Category: Robert Louis Stevenson

book review: The Weir of Hermiston

The result of reading a book that is not finished is to hand you the chance to get an insight into the mind of a storyteller at work. Where Robert Louis Stevenson was going to take this story is left on a cliff-hanger, caused by his death, but trying to work out your own ending leaves you to search the story and the characterisation for clues.

Ultimately if you go in for happy endings then you could have imagined a Romeo and Juliet type story developing between the Laird of Hermiston’s son Archie and the neighbouring family’s daughter. But with the Laird a notorious hanging judge and bitter widower it could easily end as a tragedy with Archie, already banished to the country estate, under more pressure to conform to his father’s wishes.

Either way it was adding up to become a great ending after having already established itself as a well crafted story. Archie, the sole off-spring of a union between a pious solitary woman and an ambitious lawyer, who becomes a hanging judge, ends up in trouble for expressing his anti-corporal punishment views. This brings the young man’s legal career to an end and puts him on the wrong side of a few of his friends in the legal community.

Once banished to his father’s country estate where he is surrounded by women, both the housekeeper and the delights of the neighbours family, he becomes even more solitary. Having set a course of suffering his punishment he determines to put his back into the estate and then he meets and falls in love with Kirstie.

Things are going slowly but surely until the arrival of an acquaintance from Edinburgh who is down on his luck and keen to exploit Archie. He discovers about the love affair and threatens to use it to destabilise father and son relationships even further.

At the point where the pen rested Archie has met up with Kirstie with the intention of breaking off the blossoming affair in order to protect them both from gossip and intrigue. She doesn’t understand and is wounded by his apparent concern about others.

That’s where it stops but as already mentioned it could head in various directions and is so well crafted that whichever turn it took it would no doubt have been a pleasure to have continued on with it. Love no doubt would have conquered and the hanging judge would have met his match in a showdown with his son and hopefully the hanger on sucking the goodwill out of Archie would have had his comeuppance.

Lunchtime read: Weir of Hermiston

The book ends with Archie and his girlfriend arguing as he under duress tries to inform her that for the sake of her reputation they part.

The suggestion that they nip their young love in the bud comes from Archie’s bitter Aunt and the viper in his nest his lawyer friend who is keen to enjoy a heavy dose of revenge.

The plan was to then turn back to the introduction at the start and discover where the novel was planned to be heading before Stevenson was unfortunately struck down and died at 41. Even in the brief 115 pages you can see he was building a novel that could have gone in quite a few directions. The foundations where there with a strong father and son relationship, a budding love affair and the characters on the side who are quite capable of muddying the waters.

A review will follow soon…

Lunchtime read: Weir of Hermiston

The Romeo and Juliet story begins and it could be quite a straight forward plot development from there but Stevenson decides to throw another character into the mix.

Another lawyer, who has fallen on hard times and seems to have a vindictive streak, turns up on Archie’s door and soon sets out to find out why the Laird keeps disappearing without him. He manages to pin down the relationship with the young girl from a rival estate and then starts to turn the knife.

He threatens to tell Archie’s father and her family and all the meanwhile spreads gossip around the parts about Archie implying that the man is unstable and has left a dark secret behind.

Your heart goes out to Archie who is being so badly betrayed and you hope that had the novel been finished justice would have been done.

Last bit tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Weir of Hermiston

The blurb on the back of the page describes this unfinished book as a masterpiece. It is hard to agree with that before you have finished but you can see where this is going. Having established the background of Archie Wier through the stories of his mother and father the story now widens with the movement of Archie to the family home in Hermiston.

Waiting for him in the family home is an old spinster as housekeeper and a lot of solitude. He seems to be aloof but he is just unable to break into the community. But inevitably there is a beautiful young girl and the Laird looks set to have a romantic encounter.

The problem is that the beauty is the niece of the housekeeper and before Archie has a chance to get to know her he faces the challenge of healing a minor family rift.

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: Weir of Hermiston

It inevitably takes a couple of books before you can start to get into a position where you can start to suggest the themes that drive an author on.

But after a short story collection, including the infamous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is fair to say that what seems to drive Stevenson on is ideas around the question of personality. In this story it is the idea of the conflict between good and evil that exists in a single person that troubles the lead character Archie Weir.

