Saverio Tomaiuolo (Cassino University)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘The Strange Case of Weir and St. Ives: Stevenson’s Last Adventures in Narration’

Apart from various literary fragments and attempted projects (including Heathercat and The Young Chevalier), Weir of Hermiston and St. Ives are Stevenson’s last unfinished texts of a certain length to which critics have devoted their attention. While on the one hand Weir of Hermiston has been almost universally acclaimed as his last masterpiece, on the other hand there has been a widespread downplaying of his last “adventurous” romance, in particular in light of Stevenson’s own dissatisfied comments. Although on a superficial level these two literary works look very different (Weir of Hermiston mixes a “mythical” ballad-like atmosphere and a realistically-oriented psychological analysis of characters, and St. Ives is a typical romance characterised by a sequence of adventures and by a traditional love story), their represent Stevenson’s specular attempts at dramatising the themes of linguistic alienation and ideological conflict, becoming two facets of his complex negotiation with Scottish historical and cultural dynamics.

Mainly set in Scotland in 1813, these two novels introduce in similar terms the theme of “Scottishness”, the question of “evil” (identified with devil-like figures such as Frank Innes and Alain St. Ives), the representation of women as expressions of natural forces (the two “Christines” and Flora Gilchrist), the presence of Stevenson’s most beloved Scottish writer and literary model (Walter Scott), and the necessity of heroism in an unheroic “age of incredulity”. Moreover, both texts translate in a narrative form Stevenson’s ideas on literature, and also his pre-Postmodern awareness of the role of the author/narrator as fictional creator.

Finally, Weir of Hermiston and St. Ives seem to enact Stevenson’s “dualistic” aspiration at being a respected writer and a successful teller of tales, a thoughtful engaged intellectual and a man who experienced literature as an adventurous voyage rooted in “child’s play”.

Categorized as Abstracts

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