References to Stevenson and his works in works of fiction and films
See also: Portrayals of Robert Louis Stevenson in fiction, films and poetry
Soseki Natsume (1904-6). Wagahai wa neko de aru. Transl. Aiko Ito & Graeme Wilson (2001). I Am a Cat. North Clarendon, Vermont, USA: Tuttle Publishing.
A classic of modern Japanese literature: a world-weary stray kitten comments on the follies and foibles of contemporary upper-middle-class Japanese society (especially academics and hypochondriacs). There are three references to RLS in the book, showing his worldwide fame at the time:
‘Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have written his novels while lying flat on his belly’
‘A man by the name of William Ernest Henley, in criticizing Robert Louis Stevenson, said that whenever Stevenson passed in front of a mirror, he would not be satisfied unless he looked at himself’
‘If one is certain to die, what’s the best way to do so? Once this second question had been formulated, it was only a matter of time before the Suicide Club would be founded.’
P.D. Ouspensky (, 1915). Kinemadrama. St. Petersburg. English translation: Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. New York and London: Holme, 1947. Ivan Osokin is unable to correct his past mistakes, even when given the chance to relive his life by a magician. Transported back to his schooldays again, he tests that his memory of the magician is not just a dream by remembering the English he learnt after school. He does this by recalling the beginning of Stevenson’s ‘Song of the Morrow’ (ch. 8). The mystical and fatal repetition of events in Stevenson’s tale is clearly presented as a key to Ivan’s experience. Later, he befriends an English girl in Paris and starts to talk about how everything repeats itself. She asks him ‘Do you know Stevenson’s—Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Song of the Morrow”?’ and quotes from memory the beginning and the end. ‘It’s amazing,’ says Osokin to himself. ‘Why do these words arouse so many memories in me? I feel that the memories come directly form the words, apart from the their meaning, as if I know something connected with them but every year forget it more and more’. ‘It is remarkable, that tale,’ he says aloud. ‘How do you understand “the man in the hood”? Who is he or what is he?’ ‘I don’t know,’ the girl answers slowly, ‘and I feel that it’s not necessary even to try to understand: such things must simply be felt. I feel it as I feel music, and interpretations of music have always seemed ridiculous to me.’ (ch. 22).
Proust, Marcel (1927). Le Temps retrouvé. (Pléiade 1989, 5 : 294). [Dr Cottard says that ‘mais c’est tout à fait un grand écrivain, Stevenson, je vous assure . . . un très grand, l’égal des plus grands.’ This is in a pastiche of the Goncourt journal.]
Edith Wharton (1928), The Children, ch. 20: 'Boyne had removed his eyes from Mrs. Sellars's face, and was staring out at the familiar outline of the great crimson mountains beyond the balcony. A phrase of Stevenson's about "the lovely and detested scene" (from "The Ebb-tide," he thought?) strayed through his mind as he gazed. It was hateful to him to think that he might hereafter come to associate those archangelic summits with Mrs. Lullmer's smooth impervious face, and Mr. Dobree's knowledge of the inner history of the Westway divorce.'
The RLS passage alluded to occurs in Chapter 1: ‘The moon [...] threw the marvel of her Southern brightness over the same lovely and detested scene: the island mountains crowned with the perennial island cloud [...].'
Crowley, Aleister (1929). In Moonchild, ch. 10 refers to RLS and Long John Silver.
Characters of the novel are walking through the Forest of Fontainebleau at night and, at
dawn, pay due worship to ʻthe Sun-God, Ra, the Hawk, upon the heights that overlook
the hamlet of Barbizon. Thence, like Chanticleer himself, he [Cyril Grey, one of the two
stand-ins for Crowley himself] woke the people of the Inn, who, in memory of the days
Stevenson had spent with him, honour his ashes by emulating the morality of Long John
The allusion probably means that the inn people were apparently friendly but basically dishonest. The Forest of Fontainebleau is described in two essays by RLS: ʻForest Notesʼ (1876) and ʻFontainebleau: Village Communities of Paintersʼ (1884) as well as in a section of The Wrecker (1892).
