Laavanyan Ratnapalan (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘R L Stevenson and Hawaiian Depopulation in the late-Nineteenth Century’`

Robert Louis Stevenson’s travels and experiences in the Pacific Islands during the years 1888-91 shaped his ideas about the impact of colonial activity in the Pacific Ocean. His observations on the complex changes undergone by contemporary Polynesian societies surprised his metropolitan readers, who may have been expecting flowery depictions of an unspoilt tropical Eden. A decisive moment in the formation of Stevenson’s views was his encounter with Serrano Edwards Bishop, author of a pamphlet enquiring into the causes of population decline in the Hawaiian Islands. In Stevenson’s two responses to this work, first in a private letter to the author and then in a section of his serialised ‘Letters’ from the South Seas, his thoughts on the nature and consequences of the civilising mission become clear. Such engagements marked the growing politicisation of his later years.

Categorized as Abstracts

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