Kidnapped (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Kidnapped by a rival heir (his Scrooge-like uncle), and destined to be sold in the colonies, teenager David Balfour is shipwrecked on the coast of his homeland, Scotland. The tale of David Balfour's swashbuckling adventures and psychological misadventures has remained constantly in print, a "must read" for children and adults alike.
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Kidnapped (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Kidnapped by a rival heir (his Scrooge-like uncle), and destined to be sold in the colonies, teenager David Balfour is shipwrecked on the coast of his homeland, Scotland. The tale of David Balfour's swashbuckling adventures and psychological misadventures has remained constantly in print, a "must read" for children and adults alike.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Robert Louis  Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
The Victorian poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant." The author of the magical A Child's Garden of Verses and the chilling The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson indeed planted powerful literary seeds -- that grew into undisputed classics.


Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850 in Edinburgh. His father was an engineer, the head of a family firm that had constructed most of Scotland's lighthouses, and the family had a comfortable income. Stevenson was an only child and was often ill; as a result, he was much coddled by both his parents and his long-time nurse. The family took frequent trips to southern Europe to escape the cruel Edinburgh winters, trips that, along with his many illnesses, caused Stevenson to miss much of his formal schooling. He entered Edinburgh University in 1867, intending to become an engineer and enter the family business, but he was a desultory, disengaged student and never took a degree. In 1871, Stevenson switched his study to law, a profession which would leave time for his already-budding literary ambitions, and he managed to pass the bar in 1875.

Illness put an end to his legal career before it had even started, and Stevenson spent the next few years traveling in Europe and writing travel essays and literary criticism. In 1876, Stevenson fell in love with Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne, a married American woman more than ten years his senior, and returned with her to London, where he published his first fiction, "The Suicide Club." In 1879, Stevenson set sail for America, apparently in response to a telegram from Fanny, who had returned to California in an attempt to reconcile with her husband. Fanny obtained a divorce and the couple married in 1880, eventually returning to Europe, where they lived for the next several years. Stevenson was by this time beset by terrifying lung hemorrhages that would appear without warning and required months of convalescence in a healthy climate. Despite his periodic illnesses and his peripatetic life, Stevenson completed some of his most enduring works during this period: Treasure Island (1883), A Child's Garden of Verses (1885), Kidnapped (1886), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).

After his father's death and a trip to Edinburgh which he knew would be his last, Stevenson set sail once more for America in 1887 with his wife, mother, and stepson. In 1888, after spending a frigid winter in the Adirondack Mountains, Stevenson chartered a yacht and set sail from California bound for the South Pacific. The Stevensons spent time in Tahiti, Hawaii, Micronesia, and Australia, before settling in Samoa, where Stevenson bought a plantation called Vailima. Though he kept up a vigorous publishing schedule, Stevenson never returned to Europe. He died of a sudden brain hemorrhage on December 3, 1894.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Good To Know

It has been said that Stevenson may well be the inventor of the sleeping bag -- he described a large fleece-lined sack he brought along to sleep in on a journey through France in his book Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.

Long John Silver, the one-legged pirate cook in Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, is said to be based on the author's friend William Ernest Henley, whom he met when Henley was in Edinburgh for surgery to save his one good leg from tuberculosis.

Stevenson died in 1894 at Vailima,, his home on the South Pacific island of Upolu, Samoa. He was helping his wife make mayonnaise for dinner when he suffered a fatal stroke.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 13, 1850
    2. Place of Birth:
      Edinburgh, Scotland
    1. Date of Death:
      December 3, 1894
    2. Place of Death:
      Vailima, Samoa


When Kidnapped appeared in 1886, it was immediately recognized as an heir to Robinson Crusoe. But readers were thinking of more than hero David Balfour's trials as a castaway. Stevenson's tale is about the strangeness not of foreign spaces but of familiar places. Kidnapped by a rival heir (his Scrooge-like uncle), and destined to be sold in the colonies, teenager David is shipwrecked not on some foreign shore but on the coast of a land he nonetheless does not really know-the Scottish David is lost in Scotland. As he alternately runs and staggers through the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and lands made romantic by heather, wild torrents, and names like Morvern and Appin, Kidnapped becomes a novel about the testing of identity. It is indeed an iconic novel equal to Robinson Crusoe. And readers the world over have agreed with the philosopher William James that "There is something about the story that sings." The tale of David Balfour's swashbuckling adventures and psychological misadventures has remained constantly in print, a "must read" for children and adults alike.

