John Lyon (University of Bristol)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Reading Robert Louis Stevenson in Falkirk’

Falkirk was a market town and then became an industrial centre, particularly of iron works and foundries.  The Roman Antonine Wall is to be found there.  William Wallace was defeated there in battle in 1298.  The Jacobites, under Bonnie Prince Charlie, in turn defeated Lieutenant Colonel Hawley in the Battle of Falkirk of 1746.  Falkirk lies at the junction of the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal and is perhaps best known nowadays for the Falkirk Wheel.  Falkirk is 23.57 miles east of Edinburgh and 19.63 miles west of Glasgow.  It involves us in a detour of 3.2 miles north of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘forty miles’.  What did and does it mean to read Robert Louis Stevenson in Falkirk?  In other words this paper proposes to take the claim made by the quotation from ‘The Foreigner at Home’ – a quotation used to advertise this conference – within literal walking distance.

The populist and predominant image has been of Stevenson as stylish escapist and romancer.  However, albeit somewhat belatedly, the academy has complicated that image, and the richness of such complication has been seen recently in Roslyn Jolly’s treatment of the intense political engagements of the later Stevenson in the Pacific.  This paper will sample Stevenson’s representations of the Central Belt of Scotland, and will draw on a variety of examples from the Stevensonian oeuvre.  Works discussed will include, for example, The Dynamiter, Stevenson’s verse, – not least his verse for children – and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the last mentioned being a strange case of a story set, and not set, in London, of all places.  The primary focus will be on accent and language – as Stevenson’s own words invite.  The pronunciation of ‘Jekyll’ is a famous, much discussed, crux in Stevenson studies, but are we sure that we know or ken how to pronounce ‘Doctor’?  The focus on language and pronunciation is the means to question how aware Stevenson’s writings are of the socio-political divisions and distinctions of his day, and also to ask whether we are in a position, be it Falkirk or Stirling or Causewayhead or Bridge of Allan or elsewhere…, to know what attitudes Stevenson took to such divisions and distinctions.

Categorized as Abstracts

Contact Us

To contact the conference organisers:

Scott Hames
Tel:+44 (0)1786 466205

Adrian Hunter
Tel:+44(0)1786 467507


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