Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

Introduction | Island 1 | Island 2 | Island 3 | Island 4 | Island 5 | Island 6 | Island 7 | Island 8

Island 3: The Fiction of Adventure


Treasure Island; or, The Mutiny of the Hispaniola
from Young Folks; A Boys' and Girls' Paper of Instructive and Entertaining Literature, vol. XIX, no. 565 (Saturday, October 1, 1881).

Stevenson began this adventure story while on a wet Scottish holiday in Braemar with his father and his step-son, Lloyd Osbourne. The germ of the story lay in the hand-painted map of an imaginary island. Stevenson wrote rapidly: "it was to be a story for boys; no need of psychology or fine writing; and I had a boy at hand to be a touchstone." The original title, The Sea-Cook, referred to the novel's most famous character, Long John Silver, who was modelled in part on Stevenson's friend and collaborator W. E. Henley. For its initial serial publication in seventeen weekly installments, Stevenson gratefully received £30. This part issue of Treasure Island was published under the pseudonym "Captain George North." Aside from illuminated letters at the beginning of every installment, this was the only illustration.

Treasure Island
London, Cassell & Company, 1883.

Stevenson revised the periodical text for this first book edition. "Long John Silver" himself, W. E. Henley, negotiated arrangements with Cassell; Stevenson received £100 on publication and ongoing royalty payments thereafter. Neither Stevenson nor his friends immediately recognized his achievement. Whereas the story was not particularly well received by the readers of Young Folks, it sold briskly in book form. In David Daiches' words, Treasure Island "transform[ed] the cliché-ridden Victorian boys' adventure story into a classic." The many subsequent reprintings and illustrated editions show its grip on generations of readers. The frontispiece was meant to be the original watercolor map that had served as the story's inspiration; sadly, it was lost, and Stevenson considered this replacement, drawn by him in his father's office, a poor substitute.

Treasure Island
New York, Limited Editions Club, 1941.

The Limited Editions Club, in many ways the American counterpart of the British Nonesuch Press, commissioned work from private presses and from good commercial printers. These generally combined carefully designed and executed typography with original designs; both Matisse and Picasso illustrated Limited Editions Club publications. The 1941 Treasure Island contains designs, typical of American book-illustration of the period, by the Scots-born American illustrator Edward A. Wilson (b.1884).

Treasure Island
London, Paul Elek, [1947].

John Minton (1917-1957) is now recognized among the important British artistic talents of the decade following the Second World War. His œuvreincludes work in theatre design, posters and commercial design, and book illustration. Treasure Island, his second illustrative commission and one of only twelve books illustrated by him, is one of his finest works in the genre.

Treasure Island
London, Nonesuch Press, [1963].

The Nonesuch Press was founded in the early 1920's by Sir Francis Meynell with the purpose of publishing finely-designed illustrated and printed books, produced by good commercial printers and marketed at affordable prices. The Press's artistic heyday was the 1920's and 30's, but production continued into the 1960's. Treasure Island has neat, unobtrusive typography and illustrations by Robert Micklewright in the post-war British tradition also seen in John Minton's illustrations.

The Black Arrow: A Tale of Tunstall Forst
from Young Folks; A Boys' and Girls' Paper of Instructive and Entertaining Literature, vol. XXII, no. 656 (Saturday, June 30, 1883).

Despite the less than enthusiastic reactions of his readers to Treasure Island, James Henderson, the publisher of Young Folks, was eager for another serial by "Captain George North." To this end, Stevenson produced The Black Arrow, which he dismissed as "tushery." Ironically, the paper's readers found this second story much more acceptable, its "blood-and-thunder" action conforming more suitably to the conventions of the adventure genre. As a result, The Black Arrow was fully illustrated, and many of its installments appeared on the serial's front page.

The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses
London, Cassell & Co., 1888.

Though it received more positive comments from its original audience, The Black Arrow has never rivalled the popularity of its predecessorTreasure Island; as Stevenson remarked in his preface, "Those who read volumes and those who read story papers belong to different worlds." Book publication was long delayed; this first British book edition (August 1888) was preceded by reserialization in America and is printed from plates of Scribner's American book edition (June 1888).

Kidnapped; or, The Lad with the Silver Button
from Young Folks Paper: Literary Olympic and Tournament vol. XXVIII, no. 805 (Saturday, May 1 1886).

By the time his third and final serial appeared in Young Folks, Stevenson had quite a reputation. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydehad been published the previous January, and its phenomenal popularity prompted one biographer to label it "a superseller": 40,000 copies of the British edition were sold in the first six months, and the novella was equally popular in America. With such popular acclaim, the pseudonym was dropped, andKidnapped appeared on the front page of the periodical for almost its entire run.

Kidnapped, Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751
London, Cassell & Company, 1886.

This adventure story of David Balfour and his romantic Jacobite mentor Alan Breck Stewart in the Scottish Highlands was Stevenson's first full-length Scottish novel, taking on himself the mantle (or plaid) of Sir Walter Scott. Through the conflicts of Lowlanders and Highlanders, Whigs and Jacobites, Stevenson explored the psychological dualities of Scottish culture. Perhaps the portrait of David's grasping uncle Ebenezer Balfour expresses some of Stevenson's resentment of his father's business-like respectability, but the descriptions of Scottish landscape during David's travels more than counterbalance anything negative; as R. H. Hutton commented in The Spectator, "for the lovers of Scotch scenery and Scotch character it is altogether delightful." The image here is of the fold-out map showing the cruise of the Covenant and David Balfour's wanderings.

New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940.

N.C. Wyeth's illustrations for Stevenson'sTreasure Island and Kidnapped are among the most successful examples of twentieth-century "realist" book illustration. Though stylistically unquestionably of their time (Wyeth lived from 1885 to 1945; the Kidnappedillustrations were published in 1913), the illustrations transcend one's consciousness of the period of execution and command our attention as firmly today as they must have done 80 years ago.


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