Robert Louis Stevenson
Background to Robert Louis Stevenson
Arthur Ransome’s critical study of Robert Louis Stevenson was commissioned in 1910, and mostly written in 1913 – 14. The delay was initially because Ransome’s publisher, Martin Secker, persuaded him to write about Oscar Wilde instead. Finishing Oscar Wilde didn’t help, because Ransome was promptly sued for libel by Lord Alfred Douglas, causing him a year of misery waiting for the case to be heard.
Ransome eventually wrote most of his first draft of Robert Louis Stevenson in St Petersburg and Finland. The Oscar Wilde libel case had forced him to sever his links to Martin Secker, but Methuen had offered to publish his proposed study instead. But various events conspired to prevent him completing and publishing the work. These included the outbreak of the First world War, which increasingly focussed Ransome’s time and energy on Russia and journalism, and Secker’s decision to commission a rival study of Stevenson, by Frank Swinnerton, which he published in October, 1914.
Ransome brought his uncompleted Stevenson manuscript back to Britain in 1914, then left it at his home in Hatch when he left again for Paris on May 4. His wife Ivy subsequently put the manuscript in a parcel addressed to her bank. Exactly why she did this is unknown, as is the route by which the parcel was subsequently deposited with a London solicitor, Linklater and Paines, in 1947, where it remained until re-discovered in 1990. What is known is that Ransome never saw the manuscript again.
Rediscovery and publication
Following its re-discovery, the manuscript was deposited in the Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds Library, where many of Ransome’s papers reside.
In 2011 the unfinished manuscript was published as Arthur Ransome’s Long-lost Study of Robert Louis Stevenson. Edited by Kirsty Nichol-Findlay.
Although (or perhaps because) it is unfinished, Ransome’s manuscript is a fascinating addition to other critical works. At the time he wrote his first fraft, most biographies about Stevenson were biographical and adulatory, whereas Ransome intended that his would be the first critical study of Stevenson’s strengths and weaknesses as a man and a writer.
Published by Boydell & Brewer, 2011.
- In Print
- Boydell & Brewer