Robert P. Irvine (University of Edinburgh)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Stevenson the Communard’

When Stevenson stopped off in Paris to visit his cousin Bob in April 1874, the city was still under martial law after the suppression of the Commune three years before. This paper will read two of Stevenson’s stories, ‘Providence and the Guitar’ (London Magazine, November 1878) and ‘The Treasure of Franchard’ (Longman’s, April 1883) as responses to fall of the Commune and the rise of the Third Republic. Both stories dramatise an encounter between a morally-complacent village republicanism (in the figure of the Commissary of Police and Dr Desprez, respectively) and the rootless performer (the tumbler/thief Jean-Marie, and the musician Léon and his wife). The latter, I will argue, represent the outcasts of the new order in France, those who cannot be assimilated to the bourgeois version of the French nation: they are aligned by these stories with the Communards of 1871 and, before them, the sans culottes of the 1790s.

However, I will also argue (in accordance with the conference’s theme of ‘locating Stevenson’) that these stories are not just about France. Rather, Stevenson uses the Third Republic as the setting for his critique of the liberal social order being established in the U.K. as well. Stevenson’s anti-liberalism finds expression in sympathetic identification with the defeated communards, but is not itself a radical or democratic position. The paper will end by gesturing towards the way this anti-liberalism is less obviously articulated in full-length fictions such as Treasure Island.

Categorized as Abstracts

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