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  • Print publication year: 1982
  • Online publication date: June 2011

5 - The Sea Cook: a Study in the Art of Robert Louis Stevenson


Most readers agree with Henry James that Treasure Island is perfect of its kind; and they also agree that this is a kind quite different from any that James himself tried or wished to work in. What is more doubtful is in what way the book should be taken. Mr Robin Wood and M. François Truffaut have been accused of taking some of Alfred Hitchcock's films too seriously; and it would seem that R. L. Stevenson presents a similar critical problem. I know one critic who was rebuked for introducing Treasure Island into a literary discussion: ‘we may leave Long John Silver and his wooden leg to our children and our childhood’. Is that all that needs to be said (even if Long John Silver had had a wooden leg)? Certainly the aesthetic satisfactoriness of Treasure Island is inseparable from the completeness with which Stevenson fulfilled his intention: to write in a particular genre of ‘communicative’ art – in this case, narrative fiction with an obvious point or purpose. His story has continued, through several generations, to attract voluntary readers of the sort he intended to attract. It has been called the best boys' book ever written. And I heard recently that in a very tough ‘blackboard jungle’ type of school it was eagerly devoured in preference to the present-day fiction about barrow boys in the East End which authority thought more suitable. There seems, then, some point in asking how Stevenson achieved this success.

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The Definition of Literature and Other Essays
  • Online ISBN: 9780511552854
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