Friday, March 24, 2006

Robert Louis Stevenson




A death has meant the acquisition of a few dozen books, among them a school edition of Travels with a Donkey in the Cervennes, edn. James Brodie Denmark Place WC2, undated. It immediatley appealed to me - I knew I had to read it - because its Southern France, which I have a special fondness for, because there is a little map in the back, and because its only 96 pages long including map and glossary (quite funny: not Stevenson's, I guess).

The map here appears to be a simpification of the one that appeared in the 'primary' editions, with stylised topography, which I did find in Google but which I can't find again. The simplified modern version excludes side panel which shows the dates he reached each destination (guess, again, they are 'educational'/'interpretational' additions and not RSL's).

After reading 10-15 pages, living it and being shocked by his cruelty to his donkey, Modestine, which no modern travel writer would admit to. The man who walked across Afghanistan with the dog comes to mind, and several other rather pragmatic approaches to huskies at ends of expeditions, and so forth.

Turned to some research to find a wiki entry (not a spoiler but it does describe the journey in brief), and this e-book for anyone wishing to have a go. Published in 1879 (wiki:1879 in literature)


At the bottom of the wiki:

In the John Steinbeck novel The Pastures of Heaven, one of the characters regards Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes as one of the single greatest works of English literature and eventually names his infant son Robert Louis. Later on, Steinbeck may have been inspired by Stevenson in choosing to title his account of his cross-country voyage with a gray-haired poodle in the 1960's, Travels With Charley: In Search of America.

Though I condemn myself at regular intervals for keeping so many cuttings, one which popped up in a frenzied cull which happened by chance at about the same time as aquiring this RSL's book: a Caroline Moore January 23 2005 Sunday Telegraph review of 'Robert Louis Stevenson' by Claire Harman (Harper Collins, 533pp), helps me put a few questions to bed:

  • Born 1850
  • 'ill health gained stevenson a dispensation from responsibility and a ticket to travel, in search of health' [CMo]
  • 1876 met Fanny Osbourne
  • Married Fanny 1880
Don't read it before the book if you want to keep the fate of Modestine completely in the hands of the orginal author, but James Henderson, in Travel Intelligence, writes about the RSL Cevennes trip, mentioning a few facts which will not spoil reading the story.

P.S. If you have not heard of the transhumance trails wiki:tranhumance
suggests to me how RSL might have ended up chosing this route in particular: a question I asked as soon as I looked at the map.

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