Christy Di Frances (University of Aberdeen)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘“Far From Their Own Place”: Song as the Nexus of Home in Stevenson’s Scottish Adventures’

In Edinburgh Picturesque Notes, Stevenson noticed how the ‘nugget of cottages at Broughton Market’ resounded, ‘like Fergusson’s butterfly [. . .with] a quaint air of having wandered far from their own place.’  Not only does this seemingly passing reference demonstrate Stevenson’s lifelong fascination with the conceptualisation of home (and, indeed, never is this geographically restless author better located than through his frequent contemplations of the essence of home), but it also provides a tantalizing glimpse into his penchant for linking these concepts with an  historical poetic impulse.  Although Stevenson consistently draws upon quest-adventure tropes of home-going throughout his oeuvre, his construction of ‘homeliness’ is especially apparent in the Scottish fiction, where he echoes the long-standing Scots tradition of pillaging existent songs in order to create resonances in new texts.  Particularly, in Kidnapped and Catriona, Stevenson skilfully constructs an aesthetic of home through seemingly passing allusions to traditional song.  Ever the assiduous scholar of Scottish history, Stevenson draws upon tropic features of national and Jacobite verse; these include the dualistic home-splitting of Scotland into the psychologically disparate Highland and Lowland cultures; the decline and usurpation of literal (and metaphorical) houses; homeless wandering as the post-Culloden bane of the Highlands; and the pervasive domesticization (rather than politicization) of the doomed Jacobite struggle.  He deliberately laces his Scottish texts with song—even going so far as to position his characters so that they can enact (in characteristically innovative ways) individual popular songs—as a means of re-imagining and re-interpreting the idea of home.  This paper will offer a glimpse of Stevenson’s construction of home through a discussion of song in his Scottish fiction, with particular reference to both parts of the David Balfour saga.

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