Robert Louis Stevenson within imperial precincts: a study of literary boundaries and marginalised voices

Higgins, David George (2015) Robert Louis Stevenson within imperial precincts: a study of literary boundaries and marginalised voices. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis has two primary functions. Firstly, it seeks to challenge the prevailing critical under-rating of Stevenson's fiction during much of the twentieth century. I aim to add fresh impetus to what are relatively recently established changing critical perceptions of the author, elevating Stevenson beyond the marginalised labelling of 'adventure writer', which had perennially pursued his work from his death in 1894. Secondly, it is my intention to consider the role of Stevenson as an early writer of embryonic anti-colonial literary responses to the imperial world, examining fiction which crossed literary as well as geographical boundaries and entered new precincts of a Victorian life which was dominated by the conquest of the globe. Primarily, this thesis considers, almost exclusively, Stevenson's fiction. Some use has been made of two essays, 'The pentland Rising'(1866) and 'Father Damian'(1890), due to their usefulness in illustrating a clear link between Stevenson's early and later writing in terms of his concerns for and sympathetic portrayals of marginalised voices. I am also aware that the concerns of my thesis could have been taken further via a study of Stevenson's non-fiction, particularly via his travel writing. I have, nonetheless, chosen to focus almost exclusively on the thematic concerns of marginalisation in his fiction, given the undervaluing of his work in relation to his status as a major writer who challenged and criticised matters of imperialism. For similar reasons, I have chosen not to examine extensively Stevenson's responses to religion in his fiction. This could easily occupy a complete thesis in its own right, but I have limited my consideration of religious aspects to those of relevance to the treatment of marginalised voices and populations.

I argue unambiguously that Stevenson can be regarded as a writer who constantly relates to marginalised populations and individuals, seen in his Scottish fiction, his adventure stories, and that of a writer at a source of imperial life in the South Seas. Stevenson's concerns for the marginalised emerge when he considers the violent past of Scotland, with his strong focus on the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion. I have deliberately chosen not to focus extensively on 'Kidnapped'(1886) in my consideration of the author's responses to Culloden but have instead subjected the sequel 'Catriona'(1893) to close scrutiny, while referring to the earlier texts when required. 'Kidnapped' has already been subjected to much critical discussion elsewhere; 'Catriona' less so. And the study of the later novel takes into account the context of Stevenson's South Seas residency and the impact this had upon his perceptions of Scottish history and the plight of marginalised voices. Of the author's South Seas fiction, as this thesis also considers in detail, Stevenson's sharp critique of the imperial project is written from his own colonial experience. I argue that Stevenson's response to Scotland's post-Culloden landscape was sharpened and enhanced by his experiences when in exile in samoa. But, as demonstrated in chapter three, there is evidence of a colonially critical approach to be found even in his early adventure novel,'Treasure Island'.

For the purposes of this thesis the term 'precincts' is selected for its connotations of geographical boundaries and areas, both of which apply to the experiences of Stevenson's career. There are several sharply contrasting precincts identified in this thesis: the precincts of the Scottish past; the island precincts of the author's earliest novel, 'Treasure Island'; the imperial precincts of London, the centre of the imperial project seen in 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'(1886) and the overtly colonial precincts of Stevenson's South Seas fiction. I focus closely on Stevenson's literary responses towards the imperial precincts of his existence and marginalised voices of oppressed cultures and populations, both in the Scotland he left behind and beyond its borders and boundaries. I also aim to prove that these seemingly different elements of Stevenson's life- Scotland and the South Seas- are inextricably linked, with his exile making a profound impact upon concerns about the marginalised already evident in his earliest writings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Scottish Literature
Supervisor's Name: Carruthers, Professor Gerard
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Mr David George Higgins
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6414
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2015 09:20
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2015 12:41

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