Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Toward the Production of a Text: Time, Space and 'David Balfour.'

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Toward the Production of a Text: Time, Space and 'David Balfour.'

Article excerpt

Kidnapped (1886) is in essence an unfinished story. After David Balfour's adventures at sea and across the highlands of Scotland, he returns to the town of Queensferry, near the site of his original kidnapping, and recovers his rightful estate and proper title, Balfour of Shaws. When we last see him he has said "good-bye" to Alan Breck Stewart on the Corstorphine Hills and drifted down to the doors of the British Linen Company Bank in Edinburgh. David feels as abandoned at the end of his long journey as he was alone at the start. The serial version in Young Folks (1886) contains a bracketed paragraph that follows the text proper and suggests precisely how unfinished the story was:

[Just there, with his hand upon his fortune, the present editor inclines for the time to say farewell to David. How Alan escaped, and what was done about the murder, with a variety of other delectable particulars, may be some day set forth. . . .]

Not until 1892, six years after the publication of Kidnapped, did Robert Louis Stevenson in fact return to his suspended story. He dedicated the new book, David Balfour, to Charles Baxter, his friend and business agent to whom he had dedicated the earlier novel, and thereby reinforced the formal continuity between the two texts: "It is the fate of sequels to disappoint those who have waited for them; and my David, having been left to kick his heels for more than a lustre in the British Linen Company's office, must expect his late reappearance to be greeted with hoots, if not with missiles." Rather than addressing the issue of the six-year gap between the publication of Kidnapped and David Balfour, Stevenson deflects the reader's attention with a charming but digressive remark: "Yet when I remember the days of our explorations I am not without hope." This begins a wonderful meditation on time and memory, austere and even elegiac, from the perspective of a distant exile, irrevocably detached from his native soil. But the novel prefaced by the dedication is not a "sequel" so much as a continuation of the one begun years earlier, with its genesis in Scottish history and law, subjects on which Stevenson was a pronounced authority. Kidnapped was the first volume in an epic tale of eighteenth-century Scotland, of the Jacobite rebellion and its aftermath, the forfeited estates, the disarming act, and the dissolution of the clan system. When he put the book down he was fully aware that the story was only half told. And it was not until he was settled in Samoa, far from the highland moors, that he would finally bring it to completion.

Stevenson first mentioned David Balfour, his work-in-progress, in a letter to J. M. Barrie in February 1892: "It may please you to hear that the continuation of Kidnapped is under way. I have not yet got to Alan, so I do not know if he is still alive, but David seems to have a kick or two in his shanks."(1) His letters brim with excitement when he refers to the new work: "I slid off into David Balfour, some 50 pages of which are drafted, and like me well. Really I think it is spirited."(2) Stevenson, one of the most painstaking and meticulous of writers, surprised himself at the ease and rapidity with which he moved through his new novel: "March 12th. - And I have this day triumphantly finished 15 chapters, 100 pages - being exactly one-half (as near as anybody can guess) of David Balfour . . . could I but do the second half in another month!" (VL, 1:236-37). Stevenson was not Walter Scott, whose capacity to write at length and with speed he both envied and disdained, but on this particular novel he wrote as if his elder countryman were looking over his shoulder: "Friday, 3rd June. . . . The rest of my history since Monday has been unadulterated David Balfour. In season and out of season, night and day, David and his innocent harem . . . are on my mind" (VL, 2:24-25). On 12 September Stevenson wrote Colvin that five more chapters (22 to 27) had been sent to Charles Baxter (VL, 2:65) and by 30 September 1892 he was finished: "David Balfour done, and its author along with it, or nearly so. …

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