic criminality. The second half of my paper goes on to contrast the tone and heroic agency engendered by this urban environment with the more earnestly depicted woods and waves in which Stevenson’s boys’ adventures occur.

Categorized as Abstracts

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