The Master Of Ballantrae

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Overview

Stevenson's brooding historical romance demonstrates his most abiding theme - the elemental struggle between good and evil - as it unfolds against a hauntingly beautiful Scottish landscape, amid the fierce loyalties and violent enmities that characterized Scottish history. When two brothers attempt to split their loyalties between the warring factions of the 1745 Jacobite rising, one family finds itself tragically divided. Stevenson's remarkably vivid characterizations create an acutely moving, psychologically ...
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The Master of Ballantrae (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

Stevenson's brooding historical romance demonstrates his most abiding theme - the elemental struggle between good and evil - as it unfolds against a hauntingly beautiful Scottish landscape, amid the fierce loyalties and violent enmities that characterized Scottish history. When two brothers attempt to split their loyalties between the warring factions of the 1745 Jacobite rising, one family finds itself tragically divided. Stevenson's remarkably vivid characterizations create an acutely moving, psychologically complex work; as Andrea Barrett points out in her Introduction, "The brothers' characters, not the historical facts, shape the drama."

Stevenson explores the theme of good versus evil in this tale of a struggle between two very different brothers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781143180941
  • Publisher: Nabu Press
  • Publication date: 1/8/2010
  • Pages: 314
  • Product dimensions: 0.66 (w) x 7.44 (h) x 9.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Louis  Stevenson
Andrea Barrett is the author of five novels, most recently The Voyage of the Narwhal, and two collections of stories: Ship Fever, which received the National Book Award, and Servants of the Map. She lives in Rochester, New York.

Biography

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

Read an Excerpt

Preface

Although an old, consistent exile, the editor of the following pages revisits now and again the city of which he exults to be a native; and there are few things more strange, more painful, or more salutary, than such revisitations. Outside, in foreign spots, he comes by surprise and awakens more attention than he had expected; in his own city, the relation is reversed, and he stands amazed to be so little recollected. Elsewhere he is refreshed to see attractive faces, to remark possible friends; there he scouts the long streets, with a pang at heart, for the faces and friends that are no more. Elsewhere he is delighted with the presence of what is new, there tormented by the absence of what is old. Elsewhere he is content to be his present self; there he is smitten with an equal regret for what he once was and for what he once hoped to be.

He was feeling all this dimly, as he drove from the station, on his last visit; he was feeling it still as he alighted at the door of his friend Mr. Johnstone Thomson, W.S., with whom he was to stay. A hearty welcome, a face not altogether changed, a few words that sounded of old days, a laugh provoked and shared, a glimpse in passing of the snowy cloth and bright decanters and the Piranesis on the dining-room wall, brought him to his bed-room with a somewhat lightened cheer, and when he and Mr. Thomson sat down a few minutes later, cheek by jowl, and pledged the past in a preliminary bumper, he was already almost consoled, he had already almost forgiven himself his two unpardonable errors, that he should ever have left his native city, or ever returned to it.

“I have something quite in your way,” saidMr. Thomson. “I wished to do honour to your arrival; because, my dear fellow, it is my own youth that comes back along with you; in a very tattered and withered state, to be sure, but—well!—all that’s left of it.”

“A great deal better than nothing,” said the editor. “But what is this which is quite in my way?” “I was coming to that,” said Mr. Thomson: “Fate has put it in my power to honour your arrival with something really original by way of dessert. A mystery.”

“A mystery?” I repeated.

“Yes,” said his friend, “a mystery. It may prove to be nothing, and it may prove to be a great deal. But in the meanwhile it is truly mysterious, no eye having looked on it for near a hundred years; it is highly genteel, for it treats of a titled family; and it ought to be melodramatic, for (according to the superscription) it is concerned with death.”

“I think I rarely heard a more obscure or a more promising annunciation,” the other remarked. “But what is It?”

“You remember my predecessor’s, old Peter M‘Brair’s business?”

“I remember him acutely; he could not look at me without a pang of reprobation, and he could not feel the pang without betraying it. He was to me a man of a great historical interest, but the interest was not returned.”

“Ah well, we go beyond him,” said Mr. Thomson. “I daresay old Peter knew as little about this as I do. You see, I succeeded to a prodigious accumulation of old law-papers and old tin boxes, some of them of Peter’s hoarding, some of his father’s, John, first of the dynasty, a great man in his day. Among other collections, were all the papers of the Durrisdeers.”

“The Durrisdeers!” cried I. “My dear fellow, these may be of the greatest interest. One of them was out in the ’45; one had some strange passages with the devil—you will find a note of it in Law’s Memorials, I think; and there was an unexplained tragedy, I know not what, much later, about a hundred years ago——”

“More than a hundred years ago,” said Mr. Thomson. “In 1783.”

