Robert Louis Stevenson's romantic novels: an experiment in genre

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This thesis attempts to show that Robert Louis Stevenson's romantic novels experiment in combining romance and realism. To achieve his objective, Stevenson sometimes imitates earlier writers of romance, sometimes differs from them. He imitates traditional romance by including the motifs of love, adventure, combat, and quest. He juxtaposes good and evil and makes good defeat evil. He deviates from traditional romance, however, by creating villains not altogether evil, such as Long John Silver in Treasure Island. He also deviates from traditional romance by creating incidents where evil overwhelms and drags the good down into moral degradation, as in the encounters between the Durie brothers in The Master of Ballantrae or between Frank and Archie in Weir of Hermiston.

Stevenson also includes in his romantic novels some elements of realism--the use of common people, the modeling of characters after known personalities, and the association of fictional events with history. He uses a truly romantic character such as the Prince in Prince Otto to make a moral point about the place of aptitude and interest in assigning roles to people. He also uses romantic adventures to teach moral lessons, as in The Dynamiter. Stevenson establishes that romance functions not only to delight but also to teach; it is not to encourage escape but to serve a pragmatic purpose.



Stevenson, Robert Louis