Julia Reid (University of Leeds)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘“Out of my country and myself I go”: Stevenson as Professional Emigrant’

This paper explores the multiple and ambiguous acts of border crossing narrated by Stevenson in his account of his journey from Scotland to California, The Amateur Emigrant. I shall use Stevenson’s equivocal cross-cultural performance to illuminate current critical and theoretical discussions of ‘slumming’ and of cross-cultural masquerade more generally.

Stevenson’s narrative leads him over physical frontiers, and to a foreign land. Most intriguingly, I shall argue, the text negotiates the crossing of borders of class and genre. Travelling across the Atlantic in second cabin rather than the more middle-class saloon, Stevenson conducted a pleasurable fantasy of social ‘passing’, identifying with the working-class passengers among whom he travelled: ‘I was incognito … not so much as a swagger to indicate that I was a gentleman’. I shall explore the equivocal blend of sympathy and distaste for the working classes which marks Stevenson’s identification with ‘a company of the rejected’. Closely entwined with this cross-cultural performance was the text’s blurring of distinctions between ‘art’ and ‘journalism’. Stevenson’s friends disparaged The Amateur Emigrant as mere journalism, compared to the art of his earlier travel writing, but I shall investigate how the work plays on generic distinctions and on the distinctions between the amateur and professional writer.

My paper will draw on the manuscript work which I shall undertake at the Beinecke Library over Easter 2010 (in preparation for producing an edition of The Amateur Emigrant). It will involve discussion of the vexed publication history of the work, which evidently breached too many social and generic boundaries for Stevenson’s father, and was withdrawn from publication in 1880 at his instigation.

Categorized as Abstracts

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