THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON:  by Robert Louis Stevenson

THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON:

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KIRKUS REVIEW

These five years' worth of Stevenson's letters fill up another two volumes of an intense and concentrated correspondence reflecting a short life. The period from 1879 to 1884 covers Stevenson's (The Collected Letters, Vols. I & II, p. 619) first literary successes (Treasure Island and A Child's Garden of Verses), the early phase of his marriage to American Fanny Osbourne, and the start of his lifelong search for better health. His correspondents during this time include Victorian literary lions Edmund Gosse, W.E. Henley, and J.A. Symonds, not to mention his new wife, his bohemian cousin Bob, and his anxious parents. Less useful for direct biographical or critical information than as a partial reflection of his personal life, Stevenson's letters are carefully modulated to each recipient's mood and character. To his friends, he dispensed jokes about his shaky health and nascent writing career, about which in turn he would have to reassure his parents in calm reports; and while his friends tried to accustom themselves to his new American wife, he and Fanny wrote joint letters to his parents to introduce them to her. His preferred epistolary embellishments in these volumes are doggerel verse (particularly about his parodic man of letters, C.G. Brash), passages in broad Scots, and fantastic handwriting and doodles. His subjects are always more prosaic than what's portrayed in his books (even his rasher ventures in California come across as less interesting than he made them in The Amateur Emigrant, Travels with a Donkey, and Silverado Squatters). By the fourth volume, between his search for essay material and exchanges with Henley over the editorial value of the latter's magazine, Stevenson gradually began to sharpen the aesthetic opinions that would inform his friendship with Henry James and his later work. (For a biography of Stevenson in this issue, see p. 1339.) Consistently entertaining, whether from a transcontinental railway car, a sickbed in France, or an overcrowded writing desk.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1994
ISBN: 0-300-06187-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.