"If you were in my shoes, would you go?" So asks the young and newly orphaned David Balfour of his friend and advisor, the minister Mr. Campbell. "Of a surety," Mr. Campbell replies, thinking only that his protégé will travel a short distance from rural to urban Scotland, introduce himself to some forgotten relations and, if all does not go well, "walk the two days back again and risp at the manse door." But this short journey becomes an extended nightmare of deviation as the landlubber David is kidnapped to sea, threatened with being sold into slavery in the Carolinas, cast away on a remote island, and then guided or dragged through a Scotland both geographically and politically strange to him. At the end of David's travels, the lawyer Mr. Rankeillor sums up: "This is a great epic, a great Odyssey."

But David Balfour is no Odysseus. As his travels happen, they seem unwilling, undirected, stumbling, and even clod-hopping. And this brings up a major issue for and about readers of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. At first glance, David is a dour and often annoying teenager who survives a series of fantastic adventures. Certainly, Stevenson insisted that the novel, written for the magazine Young Folks (summer 1886), was a boy's book. His dedication to a friend from his Edinburgh days calls it "no furniture for the scholar's library," but rather a diversion "to steal some young gentleman's attention from his Ovid," and one that the friend's son will appreciate. But generations of adults have felt the book's appeal. T. Watts-Dutton, reviewing Kidnapped for the Athenaeum, found the swashbuckling first part of the novel fantastic, thus perfectly suited to boys, yet "absurd in a story for adults." However, when the plot circles back to the mainland, and David is not taken abroad to be sold in the Carolinas, "the story passes into literature." Edmund Gosse similarly identified two audiences, but recognized that the two levels of text and readership worked together. He wrote to Stevenson that "[Kidnapped is the] only romance I know in which the persons have stomach-aches and sore throats and have not cast-iron physiques that feel nothing. . . . [T]he answers crack like a whip. I feel sure that you have never done such good dialogue." This book, then, poses the question of the difference between childhood and adult concerns and forms of fiction-and manifests an answer. Gosse declared: "it is one of the most human books I ever read."

This "most human" novel grew very directly out of Stevenson's own life and experiences, though not in any simple or romantic way. Born Robert Lewis (later Louis) Balfour Stevenson in 1850 (d. 1894), the Edinburgh-bred author was a sickly child-thus far unlike the solid David Balfour. Affectionately nicknamed "smout" (small fry) by doting parents anxious about their only child's health, Stevenson grew into an odd teenager. Never able to attend school for long because of his illnesses, and of a more artistic bent than his engineering father, he affected long hair and velvet jackets. Still, though no member of the herd, he established lasting friendships with a rambunctious crew and aspired to a life of adventure. Before writing Kidnapped, he had not only traveled on his lighthouse-building father's business, but was known for his canoeing exploits on the Forth, his travels with a donkey in Europe, and his solitary, impoverished, and sickly journey across America by emigrant train to retrieve the married Fanny Osborne and make her his wife. (He would live out the end of his life in Samoa). Stevenson had also produced two of his most famous-and most supposedly "English"-works: Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It was this Stevenson, suffering the confinements of an ill and only child, yet convinced that the children of lovers (like his parents) are orphans, who gave David Balfour his mother's maiden name, denied him parents, and thrust him into a set of adventures made possible by the author's own journeys with his father and his intellectual wanderings as a putative lawyer and historian. It was this Stevenson, now with an American wife and in exile at Bournemouth, who produced a novel so Scottish, yet whose events are so strange to its own protagonist, that it invited identification from readers the world over. Kidnapped is just so "human," as Gosse observed.

