Readin’, Writin’ and RLS

Robert_Louis_Stevenson_portrait_by_Girolamo_NerliWhat image do you  see when you hear the word “Frankenstein”? Chances are, it’s Boris Karloff (avec neck bolts and platform boots) — not the brooding, sewn-together creature who hides in a woodshed and reads John Milton (in Shelley’s novel).

I really hate that.

Movies and other popular media have ruined that gothic story, just as they’ve  ruined  another incredible story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

We know that the title refers to the same character — even people who haven’t read the story know that! But 19th century readers didn’t. I envy them. Can you imagine what it was like to get walloped in the head by the surprise ending? Try to put yourself in their minds for a minute and you’ll understand why,

What a truly brilliant twist. Absolutely perfect. And it still holds up after all these years.

That’s because Stevenson is amazing  — in spite of getting treated all the time as a writer of boys’ adventure tales.

He knew how to put a good story together, and we were reminded of that fact earlier this week with the news that a lost Stevenson essay (well, part of one) had been found.

Published in issue 39 of The Strand Magazine, the essay  “Books and Reading. No 2. How books have to be written” is sharp, solid, practical. Among his comments:

“In the trash that I have no doubt you generally read, a vast number of people will probably get shot and stabbed and drowned; and you have only a very slight excitement for your money.”

“Such a quantity of twaddling detail would simply bore the reader’s head off.”

Love it. Give yourself a little treat this weekend. Swallow a dose of literary amnesia and read Stevenson’s “Strange Case” if you have it.  It’s not a long book. You’ll be done in an afternoon. Marvel at its construction. Then, when you turn to your own manuscript again, I bet you’ll find that you’ve learned something that helps. It’s happened for me.

Good luck, my friends.

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4 responses

  1. Going to be looking up this new essay and his others once I return from the snow. And I’ll have to get a copy of Strange Case, since I don’t think I’ve ever read it. I did read (and enjoyed) Frankenstein while taking a course in the Romantics.

    I am always looking to improve my own writing by taking advice from the masters. No point in making mistakes that can be avoided. No point in stepping in the same holes. Thanks for the rec!

  2. Thanks for linking to my blog–especially when in reference to a piece that mentions one of my favorite books, Frankenstein. Way back when I was an undergrad, I wrote a paper comparing the monster to Frederick Douglass in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. Through literacy, they both come to realize that the are the ultimate “other.” Poignant, relevant, transcendent stories. Thanks again!

  3. Man, what an amazing thesis. I’d have never made the connection between them — they seem so different — and yet it’s so clear in your description! I hope your professor was smart enough to give you a good grade on that paper, Yvonne. I’ll keep reading you — and it’s always a pleasure to meet up with likeminded readers in the WP World.

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