Nancy Bunge (Michigan State University)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Improving on Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne: Kidnapped and The Master of Ballantrae

Robert Louis Stevenson’s acknowledgment  that the American authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain influenced him seems strange because Twain and Hawthorne produced such radically different fiction.  Nonetheless, Kidnapped and The Master of Ballantrae, two of the novels Robert Louis Stevenson wrote after falling in love with Huckleberry Finn (1884), integrate elements of both writers’ literary approaches.

Huckleberry Finn and Kidnapped both make energetic use of dialect while describing an innocent young man coming of age through a series of adventures that take place on a journey.  But Stevenson’s hero has an awareness of others’ motives Huck Finn lacks, making his novel, like Hawthorne’s fiction, more psychologically complex than Twain’s.   And, as Hawthorne often does, Stevenson embeds the history of his region in Kidnapped, enlarging the novel’s significance.

On the other hand, The Master of Ballantrae obviously resembles Hawthorne’s work since Stevenson’s book integrates historical and psychological exploration.  But while Hawthorne uses bizarre settings, events and characters described with ornate language, in The Master of Ballantrae, Stevenson, like Twain, presents a series of adventures rendered with clear language, uses dialect and sometimes relies upon a lower class narrator.

There is no way to know the extent to which Stevenson learned these various techniques from Twain and Hawthorne, but one cannot dispute that integrating them enriches his work and proves that he made them his own.

Categorized as Abstracts

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