Oliver S. Buckton, Cruising with Robert Louis Stevenson: Travel, Narrative and the Colonial Body. Athens: Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2007 ISBN: 0-8214-1756-8. Price: US$44.95.[Record]

  • Martin Danahay

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  • Martin Danahay
    Brock University

Robert Louis Stevenson was a writer who seems not to have wanted his travels to be interrupted by routines, which presents a challenge for the critic trying to come to terms with both his varied output and peripatetic life. His writing often directly addresses travel, as in his earliest publications An Inland Voyage or Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes or has voyaging as a central motif in such novels as Treasure Island and The Master of Ballantrae. Oliver Buckton's approach to Stevenson's oeuvre is very promising in light of the centrality of travel for Stevenson's texts; Buckton defines his different uses of the term "cruising" as, first, "a process of travel characterized by leisurely movement and random progress" (3); second, a narrative technique that involved "integrating the materials and experiences of travel into [Stevenson’s] writing" (4); and, third, a procedure in which travel is employed "as a basis for narrative structure, without being constrained by the conventions of realism" (5). In addition, Buckton draws upon the twentieth century definition of "cruising" as "pleasurable travel" with connotations of sexual experience arguing that there is an erotic aspect to Stevenson's writing, especially in the South Seas (7). Overall this sophisticated approach to Stevenson's writings offers an admirable heuristic for bringing into conjunction his literal and literary journeys. In Part One, "Travel and the (Re)animated Body" Buckton examines Stevenson's fiction in terms of the "body." The first chapter argues that "reanimated corpses" are central to understanding Stevenson's corpus (with a deliberate punning on texts and bodies) as both vitalizing and disrupting forces. According to Buckton they introduce "a disorderly dynamic of circularity and bodily intimacy." (65) In the next chapter it is not a human but a donkey's body that is in question, Modestine in AnInland Voyage being "a reminder of animality" for Stevenson (90). Buckton argues that Modestine the donkey is the central figure in the text and related to Stevenson's own anxieties about travel and his body. In Part Two, "Mapping the Historical Romance," Buckton investigates voyaging in terms of the map in Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Following [insert full name] Feltes argument, Buckton terms Treasure Island Stevenson's first "commodity-text" (101) which plays out a search for treasure in its plot and a search for profits in its writing. Buckton then analyzes Kidnapped as a failed sequel in which journeys are interrupted and readers' expectations thwarted. These chapters capture nicely Stevenson's ambivalent attitude toward popularity and monetary success, which he both courted and regarded with suspicion once it was gained. Parts Thee and Four turn to Stevenson and the South Seas, and are in many ways the most engaging chapters of this study. Like Ann Colley in her recent Robert Louis Stevenson and the Colonial Imagination (Ashgate, 2004) Buckton teases out Stevenson's complicated relationship with colonialism and anti-colonialism. As a Scot he was able to sympathize with the Samoan efforts at independence, yet he was also identified with the British Empire by others. In interpreting A Footnote to History, for example, Buckton argues that Stevenson creates parallels between Samoan and Highland cultures as way of attracting readers (196), yet this desire to make the text accessible to a British audience meant adopting narratives of the Samoans as "primitive" and reinforcing European cultural superiority. (203) There is much to admire in these chapters as Buckton analyzes the mixed strains of anti-colonialism and a desire for a readership in tales such as The Ebb-Tide. Stevenson judged his writings on the South Seas to be a failure because he had ambitions to write a magnum opus on the …