Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Class

By John Kucich | Go to book overview

Chapter One
MELANCHOLY MAGIC
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON'S EVANGELICAL
ANTI-IMPERIALISM

Most vain, most generous, sternly critical,
Buffoon and poet, lover and sensualist;
A deal of Ariel, just a streak of Puck,
Much Antony, of Hamlet most of all,
And something of the Shorter Catechist.
—W.E.HENLEY, “RLS”

With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is now no
longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. And the life
that I now live in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son
of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.
—GALATIANS 2:19–20

ROBERT Louis Stevenson is an exemplary figure with which to begin a cultural analysis of masochism. Masochistic plots and themes abound in his fiction, whether in the stylized, fin-de-siècle mode of “The Suicide Club” (1878) and The Dynamiter (1885), in popular works, such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), or in stories drawing on Scottish folklore, such as “Thrawn Janet” (1881) and “The Body Snatcher” (1881). Masochistic impulses also played a legendary role in his life. There was the self-imposed exile in the wilderness of 1878—his whimsically morbid response when Fanny Osbourne returned to her husband.1 There was also his nearly fatal pursuit of Fanny from France to California, in defiance of his deteriorating health and her ambivalence.2 Stevenson once mused, with an uncharacteristic lapse of irony, that he

1 The biographical account most alert to masochistic elements in this pilgrimage is Rich-
ard Holmes, Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985; New York: Vintage,
1996), esp. pp. 38–58.

2 Good accounts are J. C. Furnas, Voyage to Windward: The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson
(New York: William Sloane, 1951), pp. 151–75, and James Pope Hennessy, Robert Louis
Stevenson
(London: Jonathan Cape, 1974), pp. 120–32.

-31-

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