"'Catriona' so reeks and hums with genius that there is no refuge for the desperate reader but in straightforward prostration." - Henry James
Robert Louis Stevenson considered Catriona, the lively sequel to Kidnapped, his best work. At the end of Kidnapped, young David Balfour enters an Edinburgh bank to claim his inheritance., In the opening scene of Catriona, he comes out moneybags in hand. While Balfour entered the bank a somewhat stolid teenager; he exits into young manhood to contend with all the complexities of politics, love, and family
About the Author
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), a Scottish author of novels, poems, and essays, is best known for the classic books Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A literary celebrity during his lifetime, Stevenson remains popular for his celebrated contributions to the adventure and horror genres.
Date of Birth:November 13, 1850
Date of Death:December 3, 1894
Place of Birth:Edinburgh, Scotland
Place of Death:Vailima, Samoa
Education:Edinburgh University, 1875
Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850, child of Margaret Balfour and Thomas Stevenson (of the "lighthouse Stevensons"). As Robert Lewis (later Louis) Balfour Stevenson, he never quite fit his circumstances-a problem he may hint toward by adopting a family name for his stumbling hero, David Balfour. A sickly child beloved by his parents, he found himself constrained by their attention, their religion, and his father's control of the purse strings. Stevenson preferred a wandering lifestyle that he first experienced in search of cures for his various illnesses. Along the way he produced essays, stories, and boys' books, including Treasure Island (serialized 1881). In 1886, with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped published just months apart, he became famous, and was able to command substantial fees for his work. Perhaps a major factor in this development was his relationship with Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne. Meeting this exotic American in Europe, pursuing her to the United States, supporting her through her divorce, and then marrying her in 1880, marked a turning point in Stevenson's life. The struggling author, long focused on home and dependent on his father, now was the head of his own family, inhabiting a larger world. While constantly concerned with art and its integrity, it was through Fanny's interests and the needs of his new family he became more aware of audiences and markets. His father's death in 1887, together with his literary triumphs of 1886, opened the world to Stevenson-the world knew of him, and he could afford to go where he would. Thus, in the years between Kidnapped and Catriona, he lived first in upstate New York, then set out for the South Seas. For a year and a half he island-hopped before settling at Vailima, on the island of Upolu, Samoa. There, the unpredictable son of the lighthouse engineer lived occasionally hand to mouth, but always engaged with the local community. He wrought unusual conjunctions between Scotland and the South Seas, dressing his employees in Royal Stuart tartan, and joining in Samoa's international politics. There he produced some of his great works: Catriona, The Ebb Tide (1894), and Weir of Hermiston (published posthumously, 1896). And there, with no return to Scotland, he died in 1894.
Catriona is the testament to how far he had come, not just in miles, but in understanding and in art. The novel, Stevenson wrote to his friend Sidney Colvin, came on him as a "sudden passion." Once started, it went "skelping along," "[interfering] with my eating and sleeping," and when it was done, Stevenson declared himself "very well pleased." It was "nearer what I mean than anything I have ever done." Some of his contemporary critics, such as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, assumed that Catriona, with its division into two parts-in Scotland, then in Holland, the one focused on politics, the other on love-made most sense when read alongside Kidnapped. But others focused on the book's internal dynamics. T. Watts-Dunton thought "the personality of the narrator as an eye-witness of the incidents lends a unity of impression to material that in itself may sometimes be without unity, and sometimes even perhaps without congruity. . . . This very lack of unity, this absence of any sign of a constructed plot, will often lend an organic vitality to a story which nothing else could lend." In so arguing, Watts-Dunton appreciated the maturation in Stevenson's themes, but also in their construction. The ordinariness of a David Balfour, with his determination to make sense of an experience that multiplies into the plots of politics and romance, and simultaneously fragments around him, points to the condition of modernity. In this historical novel set in the 1750s, Stevenson was ahead of his time.
David Balfour steps out of the bank, cash in hand, with a clear idea of who he now is: "Today I was . . . a landed laird, a bank porter by me carrying my gold, recommendations in my pocket, and . . . the ball directly at my foot." He knows, too, what he has to do: tell the truth about a political murder, and save its scapegoats-one of whom, Alan Breck Stewart, had saved him in the past. But this is a "very difficult and deadly business." Moreover, David is already out of step with his world--"The throng of citizens . . . abashed me"-and he feels the more conspicuous in borrowed clothes that "scarce held on me." "It was plain I was ill-qualified to strut." David's problems are compounded when he happens on a beautiful young woman, evidently in trouble. By helping her, he unwittingly draws together the plots of politics, love, and family that will strain against one another to test his briefly established sense of self.
