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How Robert Louis Stevenson came to live, die, and be buried in Samoa (2018) (weeklystandard.com)
46 points by drjohnson 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments

When living there, Stevenson wrote the beach of Falesa, a thriller about the rivalry between the white protagonist, a newcomer copra trader, and a colonial of the old guard who has become somewhat of a cult leader on the island.

It's a short read, but exciting, and still feels very modern. There's a touching love story in the background between the trader and his native wife, that feels fresh and open-minded and gives the story more color than for example the oppressive sickness and despair of the more famous Heart of Darkness, which is also a novella that essentially develops the same themes.

I'd recommend Stevenson. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide is still a great mystery, ideal for that lazy afternoon on the beach.

I also enjoy his books, especially Treasure Island is a book I go back and read again once in a while.

Funny enough, I just realized I hardly know anything about the author, reading up about his life now.

For those who don't know Treasure Island is public domain and you can read it right now for free on web!

1. https://bubblin.io/cover/treasure-island-by-robert-louis-ste...

2. https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/120

Required trivia: In Samoa, Stevenson eventually donated his birthday to someone with better use for it:


I found it interesting that many early to mid XX century American English and Continental authors of renown admired Stevenson (who enjoyed some fame while alive) but was not a favorite of literary critics by a long shot, so much so he was basically “delisted” in the 70s from the Oxford Anthology of English Literature, but has since enjoyed a rebound.

Very interesting life given his bouts with poor health. Made the most of it.

He sure did have an interesting life. He came out to California to marry and ended up staying a while. There’s a state park just north of San Francisco named after him.


Stevenson wasn't a "great writer" in the sense of writing literature for literature's sake, so it is natural that critics wouldn't be fond of him. He was basically the John Grisham of his time -- an author of enjoyable novels -- and some, like "Treasure Island", remain popular to this day.

Kind of depressing that the book only has one reader review and ranks 1.6 million on the U.S. Amazon store, which means it's barely selling (I'm a publisher; that number translates to just a few copies per month at most). That's despite a boatload of editorial reviews like the featured article.

It could be because the retail hardcover and Kindle prices are over $30 (!) but I am also wondering if the market for biographies is completely saturated, especially by big books by marquee authors. I've recently read the Da Vinci and Einstein bios by Walter Isaacson, both of which took ages to get through. There's just not much time to read other stuff, like the Carreyou bio of Theranos I've been eyeing at the library.

Incidentally, the Kindle edition of the Stevenson biography is currently on sale for $3.99 on the U.S. Amazon store. I bought it based on this review.

My Dad named our first nice sailboat Vailima, named after Stevenson's house. I means, if I remember correctly, 'house on 5 rivers.'

The weekly standard is an 'interesting' source. Did you also notice the featured article, https://www.weeklystandard.com/holmes-lybrand/fact-check-was....

One of the most fascinating things I've read by Stevenson was his description of his creative process, the success of which he attributed to the "little people" in his dreams, or what he called his "Brownies".

Referring to himself in the third person, Stevenson writes:

"This honest fellow had long been in the custom of setting himself to sleep with tales, and so had his father before him; but these were irresponsible inventions, told for the teller's pleasure, with no eye to the crass public or the thwart reviewer: tales where a thread might be dropped, or one adventure quitted for another, on fancy's least suggestion. So that the little people who manage man's internal theatre had not as yet received a very rigorous training; and played upon their stage like children who should have slipped into the house and found it empty, rather than like drilled actors performing a set piece to a huge hall of faces.

"But presently my dreamer began to turn his former amusement of story-telling to (what is called) account; by which I mean that he began to write and sell his tales. Here was he, and here were the little people who did that part of his business, in quite new conditions.

"The stories must now be trimmed and pared and set upon all fours, they must run from a beginning to an end and fit (after a manner) with the laws of life; the pleasure, in one word, had become a business; and that not only for the dreamer, but for the little people of his theatre. These understood the change as well as he. When he lay down to prepare himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and profitable tales; and after he had dozed off in his box-seat, his little people continued their evolutions with the same mercantile designs.

"All other forms of dream deserted him but two: he still occasionally reads the most delightful books, he still visits at times the most delightful places; and it is perhaps worthy of note that to these same places, and to one in particular, he returns at intervals of months and years, finding new field-paths, visiting new neighbours, beholding that happy valley under new effects of noon and dawn and sunset. But all the rest of the family of visions is quite lost to him: the common, mangled version of yesterday's affairs, the raw-head-and-bloody-bones nightmare, rumoured to be the child of toasted cheese -- these and their like are gone; and, for the most part, whether awake or asleep, he is simply occupied -- he or his little people -- in consciously making stories for the market.

"This dreamer (like many other persons) has encountered some trifling vicissitudes of fortune. When the bank begins to send letters and the butcher to linger at the back gate, he sets to belabouring his brains after a story, for that is his readiest money-winner; and, behold! at once the little people begin to bestir themselves in the same quest, and labour all night long, and all night long set before him truncheons of tales upon their lighted theatre.

"No fear of his being frightened now; the flying heart and the frozen scalp are things by-gone; applause, growing applause, growing interest, growing exultation in his own cleverness (for he takes all the credit), and at last a jubilant leap to wakefulness, with the cry, "I have it, that'll do!" upon his lips: with such and similar emotions he sits at these nocturnal dramas, with such outbreaks, like Claudius in the play, he scatters the performance in the midst.

"Often enough the waking is a disappointment: he has been too deep asleep, as I explain the thing; drowsiness has gained his little people, they have gone stumbling and maundering through their parts; and the play, to the awakened mind, is seen to be a tissue of absurdities. And yet how often have these sleepless Brownies done him honest service, and given him, as he sat idly taking his pleasure in the boxes, better tales than he could fashion for himself."


"Who are they, then? and who is the dreamer?

"Well, as regards the dreamer, I can answer that, for he is no less a person than myself; -- as I might have told you from the beginning, only that the critics murmur over my consistent egotism; -- and as I am positively forced to tell you now, or I could advance but little farther with my story.

"And for the Little People, what shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping is the Brownies' part beyond contention; but that which is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then."


I'm reminded of the thought-creatures inside Riley's mind from Inside Out, who act out her dreams in the manner of a television production (and install a "Reality Distortion Filter" on the camera to make the dream seem real).

I'm also reminded of the mercenary changes that occur in a programmer's mind when they start programming for a living, and must abandon the exploratory techniques they employed on projects tgey built for their own amusement in favor of estimates, sprint commitments, and the like.

Although "Brownies" is rather cringe-worthy, I routinely write out problems just before going to sleep, and often awake with solutions.

Why do you think it's cringeworthy?

Stevenson was likely referring to this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownie_%28folklore%29

"A brownie or broonie (Scots), also known as a brùnaidh or gruagach (Scottish Gaelic), is a household spirit from British folklore that is said to come out at night while the owners of the house are asleep and perform various chores and farming tasks."

That appears to be pretty unobjectionable to me.

Thanks. Although I still wonder about the origin.

FYI: Moore (1943) Defoe, Stevenson, and the Pirates. https://sci-hub.tw/https://www.jstor.org/stable/2871539

I just happen to be reading Treasure Island for the first time. Well worth a read!

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