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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

In praise of Stevenson

Thursday, May 20th., Victoria Grove, Chelsea.

I regard it as a serious and disquieting symptom, that, now that I have finished "In the Shadow", I have a positive wish to work. No man, healthy in mind and body, ever wants to work. He knows that work is good for him and will probably produce happiness, but that he should actually want to work is incredible, except of course after a too protracted holiday.

Stevenson's "Weir of Hermiston, an unfinished romance" appeared today. Chapter VI "A leaf from Christina's psalm-book" contains about 40 pages of the subtlest, surest, finest psychological analysis that I can remember. I am quite sure that there exists nowhere a more beautiful or more profoundly truthful presentation of the emotional phenomena (both in the man and in the woman) which go to the making of 'love at first sight'. On page 178 Stevenson, with secret pride I swear, says: "Thus even that phenomenon of love at first sight, which is so rare and seems so simple and violent, like a disruption of life's tissue, may be decomposed into a sequence of accidents happily concurring." ... Yes, it may, by a Stevenson; perhaps by a Meredith; but by none else of modern writers. "Weir of Hermiston" is as far beyond anything that Hardy, for example, could compass as "The Woodlanders" is beyond my "In the Shadow". Which is to say much! The mere writing of "Weir of Hermiston" surpasses all Stevenson's previous achievements.

Samoan stamp marking the 75th anniversary
 of Stevenson's death
Weir of Hermiston (1896) is an unfinished novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Many have considered it his masterpiece. It was cut short by Stevenson's sudden death in 1894 from a cerebral haemorrhage. The novel is set in Edinburgh and the Lothians at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The novel tells the story of Archie Weir, a youth born into an upper-class Edinburgh family. Because of his Romantic sensibilities and sensitivity, Archie is estranged from his father, who is depicted as the coarse and cruel judge of a criminal court. By mutual consent, Archie is banished from his family of origin and sent to live as the local laird on a family property in the vicinity of Hermiston. While serving as the laird, Archie meets and falls in love with Kirstie (Christina). As the two are deepening their relationship, the book breaks off. Confusingly, there are two characters in the novel called Christina.

For more on Stevenson see 'Reflections on the Writer's Craft'

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