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

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


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


Father Figure Creative Imagination Racial Politics Bodleian Library Heroic Masculinity 
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© Julia Reid 2006

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  • Julia Reid

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