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‘Out of my country and myself I go’: Stevenson and Literary Geography

In the sixth of an ongoing series of posts, Harriet Gordon, a second-year doctoral candidate based in Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, discusses the early steps of her project: a book historical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s global literary networks. Harriet’s project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP).

Edward Said writes that ‘none of us is outside or beyond geography; none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography’. The life and work of Robert Louis Stevenson is, perhaps more than most, intimately bound up with his geography. From the ambivalent relationship with his home town of Edinburgh, to his exploration of the conditions and effects of emigration in the New World, to his depictions of transculturation in the contact zones of the Pacific, issues of place and space, and their relation to identity, permeate both his biography and his writing. (more…)

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Stevenson, the Savile Club and its Social Network

In the fifth of an ongoing series of posts, Harriet Gordon, a first-year doctoral candidate based in Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, discusses the early steps of her project: a book historical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s global literary networks. Harriet’s project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP).

In June 1874, Robert Louis Stevenson was elected as a member of the Savile Club, a prestigious gentleman’s club that welcomed promising young authors, as well as many members already firmly established in the London literary circle. Among these were Sidney Colvin (who proposed Stevenson’s election) and Andrew Lang, as well as editors like Leslie Stephen, John Morely and Charles Appleton. His acceptance into the Savile Club was the apex of the first few years of Stevenson’s literary career, immersing him in a literary milieu that presented new and exciting opportunities. (more…)

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‘Like continuing another man’s book’: Transitory Identity in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Early Writing

In the fourth of an ongoing series of posts, Harriet Gordon, a first-year doctoral candidate based in Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, discusses the early steps of her project: a book historical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s global literary networks. Harriet’s project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP).

In my most recent post on this blog I explored Robert Louis Stevenson’s complex relationship with his mentor and literary advisor Sidney Colvin, focusing on the impact he had on the young author’s early career. Although only five years Stevenson’s senior, Colvin was already well established within the literary environment of London when the two men met, and put his contacts and connections at Stevenson’s disposal. Yet it was not simply literary contacts that Colvin supplied: he also offered his encouragement, enthusiasm, and, at times, stern expectations at this crucial moment of the author’s life. Stevenson acknowledges the impact of these less quantifiable acts of assistance, even claiming that Colvin, along with Frances Sitwell, has the ability to alter his own personality. Shortly after his stay at Cockfield Rectory and his first meeting with Colvin, Stevenson writes to Sitwell from Edinburgh that

the stimulus of your approval and Colvin’s has died a good deal off, and I find myself face to face with the weak, inefficacious personality that I knew before (Letters 1, 307)

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Late nineteenth-century watercolour of Menton, France

‘A person in whom you must believe, like a person of the Trinity’: Sidney Colvin and the making of an author

In the third of an ongoing series of posts, Harriet Gordon, a first-year doctoral candidate based in Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, discusses the early steps of her project: a book historical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s global literary networks. Harriet’s project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP).

In the summer of 1873 Robert Louis Stevenson paid what he later described as a ‘very fortunate visit’ to Cockfield Rectory in Suffolk, where first met Slade Professor of Fine Art Sidney Colvin. Just how fortunate a visit this was we will never know for sure; it is feasible that Stevenson could have gone on to attain the same level of literary success without Colvin’s early assistance. Yet it is also entirely possible that without the jump-start Colvin’s connections and advice provided, Stevenson would have never caught the attention of the literary elite, would never have been propelled into the public eye, and would not have become the subject of a PhD thesis in 2015.

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Exile as Identity: Robert Louis Stevenson and ‘Life Geography’

In the second of an ongoing series of posts, Harriet Gordon, a first-year doctoral candidate based in Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, discusses the early steps of her project: a book historical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s global literary networks. Harriet’s project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP).

During the past month and a half, I have been busy trawling through the first two volumes of Robert Louis Stevenson’s collected letters. This comprehensive edition, painstakingly drawn together by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, will prove invaluable to my project, and, it is becoming increasingly clear, will be more important to my primary research than any of Stevenson’s published literary works. The two volumes in question span 25 years, from Stevenson’s earliest recovered letters, dictated to his mother at the age of three, which, admittedly, I glanced over only rather fleetingly, up the point he embarks on a steamship to America, in pursuit of his wife-to-be Fanny Osbourne. These letters track the course of Stevenson’s early life and burgeoning career as an author, moving from an enthusiastic but erratic young writer balancing an engineering degree and his father’s disapproval with a burning desire to entire the literary profession, to the author of three well-reviewed (if not financially successful) books, well established within the literary milieu of London. (more…)