Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

PAGE 3

Robert Louis Stevenson
by [?]

There was no hurry then, as he now sees: and there never was cause to hurry, I repeat. “But how is this? Is, then, the great book written?” I am sure I don’t know. Probably not: for human experience goes to show that The Great Book (like The Great American Novel) never gets written. But that a great story has been written is certain enough: and one of the curious points about this story is its title.

It is not Catriona; nor is it Kidnapped. Kidnapped is a taking title, and Catriona beautiful in sound and suggestion of romance: and Kidnapped (as everyone knows) is a capital tale, though imperfect; and Catriona (as the critics began to point out, the day after its issue) a capital tale with an awkward fissure midway in it. “It is the fate of sequels”–thus Mr. Stevenson begins his Dedication–“to disappoint those who have waited for them”; and it is possible that the boys of Merry England (who, it may be remembered, thought more of Treasure Island than of Kidnapped) will take but lukewarmly to Catriona, having had five years in which to forget its predecessor. No: the title of the great story is The Memoirs of David Balfour. Catriona has a prettier name than David, and may give it to the last book of her lover’s adventures: but the Odyssey was not christened after Penelope.

Put Kidnapped and Catriona together within the same covers, with one title-page, one dedication (here will be the severest loss) and one table of contents, in which the chapters are numbered straight away from I. to LX.: and–this above all things–read the tale right through from David’s setting forth from the garden gate at Essendean to his homeward voyage, by Catriona’s side, on the Low Country ship. And having done this, be so good as to perceive how paltry are the objections you raised against the two volumes when you took them separately. Let me raise again one or two of them.

(1.) Catriona is just two stories loosely hitched together–the one of David’s vain attempt to save James Stewart, the other of the loves of David and Catriona: and in case the critic should be too stupid to detect this, Mr. Stevenson has been at the pains to divide his book into Part I. and Part II. Now this, which is a real fault in a book called Catriona, is no fault at all in The Memoirs of David Balfour, which by its very title claims to be constructed loosely. In an Odyssey the road taken by the wanderer is all the nexus required; and the continuity of his presence (if the author know his business) is warrant enough for the continuity of our interest in his adventures. That the history of Gil Blas of Santillane consists chiefly of episodes is not a serious criticism upon Lesage’s novel.

(2.) In Catriona more than a few of the characters are suffered to drop out of sight just as we have begun to take an interest in them. There is Mr. Rankeillor, for instance, whose company in the concluding chapter of Kidnapped was too good to be spared very easily; and there is Lady Allardyce–a wonderfully clever portrait; and Captain Hoseason–we tread for a moment on the verge of re-acquaintance, but are disappointed; and Balfour of Pilrig; and at the end of Part I. away into darkness goes the Lord Advocate Preston-grange, with his charming womenkind.

Well, if this be an objection to the tale, it is one urged pretty often against life itself–that we scarce see enough of the men and women we like. And here again that which may be a fault in Catriona is no fault at all in The Memoirs of David Balfour. Though novelists may profess in everything they write to hold a mirror up to life, the reflection must needs be more artificial in a small book than in a large. In the one, for very clearness, they must isolate a few human beings and cut off the currents (so to speak) bearing upon them from the outside world: in the other, with a larger canvas they are able to deal with life more frankly. Were the Odyssey cut down to one episode–say that of Nausic�a–we must round it off and have everyone on the stage and provided with his just portion of good and evil before we ring the curtain down. As it is, Nausic�a goes her way. And as it is, Barbara Grant must go her way at the end of Chapter XX.; and the pang we feel at parting with her is anything rather than a reproach against the author.