Ilaria Sborgi (Independent Scholar)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Stevenson’s Home: A Deconstructive Reading’

In a chapter of The Silverado Squatters titled “The Scot Abroad” (1883), Stevenson describes Scotland as ‘indefinable’ and underlines its sharp differences within (‘Two languages, many dialects, innumerable forms of piety, and countless local patriotisms and prejudices, part us among ourselves’). At the same time, however, his country is not a mere construction (‘no unity except on the map’) for it joins Scots together. From a distance, the author argues, recognition prevails over differences: ‘let us meet in some far country, and whether we hail from the braes of Manor or the braes of Mar, some ready-made affection joins us on the instant’. The Silverado Squatters was published in 1883; a year earlier the author published ‘The Foreigner at Home’, an essay in which he addressed the question of Scottish identity in a similar way:

Can a bare name be thus influential on the minds and affections of men, and a political aggregation blind them to the nature of facts? The story of the Austrian Empire would seem to answer, No; the far more galling business of Ireland clenches the negative from nearer home. Is it common education, common morals, a common language or a common faith, that join men into nations? There were practically none of these in the case we are considering.

The fact remains: in spite of the difference in blood and language, the Lowlander feels himself the sentimental countryman of the Highlander.

Once again, Stevenson doesn’t define Scottish identity but simply states it (‘the fact remains’). Before reaching this conclusion, however, he devotes most of ‘The Foreigner at Home’ to comparing the English with the Scots. Among the many differences he examines, he notes that ignorance and lack of interest in others are typical of the English ‘John Bull’, whereas the Scotsman is ‘vain, interested in himself and others, eager for sympathy’. Though the author doesn’t explicitly draw a connection between Scotland’s fragmentation and the Scottish attitude towards others, he juxtaposes these two elements in an article where he repeatedly underlines the Scottish awareness of differences.

In my paper, I propose a deconstructive reading of Stevenson’s use of term home in ‘The Foreigner at Home’ and ‘The Scot Abroad’ so as to shed another possible light on his approach to ‘extreme’ foreignness in the South Pacific, and on his decision to settle there.

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