Friday, January 22, 2010

Pirates and fairies, Mr. Toad and Sherlock Holmes

I've been having good fun reading through Robert Louis Stevenson.  Major fictional works include:

New Arabian Nights (1882) - short stories, including some interconnected adventure stories which get cleverer as they go along.
Treasure Island (1883) - I saw six copies of this book, four in French, in a tiny bookstore in Morocco.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Kidnapped (1886)
The Black Arrow (1888) - is this good? Penguin Classics has it in print.
The Master of Ballantrae (1889)
Catriona (1893) - sequel to Kidnapped
South Sea Tales (1893) - more stories
Weir of Hermiston (1896) - sadly, unfinished - it promised to be excellent.

Stevenson was also an accomplished essayist and travel writer.  About his poetry, I know little.  I wonder if I read The Child's Garden of Verse when I was a tot?

George MacDonald wrote mostly Christian fiction, I guess, but it's his fairy stories, for adults and children, that have survived (update: now I'm pretty sure that's not true):

Phantastes (1858) - I just read this.  It is plenty weird.
At the Back of the North Wind (1871)
The Princess and the Goblin (1872) - this and the last one are children's books.
Lilith (1895)

Bysshe Vanolis, dig that name, is known for one poem, a sort of dark fantasy about London, The City of Dreadful Night (1874).  I just read it - it's The Victorian Waste Land. I had no idea, he said in amazement.

One author I do not like including is Arthur Conan Doyle.  Does anyone really need encouragement to read Doyle?  Nevertheless, here he is.  Six Sherlock Holmes books make the 1914 cutoff, as does one Professor Challenger novel (The Lost World, 1912) and The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896 and on).  I'm most curious about that last one, actually.

For a brief period, there existed a genre of sentimentally Scotch novels known as the "kailyard school." MacDonald wrote some, as did J. M. Barrie and various non-entities.  No one wants to read them now, surely.  They were demolished by a hack writer named George Douglas Brown in The House with the Green Shutters (1901). The author's description of his novel: "brutal and bloody."

Speaking of J. M. Barrie, why were so many of the children's classics of the period written by Scots?  The play Peter Pan is from 1904; the novel Peter and Wendy from 1911.  Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows was published 1908.  Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book is from 1889.

I've never read Margaret Oliphant, a hack writer (87 novels!) who outdid herself sometimes.  Rohan Maitzen has written positively about Miss Marjoribanks (1866) and Hester (1883).  Salem Chapel (1863), the supernatural A Beleaguered City (1880), and the 1899 Autobiography sound interesting, too.

I'm probaby missing a dozen worthwhile travel and nature writers.  John Muir was a Scot.  Anyone want to try My Summer in the Sierra (1911) or Our National Parks (1901) or his dog story, Stickeen (1909)?

What should you read?  I have no idea.  I mean, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, if you've never read it, I know that.  This is where I'm going to be spending my time, whether or not anyone else wants to play along, reading lots of Stevenson and MacDonald, and so forth.  I think I'll write about Vanolis next week. So even if no one else wants to read them now, you might read about these books in the coming months.  At some point - August, I predict - I'll be heartily sick of Scottish literature and drift on to something else.

All right.  Let's read.


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  2. The Princess and Curdie = the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin and it also = plenty weird. Also? So. Awesome.

    I will be pillaging from your list for Ye Olde Mutual Reade.

  3. If you want another sympathetic essay about M. Oliphant, there's one by Penelope Fitzgerald in A House of Air. I'd quote from it, but the copy I was reading has gone back to the library. Fitzgerald, I think, picked out one or two of her books for praise -- I don't know what they were.

  4. The Black Arrow is a great adventure story, a bit like Stevenson retelling Robin Hood. A childhood favourite of mine alongside Kidnapped.

  5. 'Salem Chapel' is an excellent book, I recommend it quite heartily.

  6. Someone already mentioned "The Princess and Curdie" (which I haven't read) - there is also "The Lost Princess" (which I have), it isn't another sequel though... I liked it and also the other MacDonald I've read: "The Princess and the Goblin", "At the Back of the North Wind" and "Phantastes".

