Ann Colley (State University of New York, Buffalo)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Locating Home’

Constantly moving from place to place, “out of my country and of myself,” Stevenson regularly dwelt in spaces belonging to others. Pondering this nomadic life, he once calculated the most nights he had spent anywhere. In a manner reminiscent of David Balfour (Kidnapped), Stevenson frequently locked the doors of a familiar dwelling, and set out to seek yet another setting where he might belong. Through these quests he came, like David, to recognize that Scotland, though fraught with tensions and the warring, if not alien, cultures of the highlander and the lowlander (“The Foreigner at Home”), was his home. Through most of his travels Stevenson clung to a memory of his country’s landscape and people so that he could locate himself. Consequently, when he first reached California and saw pine trees and mountain rivers reminiscent of what he had left behind, he was able to write, “I had come home again” (The Amateur Emigrant 226).

It would be easy to stop here and linger on the vibrant and vital memories of Scotland that created a feeling of home. I want to propose, however, that when Stevenson finally settled in Samoa this habitual mixture of dominant memories of Scotland intertwining with a sense of otherness alters. Rather, in Samoa, the foreign, and not the landscape or tongues of his childhood, became the overriding or more forceful factor. As a paradigm for this shift, I use Hans Blumenberg’s understanding of metaphor (After Philosophy. 1987). Blumenberg asserts that metaphors, rather than finding their strength in the recognizable, seek it in something foreign; that in metaphor, it is the alien, and not the familiar, that emerges as dominant or instructive, and is “more easily at our disposal” (439). I suggest that in Samoa, Stevenson’s sense of home was no longer as dependent upon references to Scotland (the familiar), in spite of the fact that he shipped the furniture over from Heriot Row and was reading his grandfather’s diaries while on the other side of the world. Samoa and the Pacific increasingly impart the flavor to his life, his sense of being, and his writing. Ultimately the people, the culture, and the politics of Samoa dominate in locating and constructing his understanding of home. For the first time Stevenson is self-sufficient financially (a factor that should remind us of the ending of Kidnapped in which David ends up at the bank to draw his inheritance and, thereby, “come into his kingdom”). And for the first time in his life, Stevenson buys his own land (3141/2 acres); clears part of the land, builds his own house with indigenous materials, and becomes a master of a commodious dwelling. It is no longer Alan Breck who promises: “I’ll find a house to ye.” Rather, it is Stevenson himself. In a sense, the building of Vailima is a sequel to Kidnapped. Attracted to what is foreign and to “exile” and still locating home among warring factors, Stevenson becomes fascinated with, instructed by, and embroiled in the rivalries and jealousies between the Samoan chiefs and among the colonial powers. His sense of home is no longer primarily constructed by a divided Scotland, but rather, by the more compelling battles and pleasures of what appears, to others, to be alien in the remote Pacific. The shift demonstrates that Stevenson ultimately locates home in the foreign and not always in the memory of Scotland; and that conflict is an integral part of his sense of home.

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