“How do you know that? I mean some death.”

“Yes, the lamentable deaths of my Lord Durrisdeer and his brother, the Master of Ballantrae (attainted in the troubles),” said Mr. Thomson with something the tone of a man quoting. “Is that it?”

“To say truth,” said I, “I have only seen some dim reference to the things in memoirs; and heard some traditions dimmer still, through my uncle (whom I think you knew). My uncle lived when he was a boy in the neighbourhood of St. Bride’s; he has often told me of the avenue closed up and grown over with grass, the great gates never opened, the last lord and his old maid sister who lived in the back parts of the house, a quiet, plain, poor, hum-drum couple it would seem—but pathetic too, as the last of that stirring and brave house—and, to the country folk, faintly terrible from some deformed traditions.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Thomson. “Henry Graeme Durie, the last lord, died in 1820; his sister, the Honourable Miss Katherine Durie, in ’27; so much I know; and by what I have been going over the last few days, they were what you say, decent, quiet people and not rich. To say truth, it was a letter of my lord’s that put me on the search for the packet we are going to open this evening. Some papers could not be found; and he wrote to Jack M‘Brair suggesting they might be among those sealed up by a Mr. Mackellar. M‘Brair answered, that the papers in question were all in Mackellar’s own hand, all (as the writer understood) of a purely narrative character; and besides, said he, ‘I am bound not to open them before the year 1889.’ You may fancy if these words struck me: I instituted a hunt through all the M‘Brair repositories; and at last hit upon that packet which (if you have had enough wine) I propose to show you at once.”

In the smoking-room, to which my host now led me, was a packet, fastened with many seals and enclosed in a single sheet of strong paper thus endorsed:

Papers relating to the lives and lamentable deaths of the late Lord Durisdeer, and his elder brother James, commonly called Master of Ballantrae, attainted in the troubles: entrusted into the hands of John M‘Brair in the Lawnmarket of Edinburgh, W.S.; this 20th day of September Anno Domini 1789; by him to be kept secret until the revolution of one hundred years complete, or until the 20th day of September 1889: the same compiled and written by me, Ephraim Mackellar, For near forty years Land Steward on the estates of his Lordship.

As Mr. Thomson is a married man, I will not say what hour had struck when we laid down the last of the following pages; but I will give a few words of what ensued.

“Here,” said Mr. Thomson, “is a novel ready to your hand: all you have to do is to work up the scenery, develop the characters, and improve the style.”

“My dear fellow,” said I, “they are just the three things that I would rather die than set my hand to. It shall be published as it stands.”

“But it’s so bald,” objected Mr. Thomson.

“I believe there is nothing so noble as baldness,” replied I, “and I am sure there is nothing so interesting. I would have all literature bald, and all authors (if you like) but one.”

“Well, well,” said Mr. Thomson, “we shall see.”

[“Johnstone Thomson, W.S.,” is Mr. C. Baxter, W.S. (afterwards the author’s executor), with whom, as “Thomson Johnstone,” Stevenson frequently corresponded in the broadest of broad Scots.—The scene is laid in Mr. Baxter’s house, 7, Rothesay Place, Edinburgh.]

Summary of Events During the Master’s Wanderings

The full truth of this odd matter is what the world has long been looking for, and public curiosity is sure to welcome. It so befell that I was intimately mingled with the last years and history of the house; and there does not live one man so able as myself to make these matters plain, or so desirous to narrate them faithfully. I knew the Master; on many secret steps of his career I have an authentic memoir in my hand; I sailed with him on his last voyage almost alone; I made one upon that winter’s journey of which so many tales have gone abroad; and I was there at the man’s death. As for my late Lord Durrisdeer, I served him and loved him near twenty years; and thought more of him the more I knew of him. Altogether, I think it not fit that so much evidence should perish; the truth is a debt I owe my lord’s memory; and I think my old years will flow more smoothly, and my white hair lie quieter on the pillow, when the debt is paid.

The Duries of Durrisdeer and Ballantrae were a strong family in the south-west from the days of David First. A rhyme still current in the countryside—

Kittle folk are the Durrisdeers, They ride wi’ ower mony spears—

bears the mark of its antiquity; and the name appears in an- other, which common report attributes to Thomas of Ercildoune himself—I cannot say how truly, and which some have applied—I dare not say with how much justice—to the events of this narration:

Twa Duries in Durrisdeer, Ane to tie and ane to ride, An ill day for the groom And a waur day for the bride.

Authentic history besides is filled with their exploits which (to our modern eyes) seem not very commendable: and the family suffered its full share of those ups and downs to which the great houses of Scotland have been ever liable. But all these I pass over, to come to that memorable year 1745, when the foundations of this tragedy were laid.
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