Perversely, Stevenson's Scotland is open to all because it is a land formulated in literary terms, and not all of them Scottish. First and foremost, Kidnapped owes a debt to Walter Scott, for Scott had transformed the novel into the dominant genre of the nineteenth century by redirecting it through Scottish history and topography as romance. This Scotland is overlaid by recognizable plots: as David moves from Ettrick to Cramond, then around the coast and across the islands and highlands to claim his inheritance, the country becomes a place of great expectations-literally. As recently as 1883, Stevenson had re-read Dickens' novel by that name. Indeed, miserly Uncle Ebenezer obviously recalls Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Moreover, stranded on Earraid, David seems a less-fortunate Robinson Crusoe; his friend Alan composes Ossianic verse; and Mr. Rankeillor, of course, terms the whole an "Odyssey."

But most importantly, David himself defies the categories of these fictions. More knowing than Scott's Waverley, with lower expectations than Dickens' Pip, skeptical of yet sympathetic to Uncle Ebenezer, less capable than Robinson Crusoe, much less poetic than Alan, and not ready to be an Odysseus, David represents the ordinary in the midst of what seems strange. Rightly, Stevenson is admired for his clarity in style and plot. He told Henry James that the novelist must "carefully construct his plot so that every incident is an illustration of the motive" and "allow neither himself . . . nor any character . . . to utter one sentence that is not part and parcel of the business of the story." But with such clean plotting and such lean style goes complex characterization. Although the central character in what is nominally a boy's adventure, David is no ideal for juvenile masculinity. Rather he is stolid, self-righteous, surly, self-interested. As such, he is not only believable, but a pivot for the rest of the book. Because of his confusions, national events take a swing through the personal: the Jacobite Alan, tasked to deliver funds to his clan but saved by David from villainous seamen, adds David to his burdens, even though David often resents and resists such help; Cluny, in hiding from British soldiers, reveals the frustrations and littlenesses of great events and significant persons when he wins the sick David's money from Alan while gambling, and David then questions how right it is for him, religiously opposed to play, to receive back from Cluny the money coerced away from him in the first place. It is the annoying David who, now advanced in years and telling the story to his children (as we discover in the sequel), accomplishes ironic distance on others and on himself. Co-opted by his captors at sea to steal from Alan, he remarks: "I had never been so be-Davided since I came on board"-and proceeds to act on his own reductive but true logic.

This character, often unsympathetic, but never uninteresting or untrue to teenage reality, is set going among others equally believable. Although the imperatives of a boy's plot might render the uncle who attempts David's murder, the captain who kidnaps him, the two drunken ship's mates (the feckless Mr. Riach and the murderous Mr. Shuan), as mere villains or, with the dandified Alan Breck Stewart, as caricatures, David's naïveté interestingly reveals their complexity. He reports in his stolid tones that since the Captain fires a canon to tell his old mother he is passing by, "even the worst man may have his kindlier side"; better acquainted with the sailors-though reporting that "There were some among them that had sailed with the pirates and seen things it would be a shame even to speak of"-his lack of sophistication and unremitting honesty force him to admit that "I began to be ashamed of my first judgment. . . . No class of man is altogether bad."

David's Scotland turns out to be equally complex. Twentieth-century criticism of Scottish literature as culture often has built on G. Gregory Smith's notion that Scotland is a divided land. Highland and lowland, Jacobite and Whig, Gaelic and Scots, the oppositions seem obvious and set. Yet Stevenson shows in Kidnapped that he has inherited Walter Scott's sophisticated understanding of a living and thus unstable reality. And seventy years after Scott began to write novels, Stevenson further shows that Scottish subjects can provide the basis for a modern awareness of the self.

