Glenda Norquay (Liverpool John Moores University)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Romance and revivification: St Ives

This paper seeks to locate Stevenson’s late, unfinished and critically neglected novel, St Ives, in relation to historical romance and specific versions of that genre in circulation in the 1890s. During his last years in Samoa Stevenson read with enthusiasm a number of historical romances, and particularly admired work by Arthur Conan Doyle, Anthony Hope and Stanley J. Weyman, to whom he wrote, ‘I feel that I have a continual promise of pleasure in your writing’(Letters 8, p.316).  All, of course, were equally inspired by the fiction of Alexandre Dumas père. In articulating this enthusiasm and in stressing the immersive quality of romance reading in his literary essays, Stevenson might seem to be part of the project identified by Nicholas Daly in Modernism, Romance and the Fin de Siècle whereby contemporaries such as Lang and Haggard constructed the romance in terms of its long lineage, making it appear as ‘the original core of the novel, and a link to a universal and timeless fascination with narrative itself.’ (p.21) Daly’s study challenges this notion of timelessness by locating such fiction within the context of modernism and a changing commercial market. I also want to resituate novels produced at this point in the romance’s development but to do so by looking within the fiction, at ways in which certain narrative structures and preoccupations might read as responsive to changes in the form and its audience.  Through a comparative discussion of Weyman, Hope and Stevenson’s deployment of youth and age motifs, I will argue these fictions actively engage with the apparent timelessness of narrative fulfilment as something precariously maintained, and that processes of historical change are used to voice an awareness that the form itself is transition. Building on research on St Ives for the New Edinburgh Edition, I will suggest that locating the novel in its generic context and at the moment of production provides a new understanding of a work on which Stevenson expended considerable creative energy, and that the novel itself might call into question dominant critical paradigms of Stevenson’s relationship to romance.

Categorized as Abstracts

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