Thursday, 13 November 2014

Robert Louis Stevenson

Today is Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday. Or would have been if he’d made it to 164; you know what I mean.

Except for those with a special interest, Stevenson is now mostly remembered for ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Treasure hidden in deep, dark, damp and smelly caves, powerful people who seem frightfully nice and good but are really utterly evil (and vice-versa), the child who proves to be the most powerful of all — as good art always does, Stevenson’s work moves us by its half-hidden appeal to our secret hopes and fears: things that only began, slowly, to be talked of explicitly after about 1900, the year Freud’s ‘Traumdeutung’ was published.

There have been several films of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Most are made unwatchable by Hollywood crassness; the best is the one in which Spencer Tracy does some disturbing on-camera transformations between the boringly nice Jekyll and the interestingly wicked Hyde.

Like many an intelligent Scot — and Stevenson was as Scots as single malt — he was happiest as far away as possible from his birthplace: he lived — and died — in Samoa. Here he is where he longed to be, albeit with his family:

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