from Robert Louis Stevenson Among Criminals in Written Lives by Javier Marias

Stevenson is such an elusive figure, as if his personality had never been fully defined or was as contradictory as that of those characters of his I mentioned earlier. He was a very generous and, especially after the success of Treasure Island, he himself often went without in order to send money to his needier friends, who sometimes turned out to be not quite so needy after all, but failed to tell him so. One of his most famous proverbs was: “Greatheart was deceived. ‘Very well,’ said Greatheart.” He had a highly developed sense of dignity, but he could also be boastful and impertinent. On one occasion, he wrote to Henry James on the subject of Kipling’s emerging talent: “Kipling is by far the most promising young man who has appeared since–ahem–I appeared.” And in another letter to James, written at the beginning of their friendship, he demanded that in the next edition  of Roderick Hudson, James, who was seven years his senior, should remove from particular pages the adjectives “immense” and “tremendous.” The two men admired each other enormously, and James considered Stevenson to be one of the few people with whom he could discuss literary theory. Nowadays, almost no one takes the trouble to read Stevenson’s essays, which are among the liveliest and most perceptive of the past century. When he was still living in Bournemouth, he had an armchair in which no one else sat because it was “Henry James’s armchair,” and James missed him terribly when Stevenson left for good. In 1888, James wrote to him: “You have become a beautiful myth–a kind of unnatural uncomfortable unburied mort.”

translated by Margaret Jull Costa

8 thoughts on “from Robert Louis Stevenson Among Criminals in Written Lives by Javier Marias

  1. My late friend Brian Doyle wrote “The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters,” told in the first person by a young Robert Louis Stevenson. RLS was Brian’s favorite author and the story is told from Stevenson’s time in San Francisco, his marriage, and his friendship with Carson. I think it is brilliant work, daring and insightful, and recommend it highly.

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