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Romance Fiction: ‘stories round the savage camp-fire’

  • Julia Reid
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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)

Abstract

In his essays on romance, literary pleasure, and the creative imagination, Chapter 1 has shown, Stevenson was fully engaged in scientific debate about the lingering primitive heritage in the modern world. Nonetheless, critics have been reluctant to examine how this depth of intellectual inquiry informs his own romance fiction, which — at least in its earliest 1880s manifestations — has typically been considered as childish, playful, and buoyantly unreflective. Ironically, the dismissive critical valuation of Stevenson’s early romance fiction, and of late-Victorian romance more generally, is perhaps the legacy of the contemporary belief that romance appealed to primitive energies. This belief, of course, was encouraged by romance’s supporters as much as its enemies: Stevenson hailed as ’the real art… that of the first men who told their stories round the savage camp-fire’.1 Romance, according to this model of literary evolution, was the undeveloped form of realism. Thus realism became securely associated with the contemporary, the rational, the adult, and the literate, while romance, increasingly a residual cultural form, bore connotations of the primal, the instinctual, the immature, and the oral. W. D. Howells accordingly praised readers’ graduation from the ’childish … demand’ for romance to more sophisticated appreciation of the ’new kind of fiction’ offered by realism, and H. Rider Haggard reluctantly viewed realism as ’the art of the future’.2

Keywords

Father Figure Creative Imagination Racial Politics Bodleian Library Heroic Masculinity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Stevenson, ‘A Humble Remonstrance’ (1884), in Memories and Portraits (London: Chatto and Windus, 1904), 275–99, 284.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    W. D. Howells, ‘Henry James, Jr.’ (1882), in Selected Literary Criticism, ed. Ulrich Halfmann and Christoph K. Lohmann, 3 vols (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1993), 1: 317–23, 323, 319.Google Scholar
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  4. 3.
    Gillian Beer, The Romance (London: Methuen, 1970), 8.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (London: Bloomsbury, 1991), 80–2.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
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  7. 6.
    Andrew Lang, ‘Mr. Kipling’s Stories’, in Essays in Little (London: Henry and Co., 1891), 198–205, 200.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Joseph Bristow, Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man’s World (London: HarperCollins, 1991), Chapter 1, ‘Reading for the Empire’.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Arata, Fictions, 80, 94–5; Peter Keating, The Haunted Study: a Social History of the English Novel 1875–1914 (London: Seeker and Warburg, 1989), 353–6.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
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  12. 11.
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  13. 12.
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  14. Patrick Brantlinger, Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830–1914 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988), 41. Vanessa Smith challenges this model of Stevenson’s transition from romance to realism, arguing that his texts should not be located within ‘British debates about genre and authorial politics’, but read as transactions between Pacific and metropolitan print cultures: Literary Culture and the Pacific: Nineteenth-Century Textual Encounters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 15.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    Stevenson, Treasure Island (1881–82), ed. Emma Letley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), xxx. Subsequent page references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Stevenson to Henley, August 1881, in The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. Bradford Booth and Ernest Mehew, 8 vols (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1994–95), 3: 224 (hereafter, Letters).Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    Stevenson, ‘A Gossip on Romance’ (1882), in Memories and Portraits (London: Chatto and Windus, 1904), 247–74, 255.Google Scholar
  18. 25.
    H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (1885), ed. Dennis Butts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 1.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    Recalling his ‘passion for maps’, Marlow describes how uncharted territory fired him with the ‘glories of exploration’: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899, 1902), in Heart of Darkness with The Congo Diary, ed. Robert Hampson (London: Penguin, 1995), 3–139, 21.Google Scholar
  20. 33.
    Stevenson, ‘The English Admirals’ (1878), in Virginibus Puerisque, The Amateur Emigrant; The Pacific Capitals, Silverado Squatters (London: Heinemann et al., 1922), 137–55, 138.Google Scholar
  21. 37.
    Stevenson, ‘The Persons of the Tale’ (1895), in Juvenilia, Moral Emblems, Fables, and Other Papers (London: Heinemann et al., 1923), 183–7, 184–5.Google Scholar
  22. 40.
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  23. 42.
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  24. 47.
    Stevenson, ‘Memoirs of Himself’ (1912), in Memories and Portraits, Memoirs of Himself, Selections from His Notebook (London: Heinemann, 1924), 147–68, 161–2.Google Scholar
  25. 49.
    Stevenson to Frances Sitwell, June 1875, in Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. Ernest Mehew (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1997), 110 (hereafter, Selected Letters).Google Scholar
  26. 53.
    Stevenson, A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa (1892), in Vailima Papers (London: Heinemann et al., 1924), 67–240, 160.Google Scholar
  27. 55.
    Osbourne drafted the first three or four chapters, but the rest of the book was Stevenson’s alone. The novel was serialized in To-day (1893–94), and published as a book by Heinemann in 1894: Roger G. Swearingen, The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson: a Guide (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1980), 187, 186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 56.
    Unpublished letter, cited in Catherine Kerrigan and Peter Hinchcliffe, ‘Introduction’, in The Ebb-Tide: a Trio and a Quartette, ed. Catherine Kerrigan and Peter Hinchcliffe (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995), xvii–xxxi, xx.Google Scholar
  29. 57.
    At the close of The Black Arrow, the hero recognizes sadly that he must renounce adventure’s delights and retires to live in a secluded ‘green forest’, far from ‘the dust and blood of that unruly epoch’: Stevenson, The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (1883; London: Heinemann et al., 1923), 262.Google Scholar
  30. 60.
    This debate, in its British context, was encouraged by James Sully’s critique of pessimism: see Pessimism: A History and A Criticism (London: H. S. King, 1877), 357–9, 399, and passim. On late-Victorian pessimism, see Peter Allan Dale, In Pursuit of a Scientific Culture: Science, Art, and Society in the Victorian Age (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), Chapter 9.Google Scholar
  31. 62.
    Andrew Lang, ‘At the Sign of the Ship’, Longman’s Magazine 18 (1891), 215–33.Google Scholar
  32. 63.
    Andrew Lang, ‘At the Sign of the Ship’, Longman’s Magazine 9 (1887), 552–9, 554.Google Scholar
  33. 64.
    Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, The Ebb-Tide: A Trio and Quartette (1893–94), in Stevenson, South Sea Tales, ed. Roslyn Jolly (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 123–252, 123. Subsequent page references appear in the text.Google Scholar
  34. 65.
    Stevenson, In the South Seas (1896; comp. Sidney Colvin), ed. Neil Rennie (London: Penguin, 1998), 5.Google Scholar
  35. 71.
    Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, The Wrecker (1891–92; London: Heinemann et al., 1924), 119.Google Scholar
  36. 76.
    On the continuities between fin-de-siècle homoeroticism and romance’s conservative homosocial bonds, see Arata, Fictions, 79; on The Ebb-Tide’s homoerotic resonances, see Wayne Koestenbaum, Double Talk: the Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration (London: Routledge, 1989), 145–8.Google Scholar
  37. 79.
    W. E. Henley, ‘Invictus’ (1875), in M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt, eds, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th edn (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 2: 1747.Google Scholar

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© Julia Reid 2006

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