On the one hand, David circumnavigates and then traverses a land always precisely and specifically (if not entirely accurately) rendered. The reader can easily map his travels, and they are true to a Scotland that Stevenson himself had seen extensively. This geographical map allows David to travel, too, in history and culture. Orphaned from Ettrick, which turns out already to be a place of exile, and barred from his rightful home near Edinburgh, the Whiggish young man (protestant-Presbyterian-and loyal to the crown), connects with his historical other. When the ship kidnapping David runs down Alan's boat in the mist, two versions of the present collide, for Alan is a Jacobite working from France on behalf of the chiefs who are either exiled or in hiding since Bonnie Prince Charlie's 1745-6 rebellion. Now, in 1751, Alan carries rents between his captain and his people, evading British troops as he goes.

Thus far, the novel draws on the expected oppositions of lowland and highland, Jacobite and Whig, and so on. In fact, it invokes them. Common knowledge in Britain still included the events of 1745, with Charles arriving from France to the north of Scotland, unexpectedly gathering the clans, pressing successfully through England as far as Derby before retreating in disarray, losing the battle at Culloden in 1746, and escaping romantically by boat with the help of Flora MacDonald-all the events that bear up on Alan Breck, with his illicit activities and connections. And Stevenson had been newly reminded of them, for in 1881 he had made a rather quixotic bid to become Professor of History and Constitutional Law at Edinburgh University, and at that time considered the murder of Colin Roy Campbell-the event that thrusts David and Alan finally together-as capable of reconsideration in historical and literary terms.

On the other hand, unlike in many a boys' novel, the hero's encounter with the other works not to fix him in opposition, but to complicate the idea of national and personal character. For example, David's travels bring him in contact with Alan, who tells the noble tale of how the exiled chieftains' clansmen pay double rent to support their leaders abroad, but Mr. Henderland, a missionary who helps David on his way despite his own lack of means, notes that as a result, the tenants' life "is mere starvation. . . . [they] are doubtless partly driven to it. James Stewart . . . drives very hard. And then there's one they call Alan Breck." Yet mere pages later, David unwittingly stops Campbell on the road, is standing by when he is murdered, appears implicated, and has to be rescued by Alan-who may himself have been involved. Moreover, this is one of the very few Scottish novels from the period that engages the subject of empire, never mind the issue of Scots' complicity in its worst aspects. David encounters an emigrant ship "black with people"-but these are the Scots, undergoing a forced exile after the '45. He himself is kidnapped to be sold abroad-whether as indentured servant or, effectively, slave, is a continued matter of debate for scholars. Certainly, he echoes the celebrated case of the Anglo-Irish Annesley heir (kidnapped and sold abroad by an uncle anxious for his inheritance), and more nearly that of Indian Peter, a less prominent citizen who sued Aberdeen worthies after suffering under what appears to have been a policy of street clearing that involved selling vulnerable locals in America. David is wandering in a land that resists easy denomination as other, and that makes him increasingly strange to himself.

Stevenson considered language the clue to understanding the real obscurity of a tale whose geography and politics are only deceptively clear. David seems a lowlander in origins, politics, and religion. Yet his name is highland. From a highland perspective, he is southern, but he has a difficult time understanding the ship's boy, presuming the English Ransome's language to be some sort of childish cant. Later, he thinks the soldiers hunting him have "the right English speech," and describes a cockneyfied dialect. Small wonder that Stevenson voiced frustration with critics who "recognized in David and Alan a Saxon and a Celt." "I deny," he declared, "that there exists such a thing as a pure Saxon, and I think it more questionable if there be such a thing as a pure Celt." And interestingly, while David speaks mostly English, with the odd Scots word or figure of speech, he cannot understand the boatmen who ultimately rescue him from his island not because they speak Gaelic, but because he cannot interpret their English. So he spends more time cast away.

That is, David's adventures round and through Scotland pose problems of Scottish difference as confusions of personal identity. As David's expulsion from Ettrick and then from his inheritance implies, David is lost because he belongs here; the problem is one distributed across the Scottish landscape, but it is located in the self. It is in this way that a boy's adventure proves the necessary map for adult concerns. This is why it is entirely appropriate that-unlike Thoreau on Cape Cod-David never does figure out why some shellfish makes him sick. Even the basics of identity are never stable. We will always be a little strange to ourselves. And this is why both the reader and David feel the lack of Alan Breck Stewart as they enter Edinburgh alone: Stevenson shows we need the strangeness of another to feel most surely ourselves.

