Nathalie Jaëck (Université Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux 3)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Stevenson (and Co)’s Literary Utopia’

In this paper, I propose to examine a paradox about Stevenson, who seems to be both a very mobile author, explicitly willing to circulate from one genre to another (the novel of adventure, literature for children, travel literature, tales, etc.), and a deeply-anchored, over-defined writer, whose two highly-identified texts, Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll, have become immutable literary references, pinioning him to the Canon, virtually masking the diversity, the experimental and ubiquitous nature of his work. Both canonical and evading, Stevenson poses indeed a literary enigma.

I will try to show that if it is quite problematic indeed to “locate” Stevenson, it is because he is situated historically in a rather furtive literary period, and because he explores and exploits the literary possibilities of such a contextual lack of definition. Writing in a transient, liminary period, when Realism was beginning to be contested, and when Modernism was not yet codified, it seems that Stevenson, along with other contemporary writers (Dickens, Conrad, Doyle, Stoker), decides to locate himself precisely within such a theoretically vacant or neutral space. It seems that he chooses indeterminacy, transition, imminence and suspension as the perfect literary space, as a valid literary utopia. His novels explore their own ability to escape stabilisation, to build forces of deterritorialisation, to invent dislocating forms. As such, it seems to me that they contribute to create, at the turn of the century, squeezed between these two literary heavy-weight, Realism and Modernism, a yet clandestine, but highly autonomous, highly original, highly stimulating literary space, that needs to be delimited, and theorized.

Categorized as Abstracts

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