1st Edition

Robert Louis Stevenson and the Colonial Imagination

By Ann C. Colley Copyright 2004
    228 Pages
    by Routledge

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    In her distinguished and hauntingly rendered book, Ann C. Colley provides a fresh insight into Stevenson's multi-voiced South Seas fiction, as well as into the particulars and complications of living within a newly established site of Empire. Bringing to light information from the archives of the London Missionary Society and from other sources, such as the Royal Geographical Society (London), the Writers' Museum (Edinburgh), the Beinecke Library (Yale University), and the Huntington Library (San Marino, California), Colley examines the intricate nature of Robert Louis Stevenson's relation to imperialism. In particular, she investigates Stevenson's complex relationship to the missionary culture that surrounded him during the last six years of his life (1888-1894), revealing hitherto unscouted routes by which to understand Stevenson's experiences while he was cruising among the South Sea islands, and later while he was a resident colonial in Samoa. Beginning with a history of the missionaries in the Pacific that reveals Stevenson's criticism of, yet ultimate support for, their work, and demonstrates how these attitudes helped shape his South Sea fiction, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Colonial Imagination constitutes a major work of reconstruction from archival sources. Subsequent chapters focus on Stevenson's struggles with personal and cultural identity in the South Seas, and his interest in photography, panoramas, and magic lantern shows, revealing Stevenson's sensitivity to the ways light plays upon darkness to create meaning. In addition, Stevenson's serious commitment to political issues and his thoughts about power and nationhood are explored. Finally, Stevenson's recollections of his childhood are engaged not only to suggest an unacknowledged source (the juvenile missionary magazines) for A Child's Garden of Verses, but also to illuminate the generous reach of his imagination that exceeds the formulae of the missionary culture and the boundaries of the colonial construct.

    Contents: Introduction; Stevenson and the South Sea missionaries; Stevenson's pyjamas; Colonies of memory; Lighting up the darkness; Stevenson's political imagination; The juvenile missionary magazines and A Child's Garden of Verses; Bibliography; Index.


    Ann C. Colley is Professor of English at the State University College of New York at Buffalo. She has published numerous articles in such journals as The Kenyon Review, Victorian Literature and Culture, and Victorian Poetry. She is the author of Tennyson and Madness, The Search for Synthesis in Literature and Art: The Paradox of Space, Edward Lear and the Critics, and Nostalgia and Recollection in Victorian Culture.

    '...a considerable work of historical imagination based on a major work of reconstruction... It manages to create a very coherent set of individual essays on Stevenson in the South Pacific while adding considerably to our actual knowledge of Stevenson in this late period.' John Maynard, Professor of English, New York University '...highly original, offering insights into the workings of Stevenson's mind gleaned from sources marginalized, overlooked, or never before assembled with these particular focal points...Useful, thoughtful, exuberant, and amazingly cohesive, this book includes a solid bibliography and index and 26 illustrations...Highly recommended.' Choice '... [a] valuable addition to Stevenson studies...' Journal of Stevenson Studies 'The publication of more images from the Stevenson photographic archive is extremely welcome... this book is very good indeed and should be read by all who are interested in the wider cultural contexts of Stevenson's Pacific work.' Journal of British Studies '... a valuable addition to our knowledge of Stevenson's last years in the South Seas. Using new documentation [...] she is able to add a wealth of detail and nuance to what we know about his relationship to the islands and to the colonial enterprise... Colley has given us a revisionary view of Stevenson's life and work that allows us to see him in all of his complexity... she brings new, often illuminating, information... I always shared in her excitement of discovery, felt that she was bringing Stevenson the person closer to us, and welcomed her well-documented insistence on his nuanced response to colonialism...' ELT '... Colley's is the most thorough study to date of Stevenson's complex attitudes, as evinced both in his life and in his writings, toward missionary culture and missionary work in the late nineteenth century... wealth of interesting detail... broaches large issues by way of small details, but details are unfailingly telling, and they serve to ill