Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Out of Place, Out of Time

Continuing with unvarnished opining on unfinished works, I took up RLStevenson's Weir of Hermiston, the novel he was working feverishly upon when overtaken by a stroke. Many threads converged on this choice of reading, among which were the high regard in which Stevenson was held by both Borges and Nabokov (the latter's nods in his direction in Pale Fire as I'd mentioned Carolyn Kunin mentions in reference to Shade's stroke; but the Lectures in Literature on Jekyll & Hyde catch Nabokov nodding in averring that "there is a down-to-Hyde drug and a back-to-Jekyll drug" when these are one and the same [and, like STColeridge's Kubla Khan, it started from a dream!] ... where was I? oh yeah), and the novellae long short stories The Beach at Falesa and The Ebb-Tide confirm this estimation. Weir is different, though, both a departure and a return, reconstructing the Scottish homeland from exile in Scott-ish historical romance, drawing upon Stevenson's strained relations with his father (another prompt to read, ntm the Turgenev thang), but at a level of wordcraft much higher than his prior novels. Unfortunately the Penguin preface [Paul Binding] excerpts the best examples (e.g., single paragraphs uncannily sketching character), and contextualizes the fully plotted but half-written novel in psychobiographical terms -- and it's Stevenson's misfortune (and perhaps source for volatility of his reputation through the years) that his life was stranger (well, mo' fey) than his fiction, which attracts apologists to the man rather than the work, which is poor reflection thereon. For Weir to be acclaimed and acknowledged a masterpiece, rather than having had that potential on evidence of masterful work, is overstatement that serves Stevenson's corpus ill. That this effort was a new stage in development, promising much but not to be fulfilled (and in some ways demonstrating a shift in the models chosen, Hardy amongst them -- one rap against Stevenson has always been lack of originality, but this complaint seems superficial, as matter can be moulded to fit form as originally as form designed to contain matter), does not put it at the peak of his production, and I think that the aforementioned long shorts better represent Stevenson's work at its best, and better than his contemporaries at this length. Had he continued ...


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