The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Louis Stevenson

By Penny Fielding | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Childhood and Psychology

Julia Reid

For admirers as well as detractors, Stevenson was a boy who never grew up. Edmund Gosse celebrated his ‘childlike mirth’, his stepson Lloyd Osbourne lauded his ‘abiding spirit of the child’, and others have even speculated that J. M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan (1904) was partly inspired by Stevenson.1 This idea of his perpetual boyhood was a key-note of the critical turn against Stevenson soon after his death, when he became remembered chiefly as a children’s author. Drawing on the evolutionary notion of arrested development, the critic John Jay Chapman wrote that ‘[w]hether or not there was some obscure connection between his bodily troubles and the arrest of his intellectual development, it is certain that Stevenson remained a boy till the day of his death’.2 While the critical climate is now much more favourable to Stevenson, the idea of his childlike quality has persisted: for Morag Styles, in A Child’s Garden of Verses ‘Stevenson captured, as faithfully as it is possible for an adult to do, what it feels like to be a child’, and for Ann Colley the same volume enabled him to ‘walk back into the space of his early years’.3

Yet this idea that Stevenson was able to capture some timeless essence of childishness is at odds with his self-conscious participation in the contemporary debate about the nature of childhood. This chapter will show that Stevenson engaged in a sophisticated manner with evolutionist understandings of childhood, the imagination and the unconscious. The chapter will start by examining Victorian understandings of children’s psychology and corresponding forms of children’s literature. It will then survey Stevenson’s engagement with ideas about the childhood imagination across a wide range of his writing, including his fiction for adults and for children, memoirs, letters, essays and poetry.

Stevenson was the inheritor of the nineteenth century’s diverse and contested construction of childhood, in which Puritan moralism was confronted by conceptions of the natural child originating in the Enlightenment and Romantic periods and, later, by evolutionary science. By the early-Victorian period, the old Puritan and Evangelical notion of the child’s original sin was much eroded, although it endured in particular contexts and locations

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The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Louis Stevenson
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Editors’ Preface vi
  • Brief Biography of Robert Louis Stevenson vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Stevenson and Fiction 11
  • Chapter Two - Romance and Social Class 27
  • Chapter Three - Childhood and Psychology 41
  • Chapter Four - Stevenson and Fin-de-Siècle Gothic 53
  • Chapter Five - Stevenson, Scott and Scottish History 70
  • Chapter Six - Travel Writing 86
  • Chapter Seven - Stevenson’s Poetry 102
  • Chapter Eight - Stevenson and the Pacific 118
  • Chapter Nine - Stevenson and Henry James 134
  • Chapter Ten - Stevenson’s Afterlives 147
  • Endnotes 160
  • Further Reading 184
  • Notes on Contributors 186
  • Index 189
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