Brought up by his mother, a god fearing but frightened woman, he rejects the world of his father, a well known ‘hanging judge’ because he views his world as coarse and evil. But with the mother dying Archie has little choice but to live in his father’s shadow.

He does so until he reaches the age of 19 when after starting his legal studies and witnessing the trial and execution under his father’s command of a man that arouses pity in him. He accuses his father publicly of murder and after a confrontation between father and son he aggress to become a landowner on the family estate in Hermiston.

On the one hand he wants to hate his father but whenever he feels a spark of kindness he is torn and he remembers the biblical teachings to honour parents. That source of distress pushed him into a position of complete vulnerability when face on with the hanging judge.

More tomorrow…

book review – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other stories


Just as with Frankenstein the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is well know, mainly through film adaptations. The first thing that strikes you is the length of the story, which is firmly a novella. Robert Louis Stevenson was someone interested in the line between life and death and the possibilities of pushing the boundaries.

This collection of stories reminds you of Poe in terms of its darkness and tendency to the horrific but it also shows a writer using his craft to raise questions. The title tale is of course about the battle in us all between good and evil. The worrying conclusions seem to be that given the chance evil will win and Hyde finally consumes the respectable Jekyll. The horror of the transformation is the extent to which the evil personality will go to split away from goodness. In the case of Hyde it starts as rudeness but becomes murder.

The reader knows long before the friends of Jekyll what is happening but the twist at the end of the story is not clear until you get to it and the conclusions like Frankenstein are not just about good versus bad but also about the consequences of man playing God. Both stories have in common that feeling that those men who find they can master nature will ultimately become victims of their arrogance.

Other stories that stand out from this collection that is really well put together in Barnes & Noble edition that has am introduction and plenty of other material to extend the reading experience are also touching on the consequences of playing with nature.

The young doctors who murder to gather dissection specimens are confronted after digging a grave with one of their victims. Thrawn Janet has a vicar facing the devil possessing his housekeeper and the suicide club is again about murder.

Bear in mind the period when these stories were written and the strides that were being taken in science and the way that man’s knowledge of nature was rapidly advancing and you can imagine these stories not only being received by a grateful audience but one that shared Stevenson’s fears about the future. It is also hard to mentally split the Jekyll and Hyde story away from the Jack the Ripper events in Whitechapel. It is almost as if the fictional character stepped off the pages and into the streets of East London. It would have been even uncannier had Hyde been based in the East End rather than Soho but the similarities are startling.

Just as was the case with Frankenstein this is a book that is worth reading because it is the original and not altered by modern interpretation.

Version read – Barnes & Noble Classics paperback

book review – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other stories


Just as with Frankenstein the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is well know, mainly through film adaptations. The first thing that strikes you is the length of the story, which is firmly a novella. Robert Louis Stevenson was someone interested in the line between life and death and the possibilities of pushing the boundaries.

This collection of stories reminds you of Poe in terms of its darkness and tendency to the horrific but it also shows a writer using his craft to raise questions. The title tale is of course about the battle in us all between good and evil. The worrying conclusions seem to be that given the chance evil will win and Hyde finally consumes the respectable Jekyll. The horror of the transformation is the extent to which the evil personality will go to split away from goodness. In the case of Hyde it starts as rudeness but becomes murder.

The reader knows long before the friends of Jekyll what is happening but the twist at the end of the story is not clear until you get to it and the conclusions like Frankenstein are not just about good versus bad but also about the consequences of man playing God. Both stories have in common that feeling that those men who find they can master nature will ultimately become victims of their arrogance.

Other stories that stand out from this collection that is really well put together in Barnes & Noble edition that has am introduction and plenty of other material to extend the reading experience are also touching on the consequences of playing with nature.

The young doctors who murder to gather dissection specimens are confronted after digging a grave with one of their victims. Thrawn Janet has a vicar facing the devil possessing his housekeeper and the suicide club is again about murder.

Bear in mind the period when these stories were written and the strides that were being taken in science and the way that man’s knowledge of nature was rapidly advancing and you can imagine these stories not only being received by a grateful audience but one that shared Stevenson’s fears about the future. It is also hard to mentally split the Jekyll and Hyde story away from the Jack the Ripper events in Whitechapel. It is almost as if the fictional character stepped off the pages and into the streets of East London. It would have been even uncannier had Hyde been based in the East End rather than Soho but the similarities are startling.