    Oh, some very early John Buchan would qualify, I think, for your challenge, but none of the books I've read - and not "The 39 Steps", which I believe is precisely too late.


  7. A Scottish literature challenge! Since I am descended from Scotts on both sides of my family, I just think I'll go ahead and join your reading party. Will definitely read WAVERLEY, and then KIDNAPPED. Into the spaces between these and other (probably non-Scottish) novels, the Penguin Classics edition of MacDonald's THE COMPLETE FAIRY TALES (I read "The Wise Woman, or The Lost Princess: A Double Story" for a class a few years ago, and wrote a paper, which, if I can find it, may go into my blog).

    There are four other titles I'm interested in-- This is like going to a buffet dinner and knowing you just can't sample everything! I'll wait and see which way the crowd is going.

    Thanks for the challenge!

  8. P.S. I just remembered: I can't make reading plans for June through August, so I'll be participating only through the end of May. Four months of fun is better than none, wouldn't you say.

  9. what a great post. Lots of great information and pointers here- thanks for all this!

  10. Lots of good stuff here. Let's see.

    I'm looking forward to rereading Hogg, and I do plan to read quite a bit of MacDonald's fairy stuff. I'm worried that too big a dose might sort of wear on a person.

    But otherwise, thanks for the specific recommendations - The Princess and Curdie, the Penguin fairy tale collection, which has just arrived from the library.

    The praise for Salem Chapel and The Black Arrow is also encouraging. That Penelope Fitzgerald collection seems to be a rare book in my part of the world, but I think I can wrangle a copy.

    Julia, welcome. I am not obligated to read Waverley again, but I just might. I just might. If I found one of my undergraduate papers, I would head straight to the nearest bonfire or paper shredder. Or both - like, a paper shredder that empties into a bonfire.

    LRK - I omitted Buchan for just the reason you said. The Thirty-Nine Steps is a year too late, and surely no one wants to read Prester John or A Lost Lady of Old Years. We're not playing "Stump the Amateur Reader" here. We're not, are we? Please say we're not.

    In conclusion, I think we all need to face facts: lists of books are fun.

  11. "The Thirty-Nine Steps is a year too late, and surely no one wants to read Prester John or A Lost Lady of Old Years."

    Um, I would. :) In fact, I've even got "Prester John" - but fret not! it is so far down my reading-list (which is an actual, literal list which I follow rigourously), that there is not the remotest chance I'll get to it this year - so you are perfectly safe!


  12. I'm so suggestible. Now you have me curious about Buchan. If anyone picks Prester John as The Scottish Book, I'm reading it. But whoever picks it having never read Jekyll and Hyde or Kidnapped is nuts.

  13. Ah, Kenneth Graham. The Hesperus Pressis reissuing some of his writings this year, so you may well have provided me with a good excuse to acquire a copy.

  14. I'm a big fan of R.L. Stevenson and read Treasure Island many times when I was a kid (I have 4 older brothers so this was almost required reading in our house). I loved Kidnapped too, but never read Jekyll and Hyde, though I've been meaning to for years.

    I grew up learning to recite poems from Garden of Verses, and received a copy for my older daughter when she was a baby and faithfully indoctrinated all three of my kids with his poetry.

    My absolute favorite Stevenson poem is not the insipid The Swing but From a Railway Carriage, just saying it aloud gives you the feel of the countryside flying by.

  15. I know nothing about Grahame outside of The Wind in the Willows, nothing. What are his other books like?

    Jane, that's funny, just minutes ago I read a superb Paul Verlaine poem, from 1870 or so, that sounds much like "From a Railway Carriage." Francophile Stevenson likely knew it. You've convinced me to take a look at the Child's Garden of Verses (again?), by the way.

  16. What is the Paul Verlaine poem--is it in French? I would like to either read it or force my daughter, in her 4th year of studying the language, to translate it for me!

  17. Le paysage dans le cadre...

    Available here in French.

    I read it in English in Selected Poems, Oxford World's Classics, 1999, tr. Martin Sorrell.