So should we be asked "in my shoes, would you go?" the answer is "of a surety." But according to Stevenson, we never know who we will meet, and so we should not expect to be quite ourselves when we come back from our travels with David Balfour.

Stevenson wrote Kidnapped for Young Folks in 1886. That same year, it came out in book form with Cassell and Scribner. But Kidnapped was part of a longer story that Stevenson interrupted in part because of his health. Catriona picks up where Kidnapped left off: David steps out of the bank that he entered at the end of the previous volume, and he has a bag of money with him. In the story that follows, historical and fictional characters introduced in Kidnapped run through their stories, with the personal and political complexities increasing for David as he matures from youth to young man. When Stevenson finished Catriona, he revised Kidnapped to constitute volume one of a two-volume edition with its sequel. The renowned Stevenson scholar Roger Swearingen makes a powerful argument that this reprint of the Cassell edition, published in April 1895, provides a text closer to Stevenson's preferences than either the first edition or the Edinburgh edition, published also in 1895 but without the author's input. He has graciously shared his analysis as part of the foundation for this Barnes and Noble reprint of Stevenson's novel. Professor Swearingen's most recent thoughts on the subject can be accessed on the Robert Louis Stevenson website, and through its newsletter.

Stevenson is known in Kidnapped for lively political adventures mapped across national topography. Readers interested in his sources will enjoy Waverley, by Walter Scott (1814). The naïve Englishman Edward Waverley encounters the confusions of Jacobite politics as he stumbles-and is often misled-across the landscape of Scotland. Stevenson himself influenced generations of writers, and contributed to the development of further genres. The boyish adventure aspect of his work is replicated in D. K. Broster's Jacobite trilogy The Flight of the Heron (1925), The Gleam in the North (1927), and The Dark Mile (1929). John Buchan's Richard Hannay is a direct heir to David Balfour, and extends Stevenson's topographical politics into spy fiction when, as Scottish expatriate and suspect of a political murder, he flees to Scotland (The Thirty-Nine Steps, 1915). He is equally David's heir when, in Greenmantle and acting as a British agent against the Germans, he travels through the political minefield that is First World War Europe and the Middle East (1916). A genre of Scottish adventure novels predicated on twentieth-century nationalism (pro and con) similarly invokes Stevenson's topographical politicking. Less strong as novels, these are nonetheless fascinating as dreams of political change enacted across landscape. Examples are: Charles Henry Dand, Scotching the Snake (1958), and Ross Laidlaw, The Lion is Rampant (1979). And of course, there is a vast genre of romances that owe a debt to Stevenson's landscaping (the American author, Diana Gabaldon, is particularly popular). But perhaps the most interesting recent development arises in postmodern novels of Scottish identity such as Alan Warner's Morvern Callar (1995) and These Demented Lands (1997), in which heroine Morvern embraces a fragmented identity by traveling through a Scotland broken into mythic shards, or James Kelman's You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free (2004), which tracks the twenty-first century Scot as he stumbles through an America made familiar by globalism but strange by international insecurity.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 10 of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2012

    A true classic

    One of my all time favorites. I first read kidnapped in high school after being recomended by a friend. 30years later and read three times i still find it hard to put down. They dont write them like that anymore.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2011


    the sample is boring all it is it tells about the auther for like 30 pages and then it is only 1 page of the book.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2013


    Moonshard awkwardly claws her way up to the hayloft, then huddles in the corner.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2012

    Well it kept me going till the end of the book

    I was really into reading this book it is very dramatic. I couldnt put it down i was really into how the kid was coming along straight to the end. It is based with the political side of how goverment was in ireland back when the british ruled it. I found it sad but intriging. I find the book to be ok

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    Posted December 31, 2011

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    Posted July 17, 2009

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    Posted December 10, 2009

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    Posted August 31, 2009

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    Posted December 24, 2010

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