In the last chapter of Neil M. Gunn's Highland River (1937), the protagonist, has returned after the First World War to the Highland river of his youth and sees the remains of prehistoric Picts Houses and is reminded of S's line 'Hills of sheep, and the howes of the silent vanished races' and about the way the memory of these places has remained with him: ‘My heart remembers how.'
In Charles Williams's novel Descent into Hell (1937), Mrs Samile speaks only in flattering snippets of the truth, trying to flatter
others' egos but never having any grasp on anything substantial.
'Have you got everything you want?' she says in one scene; and continues: 'But it¹s a good thing not to have,
isn¹t it? [...] I mean, who was it said it¹s better to be
always walking than to get there?'.
On arriving for a theatrical performance, the poet-hero Stanhope shows her where to sit, saying, 'You won¹t mind getting there for once, will you? Rather than travelling hopefully about this place the whole afternoon.' (Eerdmans edition, p. 179). These are references to Stevenson's essay 'El Dorado' ('to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive').
In John Ford's film adaptation of How Green Was My Valley (1941) the local minister recommends (as therapeutic reading to Huw) the Bible and Treasure Island (in Richard Llewellyn's novel (1939) Huw choses to have read to him the Bible, Boswell's Life of Johnson and Mill's A System of Logic).
In John Forrd's 1945 movie, They Were Expendable, John Wayne gives a funeral eulogy at the funeral of two sailors in a small Pacific island church, ending with Stevenson’s ‘Requiem’. And in John Ford's film 'The Wings of Eagles (1957), Wayne says the same lines of Stevenson's poem every time he returns homeHugh MacDiarmid, ‘In Memorian James Joyce’ (1955). This long poem, written in the 1930s and revised in the early 1950s, includes many linguistic and world literature references, including one to The Wrong Box:
R.L. Stevenson’s Joseph Finsbury
‘With a polyglot Testament in one hand
And a phrase book in the other,
Groping his way among the speakers of eleven European languages,’
- Joseph discoursing in the Tregonwell Arms
To the inmates of a public bar [...]
- Only an Englishman yet much to my liking
And one I resemble in a little way perhaps
William Humphrey (1958). Home from the Hill. New York: Knopf. This is a modern Southern-states tragedy; the allusion to Stevenson’s poem ‘Requiem’ in the title fits in well with the death-wish of the mother and connects indirectly with the novel’s attack on the myth of hunting and masculinity. Made into a film directed by Vincente Minelli with Robert Mitchum (1960). A song with the same title (written by Bronislau Kaper & Mack David) was intended for the film but not used. Recorded by The Kingston Trio, it was issued as the flip-side of a single (‘El Matador’, 1960) and then on The Capitol Years (1995). The song starts: ‘Home is the hunter. Home from the hill.Home is the dreamer. Home from the hill…’
Fahrenheit 451 by François Truffaut (1966) includes a final scene in which ‘Book People’, members of resistance hiding in the countryside, are each memorizing a great book to save it from destruction. In the closing scene, snow is falling in this woodland community of literary outlaws. A dying grandfather helping his grandson learn his book. The boy is having some trouble with lapses of memory. We see the boy - who now knows the book by heart - reciting, unaware that his grandfather (at his side) has passed away. The book is Weir of Hermiston and the character of Archie is mentioned in the boy’s recitation. The last sentence of the Weir passage is not in Stevenson and seems to have been added by Truffaut and his screenwriter Jean-Louis Richard: ‘He was more afraid of death than of anything else. And he died as he thought he would, while the first snows of winter fell.’. In the film, the old man is dying and the snow is falling around him, so he is making himself into a part of the narrative.
Fowles, John (1969). The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Ch. 49. [‘This—the fact that every Victorian had two minds—is the one piece of equipment we must always take back with us on our travels back into the nineteenth century . . . Never was the record so completely confused, never a public façade so successfully passed off as the truth on a gullible posterity; and this, I think, makes the best guidebook to the age very possibly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Behind its latterday Gothic lies a very profound and epoch-revealing truth’]
Robert E. Howard (first published 1975). ʻFlintʼs Passingʼ. [Robert E. Howard (1906-36), author of Conan the Barbarian and many other adventure and fantasy fiction stories.]