In the South Seas, Stevenson had taken to politics. He wrote in support of Father Damien, a priest who had given his life to care for lepers at Molokai and who had been criticized by Protestant missionaries for his morals and personal hygiene. He experienced the frustrations and corruptions of politics-both local and international-when he supported one chief over another among British, German, and American pretensions to control Samoa as a hub for Pacific trade. So he came to understand how personal relationships are informed or undermined by politics, writing of the unfortunate Swede appointed to mediate between the powers and whose career he himself had served to cut short, "The deuce of it is that, personally, I love this rogue. . . . we meet and smile, and-damn it! like each other."
This complex awareness of political and social order informed Stevenson's new novel. A more mature David than the one in Kidnapped tries to live by his ethics, carrying his politically inconvenient information to government and opposition alike. Those to whom he offers what should be the authority of truth, however, constantly threaten his purpose. At the center of confusion stands Simon Lovat. An historical figure-son of the infamous Lord Lovat who switched political allegiances, died on the scaffold, and was caricatured by Hogarth-he had switched sides twice. He signals the contingency of truth and the reality of politics. Accordingly, while David's political friends admire his courage and persistence, they have no intention of letting him give evidence that would upset national agendas; the opposition welcomes his information, but has their own strategy for using it. In no case can David's truth save the individual it should absolve.
Worse, in the world of Scottish politics, just as in Samoa, politics is personal: no one is simply an enemy or a friend. The Lord Advocate, Prestongrange, is allied to David through politics. To protect the status quo, he colludes to keep David away from the trial that requires his evidence. Thus, to David, he compromises his own principles and David's character. Further, Prestongrange sets his daughters on David as his minders. David is inveigled at first into polite relations by these knowing females, then kidnapped to Bass Rock. For the gawky, land-bred young man, both are forms of restraint, and Prestongrange a man he cannot trust. Yet Prestongrange confines David to save his life against the more bloodthirsty Lovat. He would help David into adulthood.
Indeed, to the orphan, Prestongrange stands in the position of substitute father. In Kidnapped, David loses a good father, finds a wicked uncle, and the uncle is displaced by Alan Breck Stewart and Mr. Rankeillor, each efficient in their own warlike and legal ways at establishing truth and putting things to rights. With the canny Alan temporarily offstage, and Mr. Rankeillor left behind, Prestongrange could be a paternal guide to the perplexed David. Contemporary historian Frank McLynn has noted that in his political relationships Stevenson replayed "the psychic drama he had acted out with his father." In Catriona, the drama is informed by the vagaries of politics. The progression of the text replaces Prestongrange's benevolent if politically interested paternalism with the self-interest of David's potential father-in-law, James More Macgregor. Neglectful and thinking only of himself, Macgregor abandons his daughter and plots to betray Alan for his own safety and monetary gain. Family offers no barrier to politics; rather, it intensifies it and brings it close, even as politics threatens identity.
Consequently, the biggest threat to David's identity may be Macgregor's daughter, Catriona. While writing, Stevenson found her "a blooming maiden that costs anxiety," but many critics considered her a triumph. T. Watts-Dunton enthused that she was "beyond all praise. . . . she throws a halo of heroism as well as of beauty over the book." Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones concluded: "[Stevenson] has made a woman at last." Catriona is a new sort of woman, demonstrating daring independence: she bravely kisses David's hand for his ethical heroism, as she had kissed that of rebel Bonnie Prince Charlie; she sets out for a foreign country with only pennies in her pocket; she leaps from a boat in a rough sea upon men admiring her charms from below. Yet at times she seems a creature of Victorian romance, a view confirmed when David refers to this adventurous highlander's "little shoes." The key is perhaps the first person narrative remarked upon by Watts-Dunton. Catriona fascinates until she becomes dependent upon David, when she quickly resolves into a site for Victorian desires. But the change is not in her; it is in her relationships. Newly cast as brother and in loco parentis, David reduces her to "the frail sex and not so much beyond a child." Seen in this way, the character of Catriona is a delusion that David, and some of Stevenson's contemporary readers, wished upon her.
