Richard Hill (University of Hawaii)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Illustrating Island Nights’ Entertainments: the problem of exotic authenticity’

My paper will discuss the illustrations for Island Nights’ Entertainments as extensions of the texts they illustrate.  It will examine Stevenson’s intentions for, and understanding of, the role of illustration for his Pacific stories in contrast to those for his Scottish stories, and in contrast to the role of photography.

Stevenson’s stories from and about the Pacific encountered numerous editorial and logistic challenges, which have been catalogued and analyzed by various recent criticism.  An important artistic supplement to Stevenson’s work throughout his career was illustration.  Stevenson constantly sought illustration that would reliably express his authorial project in the visual medium, and he had several artists he trusted to illustrate his work.  However, all these artists were based in Britain or the east coast of America, making illustration to his Pacific work a complex logistic and artistic challenge.

Equally as challenging was the new subject matter he was presenting to his would-be illustrators.  Having travelled throughout and documented multifarious Pacific communities, any illustrator had to educate themselves about the topography, ethnography, costumes, and traditions of the people and places they were to illustrate.  In the South Seas, Stevenson’s uncompleted documentary of the Pacific cultures he visited, was to be illustrated with photographs taken by him and his travelling companions; by contrast, his Pacific fiction was to be illustrated with highly impressionistic imagery that highlighted the fictionality of the literary form.  However, he still expected his illustrators to pay due attention to certain aspects of topographical and ethnographical detail of his subjects, and supplied the artists with photographs as source material.  Consequently, when Island Nights’ Entertainments was published, the illustrations elicited mixed reactions from the author, shedding light on his expectations of illustration to his work.

Categorized as Abstracts

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