Bring aft the rum! Lifeʼs measureʼs overfull
And down the sides the splashing liquor slops
To mingle in the unknown seas of Doubt.
Bring aft the rum! The tide is going out;
Here is the map; let Silver have the gold.
Gems, wenches, rum — aye, I have shed my fling.
I guzzled Life as I have guzzled rum.
Run up the sails — throw off the anchor chain —
The courses sway, the straining braces thrum,
The breezes lift, the scents of ocean come —
Bring aft the rum! Iʼll put to sea again.
Notte Italiana (1987), dir. Carlo Mazzacurati (for Nanni Moretti’s Sacher Film): mystery with film noir touches about provincial lawyer in North Italy who uncovers corruption and crimes connected with land speculation. After almost getting killed himself, the protagonist goes back to his home city. The film ends with a boy reading the end of Treasure Island, concluding with the book’s last sentence: a parallel closure (but non-closure) to another adventure and a suggestion of our need for stories to understand existence.
Ian Rankin (1991).. Hide and Seek. Rankin admits that this was his second attempt to update RLS's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to present-day Edinburgh. Each chapter starts with a quotation from JH.
Michele Mari (1997). ‘La freccia nera’. Tu, sanguinosa infanzia. Milano: Mondadori. 85-99. The narrator remembers a summer in his grandparents’ house when he read La freccia nera [The Black Arrow]. Shortly finishing it, his father comes on a visit and, unusually, brings a present, a book – La freccia nera ! The narrator pretends to be pleased, pretends to read it, even calculating the time to turn the page, says he likes it—getting uncomfortably further into deceit, until he realizes that the two books are different. Then follows a masterly phrase-by-phrase comparison (pp. 94-8) of the first sentence, presented as the gradual discovery by the young reader of marvellous difference. Afterwards he feels like phoning his father on some pretext to say how much he liked the book and its fascinating language—but then doesn’t.
At the beginning of the second half of Marco Tullio Giordano's film La meglio gioventù (2003), Nicola reads Treasure Island to his daughter Sara after Sara's mother has left home to join the Red Brigade terrorists; later Sara reads the same book to her younger cousins.
Bob Dylan (2004). Chronicles, vol 1. Scott Warmuth, collector of allusions to other writers in Bob Dylan’s Chronicles (A Bob Dylan Bookshelf), says ‘Dylan uses material from at least four Robert Louis Stevenson short stories in Chronicles: Volume One. "The Story of a Lie" is the story that he uses the most.’ For example, Stevenson's 'My father is the best man I know in all this world; he is worth a hundred of me, only he doesn’t understand me' is re-used by Dylan: 'my father was the best man in the world and probably worth a hundred of me, but he didn’t understand me. The town he lived in and the town I lived in were not the same...' (Chronicles vol 1, p. 108)
Alberto Meschiari (2004). Le lanterne di stagno. Dieci racconti di commento a Stevenson [Tin lanterns. Ten short stories as a commentary to Stevenson]. Pisa: ETS. Alberto Meschiari writes: ‘My ten short stories develop the idea that the sole light which illuminates our life’s path is that of our inner lantern, however weak that may be.’ The ten stories are about the small pleasures and treasured memories that give a meaning to life, commentaries or exemplifications of Stevenson’s presentation of the importance of the imaginative life in ‘The Lantern Bearers’ (an essay that Meschiari, a lecturer in moral philosophy at the Scuola Normale di Pisa, first met with through William James, who praises it in The Will to Believe, 1897). The essay is never directly named, but in the seventh story a traveller from Scotland asks the narrator if he knows ‘the story of the lantern-bearers’ and later on in the same story a part of the essay is quoted and paraphrased.. The first story, an evocation of childhood holidays in the country, ends with the grandfather showing him a secret lantern: ‘It doesn’t give much light, it’s true, but when you’re grown up you’ll realize it’s all the light we have’; and the last story, table talk about treasured memories of small pleasures, ends with ‘It was night once again, darkness all around, no land in sight, the lighthouse to the north-west no longer visible, and up above not even the stars. I raised my tin lantern on the tossing deck among the waves. It didn’t give much light, to tell the truth, but it was the only light I had’.
James Robertson (2006). The Testament of Gideon Mack. London: Hamish Hamilton. Also Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2007; New York: Viking Books, 2007.
Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde is a clear influence (while Hogg’s Justified Sinner provides a model for the basic structure) and in the story the young Gideon is fascinated by Stevenson’s tale.
[‘A strange but compelling manuscript, supposedly the memoir of a Church of Scotland minister who has gone missing, arrives on the desk of an Edinburgh publisher. It tells the story of Gideon Mack, a son of the manse raised in chilly austerity and dominated by a joyless father, who claims to have met the Devil.’ http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780141023359,00.html]
Kinloch, David (2008). ‘Thyrsus’. Journal of Stevenson Studies 5: 34-5.
A two-page prose-poem about hearing a video in a ‘gloomy gallery’ of another writer rhapsodising about RLS’s walking stick: wonderfully ‘here’, once ‘actually’ held by ‘his hand’. He too attempts to ‘lean in’ and connect directly with the fictional worlds Stevenson created, through mixed recollections of ‘Falesá’, Treasure Island and Weir. T he ‘capricious meanderings’ of the piece seem to reflect those of the Bacchantes’ thyrsus in the Baudelaire epigraph and the discourse about the stick being ‘actually here’ is deflated in a final note that claims that RLS never owned a walking stick.
Saadi, Suhayl (2008). ‘Five Seconds to Midnight’. Journal of Stevenson Studies 5: 36-52.
Saadi, Glasgow-based novelist and dramatist, contributes ‘an extract from a previously unpublished novel’ by RLS, preceded by a postmodern introduction (about the MS, found in 2059, ‘alleged’ to be by RLS) and followed by an Afterword beginning with the truncated sentence ‘Well the truth is...’. The ‘Stevenson manuscript’ is not similar to S’s style, though perhaps its deliberately opaqueness resembles texts like The New Arabian Nights. The first-person female narrator wakes in a strange room and meets the ‘young gentleman’ owner of the house and they talk (with much use if ‘tis and thee) allusively about what happened the previous day and about his duel the following day. In the Afterword Saadi explains his attempt to reflect the ‘ playful and almost magical elements’ of RLS’s work and expresses an appreciation of his velvet jackets.
Seamus Heaney, ‘In the Attic’, The New Yorker, February 2009
Like Jim Hawkins aloft in the crosstrees
Of Hispaniola, nothing underneath him
But still green water and clean bottom sand,
The ship aground, the canted mast far out
Above a seafloor where striped fish pass in shoals
— And when they’ve passed, the face of Israel Hands
That rose in the shrouds before Jim shot him dead
Appears to rise again . . . “But he was dead enough,”
The story says, “being both shot and drowned.”
A birch tree planted twenty years ago
Comes between the Irish Sea and me
At the attic skylight, a man marooned
In his own loft, a boy
Shipshaped in the crow’s nest of a life,
Airbrushed to and fro, wind-drunk, braced
By all that’s thrumming up from keel to masthead,
Rubbing his eyes to believe them and this most
Buoyant, billowy, topgallant birch.
Ghost-footing what was then the terra firma
Of hallway linoleum, Grandfather now appears
Above me just back from the matinée,
His voice awaver like the draft-prone screen
They’d set up in the Club Rooms earlier.
“And Isaac Hands,” he asks, “was Isaac in it?”
His memory of the name awaver, too,
His mistake perpetual, once and for all,
Like the single splash when Israel’s body fell.
As I age and blank on names,
As my uncertainty on stairs
Is more and more the light-headedness
Of a cabin boy’s first time on the rigging,
As the memorable bottoms out
Into the irretrievable,
It’s not that I can’t imagine still
That slight untoward rupture and world-tilt
As a wind freshened and the anchor weighed.
Kevin MacNeil (2010). A Method Actor's Guide to Jekyll and
Hyde. Edinburgh: Polygon.
[Opens with aspiring young actor Robert Lewis cycling across Edinburgh, on his way to rehearsals for a forthcoming show: he is to play both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in a stage adaptation of Stevensonʼs book... A comic novel exploring many forms of duality, including a satyrical look at the acting profession, and in which the reading of Stevensonʼs novella and books on Zen buddhism help the co-protagonist understand Robert Lewis.]
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