In fact, Stevenson works against the codes of Victorian representation, depicting Catriona as a modern woman. We receive constant hints that David sentimentalizes and underestimates her; and there are hints, too, that narrating from a distance of years, he has grown into a fuller understanding of gender relationships and married roles. Going with David to see her disowned but dying father, Catriona agrees, "If it is your pleasure." The older David sardonically remarks: "These were early days." So Catriona matters for the ways in which she challenges convention, and because she reveals how David subjects them both to Victorian mores, almost ruining a relationship tainted but also enlivened by the politics of nations and parents.
Stevenson had long been sympathetic to and knowledgeable about the realities of womanhood. Frank McLynn credits him with "a deep sympathy for women which it is not anachronistic to call feminist," and cites Stevenson's stepson's remembrance that "Women seemed to him the victims alike of man and nature." Stevenson's essays in Virginibus Puerisque (1881) reveal a modern view of gender and marriage. In terms that lead to George Bernard Shaw, echo through Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, and point to modern feminism, he revealed men's inability to understand women and detailed the painful loss of independence for women in traditional relationships. Devastatingly, he recognizes the politics of marriage: "Once you are married, there is nothing left for you, not even suicide, but to be good." And he understands the inevitability of misunderstanding in our closest of relationships. "Do you understand me?" he mimics. "God knows," is the answer; "I should think it highly improbable." Indeed Catriona sparkles with believable depictions of women far beyond David Balfour's ability to understand them.
From the old wife who would tell David's fortune, to Catriona's hostess, through Prestongrange's eldest daughter Barbara Grant, to Catriona herself, women are constantly jumping at David Balfour, taking him by surprise, testing him, and showing him his worth as well as their own. Most important, Barbara, whom David never quite trusts, pushes him toward proper behavior and makes a young man of him, but not simply by teaching him how to dress or behave. Repeatedly, Prestongrange's eldest daughter shows David a view of womanhood that literally taunts him into manhood.
Here the Stevenson who disliked Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles as "untrue to all I know of life," found himself, in literary contexts at least, "no more in any fear of [women]." The complexities of marriage to a woman he termed "a violent friend"-a description with which he also complimented Barbara Grant-had made Stevenson a leader in the questioning of the gendered construction of identities. It is no wonder that David Balfour is constantly in a state of embarrassment, radiating the hot sweats evoked by proximity to the persons of Catriona, Barbara, and even two old ladies who suggest a world of sex and life beyond his experience. Indeed, it's no wonder that he obsessively invokes his youth as a strategy for engagement with, or a mantra for protection from the invasions of politics, parents, and lively females.
In Catriona, Stevenson not only tested the bounds of proper society, but also the bounds of the novel. David's coherent narrative, strained by political, familial, and gendered plots, made contemporary critics look to character as the reason for the novel's power. But those who looked more closely found other matters for debate. Critics Vernon Lee (pen name of Violet Paget [1856-1935]) and Henry James fell into opposition about Stevenson's technique. Lee praises the novel's descriptive passages, calling them "adjective[s] on a large scale." By contrast, James, who enthused about the text in general, complained "[Catriona] subjects my visual sense, my seeing imagination, to an almost painful under-feeding." Stevenson joked in reply, "War to the adjective," and "Death to the optic nerve." In a sense, Stevenson's technique marked the onset of imagism in British prose; James lacked the eye for it, and Lee lacked the terms to describe it.
Catriona's images spring off the page. When David has successfully seen Alan off to France, yet knows he is about to be attacked, he finds himself alone on the sand hills: "There was no sight or sound of man; the sun shone on the wet sand and the dry, the wind blew in the bents, the gulls made a dreary piping. As I passed higher up the beach, the sand-lice were hopping nimbly about the stranded tangles." In this passage, Pathetic fallacy yields to the power of the image. Similarly, Stevenson describes David's depression about his relationship with Catriona through a series of images that belie David's evolving emotional state.. "[There] stood out over a brae the two sails of a windmill, like an ass's ears." Later, "the sails of the windmill, as they came up and went down over the hill, were like persons spying." And then, reconciled, David rejoices: "the windmill sails, as they bobbed over the knowe, were like a tune of music." Here Stevenson's use of imagery, as with his creative use of competing plotlines and ambiguous characterizations, seems to predict twentieth-century writing.
