Richard Dury (University of Bergamo)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Stevenson’s Essays on Japanese Topics’

Some affinities can be seen between the mind-style of RLS and the typically Japanese world-view. Blythe’s 1942 Zen and English Literature uses examples from Stevenson’s Fables in his first chapter to explain the meaning of Zen; it was in a modern classic of Japanese literature, I Am a Cat (1903), that we find one of the earliest allusions to Stevenson in a work of fiction, and Atushi Nakajima’s Light, Wind and Dreams (1942) shows an identification of the author with RLS vis-à-vis his attitude towards the peoples of the Pacific. Confining our attention to Japanese prints, we can see a similar affinity of aesthetic in the predilection for pattern and the delight in stylisation and non-realistic representation.

My study will, however, be dedicated to the two essays that Stevenson wrote on Japanese topics (‘Yoshida-Torajiro’, 1880, and ‘Byways of Book Illustration: Two Japanese Romances’, 1882). I will trace his interest in Japanese art from 1874 when he first had the opportunity to study Japanese prints, through to the purchase of a set of Hokusai prints with the money earned from Treasure Island in 1883.

Principal focus of the study will be on the content of the magazines in which Stevenson published his essays in the period 1874-84 to see how frequently Japanese art was discussed and by whom. So far I have found two articles by Henley on Hokusai and on Japanese ceramics from the Magazine of Art in the early 1880s. It will be interesting to see the intellectual context for Stevenson’s interest and the extent to which his interest coincided with interests of his literary network.

Categorized as Abstracts

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