A recently uncovered essay by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and other things on your fifth grade summer reading list, shows that the Scottish writer was kind of a curmudgeon when it came to his contemporaries. Basically, he thought they were such a drag.
Of Victorian era writing, Stevenson says:
"In the trash that I have no doubt you generally read, a vast number of people will probably get shot and stabbed and drowned; and you have only a very slight excitement for your money."
The essay was published in Michigan-based quarterly, the Strand Magazine, on Friday. The managing editor of the Strand, Andrew Gulli, says this is part of a larger criticism titled: "Books and Reading." The first part was auctioned off in 1914 and never seen again. This section, the second part, was discovered very recently at the library at Syracuse University. Gulli supposes that Stevenson penned this essay in 1881, while he was writing Treasure Island, published in 1883.
Stevenson is preoccupied by heady questions of how best to capture reality through writing. Maybe a hint of foresight regarding the modernist era of literature? He writes that the main fault in literature was that any storyteller attempting to capture his audience will leave "all the dullness out." But while his contemporary writers featured lots of exciting exploits, they could not carry them off in a way that seemed present or real.
Stevenson considered how especially in stories about the ostensibly thrilling lives of pirates, writers tend to only concentrate on swashbuckling excitement on the high seas:
"If you read a true account of these rogues you would be thunderstruck. Again and again they try to cross the Atlantic – what hundreds of decent, respectable merchant skippers do successfully every month – and again and again they lose their way, cannot find the trade-winds, and, from sheer block-headedness, suffer the last extremities of thirst and hunger."
The redundancies of the life of a pirate, it's the "the pirate story people quietly leave out; because … it would not go down with the reader." Well... in a way maybe he's just guarding himself against future claims by kids that despite the cool parrot pet, Treasure Island is boring as hell.