Just as was the case with Frankenstein this is a book that is worth reading because it is the original and not altered by modern interpretation.

Version read – Barnes & Noble Classics paperback

Lunchtime read: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other stories

This collection finishes with two stories that both concern murder and the idea of the moral consequences of those acts.

The Body-Snatcher
A chance meeting in the pub between a practicing doctor and one locally known only as such as a nickname meet and the odd scene between them leads to the village trying to find out the history. The words uttered by the local man to the doctor from London, “Do you still see him?” get minds wandering.

The story turns out to be a tale of murder and ghoulishness with a man killed and then dissected by students turning up in one piece in a grave miles from Edinburgh. Just as with the evil that starts to creep up on Dr. Jekyll the sense of boundaries blur and it is only with the intervention of higher powers – the devil presumably – that the end comes to the crimes. At least both of the doctors get the chance to live another day.

Markheim

The thief driven to murder because of bad luck on the stock exchange meets with the devil that tells him that he can only escape by killing the maid and then making his escape. But as the devil boasts of knowing and watching Markheim make the descent from thief to murderer the focus of the story takes a change and as he opens the door to the maid he announced his guilt and asks for the police.

It is a positive way to end a collection of stories that question the evil in all of us and just have far it needs to go before that consumes us and makes us not just perpetrators of foul deeds but beyond saving.

A review will follow soon…

Lunchtime read: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other stories

The Suicide Club part II
The prince of Bohemia tries to control the activities of the president of the suicide club but those he chooses to chaparone him end up being killed and in the end the only way to bring the matter to a head is to face the murderer in a duel.

Before it gets to that part though there are a couple of chapters that both have fantastic twists and show off how inventive a plot maker Stevenson is. He manages to use the same devices of disguise and innocent embroilment in something very dark without it ever feeling repetitive.

The Suicide Club is really an excuse for a murderer to enjoy lying his trade and introducing others into the web of guilt that spreads out from being involved and complicit in the act of killing. At the end there is a sense of relief that the prince has killed his great rival but a sense that here was potentially a great literary feud like Holmes and Moriarty that could have been kept going longer.

Thrawn Janet
This is very Edgar Allan Poe with a vicar on a remote part of Scotland intervening to save a woman the other villagers describe as a witch only to come home from seeing and chasing the devil in a graveyard to find him possessing the woman. He wakes to find her corpse on the door and it is only as he calls on God and lightening strikes her down that she finally stops coming after the vicar. As a result he remains God fearing and frightens the villagers with his warnings against the devil. Nearly the entire story is told in a Scottish dialect, which reminds you of some of the techniques used by Kipling.

More tomorrow…

Lunchtime read: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other stories

A Lodging for the Night
A poet down on his luck is sitting with friend’s playing cards when suddenly the evening takes a turn with one of the players deciding to murder another. The subject of the story Francis Villon (makes you think of villain) follows him worrying about the gallows as he leaves his friends running away from the fear of being linked to the crime. He discovers he was pick pocketed by his ‘friends’ and starts to worry that he might freeze to death like an old woman he discovers in a door way. After wandering round he manages to gain entry to an old man’s house. The old solider talks of honour and valour and tries to turn the criminally minded Villon away from a life of living in the gutter but he fails. The fear of the gallows is nowhere near as strong as the desire to steal and support a life of irresponsibility.

The Suicide Club part one
A prince and his friend enjoy dressing up in disguise and trawling through the streets of London. They come across a young man who reveals he is planning suicide and that he has paid his membership dues to the suicide club where they pick not just the victim but also the murderer. The prince and friend are appalled at the way depressed men are compromised into becoming murderers. But there is something also addictive about the thrill of the potential of losing your life on the turn of a card. The prince returns for the second night and picks the wrong card and is prepared for his death. His friend however rounds up the members of the club and liquidates the society saving the life of the prince. That ends the first part but the adventures continue.

By now, with a few stories into this collection, there is a sense of style. It reminds you in terms of the landscape of Poe and Conan Doyle but at the same time there is a lighter touch here with a more moral message. There are several biblical references throughout the text that give the impression that not everyone is necessarily evil from start to finish.

More tomorrow…