Don’t get me wrong, I’m really keen that people should read Stevenson. For too many years he was out in the wilderness ( a place still held by a load of other great Scottish writers – J.M.Barrie, S.R.Crockett, O.Douglas and Annie Swan to name but a few) and it’s good to see him gain some recognition.
But fame is a double edged sword. If you read the article in the Herald, you’ll see that he’s becoming quite ‘the man.’ Now I’m not surprised that the Edinburgh cultural elite has woken up to the fact that Stevenson may be more of a ‘banker’ for them than Walter Scott, but I am worried that this is what he is. Just so much cultural capital.
While I’m damned sure Walter Scott wasn’t a McRenegade – the man was a Unionist and from professional/aristocratic class –and he wrote for money - though to be fair, in his day his writing was pretty ‘new’; I’m not really much surer that Stevenson was a McRenegade either – he was also a Unionist, he also came from the professional classes and he wrote for money (though I don’t think money was his ‘driver’ in the same way as Scot. I think Stevenson fits the bill of ‘Bohemian’ rather than McRenegade, but there is something renegadish about Bohemians too, so I think it’s worth inducting him.
His biggest claim, in my opinion to the McRenegade Hall of Fame is that he was so comprehensively overlooked by the mainstream cultural elite until so very recently. Forty years ago you’d be sneered at for reading Stevenson. His writing was for children. That patently isn’t true.
But now we see that Stevenson is being honoured in Edinburgh and has all the makings of being a nice little cultural cash cow for years to come. He’s got celebrity endorsement, he’s got the ‘elite’ behind him working out how to promote his image. He’s being ‘created’ as much as Shakespeare (on an aside, did you hear that Glasgow next year are doing some mega celebration for 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death!!!!!) Sorry, but I have to rant on that one. What happened to ‘whaur’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?’ Is this part of being Better Together? One Nation Britain. I’m sorry but we’ve a lot of wur ain guid screivers who could be promoted in front of some jamboree on St George’s Day for England’s finest playwright (allegedly – I say that because I fell out of love with Shakespeare just a little bit when I realised how much he was ‘edited’ in the 18th century and therefore how socially construsted he had become by the 20th century) That’s one Stevenson needs to look out for. If we’re not careful he’ll be sucked up into a Harry Potter type world where all that matters is sales.
What gift can you give RLS for his birthday if you can’t go along to any of the events in Edinburgh this week. As always, the best gift you can give a writer is to read their work.
How long is it since you read Kidnapped? I read it, along with Catriona, recently and was quite pleasantly surprised. At least it was quite different from how I viewed it when I last read it as a teenager. I’m sure it hasn’t changed that much, but I have. And that’s one thing that’s great about books, the relationship between writer and reader changes with time. So it’s always worth another visit. And there’s so much more to Stevenson . Travel writing,
You can go and buy a book or two. Or you can get him out of the library for free. If you’re an ebook fanatic I can recommend the Delphi Classics series (but get the ‘parts’ edition or it’s rather unwieldy) You can get it here for under £4 http://www.delphiclassics.com/shop/stevenson-parts-edition/
The ‘full’ edition as one file is under £2, but believe me, it’s worth paying the extra if you want easy access to well nigh everything Stevenson wrote (and a lot that was written about him) on your ereader of choice.
If you’re welded to Amazon for 99 p you can get ‘David Balfour’ Parts 1 and 2 -which is what Kidnapped/Catriona actually is: here
and if you want to go cheaper than that there are free downloadable ebook editions (or read online) from project guthenberg Kidnapped https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/421 and Catriona http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/589
and the Open Library. https://archive.org/details/kidnapped00stev Kidnapped and Catriona https://archive.org/details/catriona00stevuoft
I haven’t checked out the quality of the free ones – usually these are good online but not always of the best when you download them due to the vagaries of scanning. But you can’t say you can’t afford to read some Stevenson this week.
He’s never been cheaper, or (it seems) more popular. Shall I end on an interesting aside? Now that there’s no money to be made in the actual publishing of writers work, is the only way to capitalise on them to give ‘add on’ value such as we’re seeing at RLS Day/Week – or am I just being cynical? Has everyone finally caught on as to what a great writer he is and they’ll all be busy reading his work between now and Christmas?
And here’s a wee joke – what do you call a dead celebrity? A legend.
Think about that for a while my pals. Think about it. And think about celebrity and writing in general. You, as reader, my pal, are also a stakeholder. Not just a passive consumer. At least I hope not.
Finally, as a little pass the parcel birthday game, it might be nice to speculate who could be the perfect ‘celebrity’ to get behind other lesser known Scottish writers. J.M.Barrie now has Joanna Lumley (at least as far as Peter Pan is concerned) but who is there to speak up for S.R.Crockett? Would Annie Lennox support Annie Swan? And what about O.Douglas? How many folk even know who she was. But surely there’s a feminist that was overshadowed by her own brother who would like to gie a wee shout out for O. I’m about to do my ain bit for the promotion of one James Leatham (who?) which I’ll be telling you about next month. It’s the 150th anniversary of his birthday in December but the mainstream will not be out in force celebrating, because Leatham is DEFINITELY a prime candidate for the McRenegades Hall of Fame.
Here's that Herald link if you didn't read it at the beginning!