In Catriona, Stevenson at last managed to produce a novel both as romantic and as modern as his own life. Quiller-Couch ended his review: "Mr. Stevenson twice, at least, introduces the word 'damned' with surprising effect. I know no better . . . test of a classic than the manner of his 'damns.' [Catriona] is a very big feat." In Catriona, Stevenson "damns" numerous proprieties-political, familial, sexual, and even formal. Even so, we may conclude that it remains a "damn fine" tale.
Stevenson wrote this novel under the title "David Balfour," and it was published as such in serial and its American book form. In Britain, however, it appeared as Catriona at the publisher's behest. This change might be seen as forcing a division between two related novels, or marking the progression from teenage to adult concerns. But it is a symptom of the book's complex publishing history between magazine (Atalanta, beginning in November 1892) and book (New York: Scribner's; London: Cassell, 1893). In the article "Toward the Production of a Text: Time, Space, and David Balfour," Barry Menikoff details the personal and financial negotiations and the publishing confusions that surround the novel. This Barnes and Noble reprint derives from the Cassell 1893 edition, by the kind advice of Roger Swearingen, known for his book The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson: A Guide (1980).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was superb. I absolutely loved the enthralling plots taking place right along with the memorable characters. The storyline picks up exactly where the prequel, Kidnapped, leaves off. (So I recommend reading Catriona immediately after you finish the first book). David Balfour, orphaned, is a young man with his mind made up to do something. He's going to help a couple of friends clear the black mark off their names before they are wrongfully sent to the gallows. Being mixed in with such a horrible crime also puts David in a risky place even though he wants to help his friends. While in the midst of all the trials with lawyers, judges, and so many questions, David also makes a new friend, Catriona. She's a great person and wants to help David and do anything he asks – there's just one problem. Her father, James Monroe, is somehow mixed into the same crime that David is trying to get his friends out of. James Monroe might be a terrible enemy to David. Just like in Kidnapped, Alan Breck is in on the adventure too, with his strange, peculiar ways – always making him a thrilling character when he appears. I thought this book was just as entertaining as the first. For me, it was a lot of fun to read, but sometimes the reading is a little harder than other books.
Robert Louis Stevenson's novel 'Catriona' continues the run of bad luck that befell the young narrator, David Balfour, in 'Kidnapped.' I am glad the book has won new life in the Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading, but I do take issue with the feminist interpretation given in the introduction by Caroline McCracken-Flesher, professor of English at the University of Wyoming. While it is easy enough to understand how turn-of-the-century post-modernists view women characters primarily from a pro-feminist, anti-Victorian mindset, Catriona just will not fit into that construct. Catriona is far more like a manipulative Zelda Fitzgerald than a reasoned Eleanor Roosevelt. She snivels behind a closed door to make herself appear a misunderstood lady of good breeding, exhibits unwarranted jealousy toward Barbara Grant, and switches from love to hatred of David from chapter to chapter and even page to page. She deliberately jumps from a ship which is taking her to a place of safety into a small boat taking her to a place where she does not know the language and has no money. This shows her not to be a risk-taking woman, but a she-cat at the mercy of her busy emotions. She has all the earmarks of a Borderline Disorder Personality. A strong feminist character would be more sublime. It would be better to read 'Catriona' as the continuation of the journey of a naive narrator who is not a good judge of those whom he must trust whether it be family, clan, king, friend, or the entire judicial system of Scotland. 'Catriona' simply continues his education in the ways of the world by extending to beauty what Stevenson had already proven to be true of the clans and factions of the eighteenth-century Scottish male. Davie simply cannot trust his naive view of life, loyalty, and love. McCracken-Flesher comments specifically on a passage near the end of the book where Davie invites Catriona to accompany him to visit her just-as-treacherous father, to which she coyly agrees, 'If it be your pleasure.' To this, Davie, in an aside to the reader, remarks, 'These were early days.' McCracken-Flesher believes this passage proves that 'narrating from a distance of years, [David] has grown into a fuller understanding of gender relationships and married roles.' Possibly. But I think it just as likely to indicate that it will take the naive Davie many years to understand what the sympathetic reader was aware of by the end of Part I: alas, Catriona's words do not match her agenda. That Davie falls for her shows not that women can be just as strong as men, but that they can be just as treacherous.
True Stevenson fans will relish this continuation of the story began in Kidnapped. I loved the innocent interplay of the passion developing between David and Catronia. Alan Breck has a few interesting pages as well. Drenched in old Scot vernacular, you will not be disappointed.