Dedicated to classics and hits.

Monday, February 27, 2012


The Master of Ballantrae
by Robert Louis Stevenson
originally published 1889
this edition Dover Thrift Editions p. 2003

  Oh man do I hate the Dover Thrift Edition- you know it's a minor classic when you are reading a Dover Thrift Edition of a classic novel.    Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae,  like Kidnapped, is a novel written about mid 18th century Scotland, written in the late 19th century.   Truly, the Scotland of the mid 18th century, with it's themes of Jacobite rebellion and civil war, was THE romantic setting of the novel from Sir Walter Scott's novels of the 18th century all the way through to Stevensons work a century later.

 Despite the constancy of Scotland in the mid 18th century as a stalwart locale for novelistic machinations, the novel itself underwent a notable transformation between the time of Walter Scotts work and Stevenson.    First of all, the novel established itself as a the dominant form of literature.

   Second of all, the form of the novel became both more self-conscious and more self-consciously stylistic.  18th century novels are anything but stylish- they all read like they were written by someone getting paid by the word and working without an editor- and those are the classics that are still read.

  Third- in between the 18th and 19th century the audience for the novel expanded along with the growth of literacy and the decline in costs associated with book publishing.

 Thus, in 1889 we get Stevensons The Master of Ballantrae- a theoretically "historical" novel which is actually both thematically complex, adventurous and entertaining in the manner that a contemporary reader expects a novel to be.  Only 160 page- The Master of Ballantrae moves between time and place: Scotland, pirates on the Atlantic Ocean, India and New York, with alacrity- the pacing is perfect, and the story is gripping.

 Like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, The Master of Ballantrae deals with the familiar literary theme of doubling- a theme I am happy to revisit in whatever form it takes within a classic novel.  Truly Stevenson, was a master of the form.

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