The Master of Ballantrae
Robert Louis Stevenson
Around 250 pages
A week ago we said goodbye to Maupassant, now we are bidding farewell to Stevenson. And just like Maupassant before him, Stevenson ends his time on The List with a story about a rivalry between two brothers.
The novel begins in 1745, the year of the Jacobite rising. The Durie family is worried about losing their status if they are found to be on the wrong side of the rising, so they hatch a plan: one of their sons will join the uprising while the other son will join the loyalists. Both sons wish to join the uprising but after a coin toss the matter is settled: The eldest son, James, will join the rebels while the younger son Henry will be a loyalist. This sets up a rivalry that spans decades, all recounted from the point of view of the family's steward.
I took this novel with me on a semi recent trip to Scotland. I am quite glad I did, because I was able to visit the Writer's Museum in Edinburgh (which was basically a shrine to Stevenson with some Walter Scott paraphernalia thrown in). Of course, I had read Stevenson before but I would argue this is the most historical of his novels, and it was fun reading it with the correct scenery behind me.
Stevenson expects you to know about the Jacobite uprising, which I didn't, so I was a bit lost at the beginning of this. I am also not a huge fan of the adoring servant being the narrator. There's a reason Margaret Mitchell didn't have Mammy narrate Gone With the Wind. Of course, that reason probably has a lot to do with racism. Ahem. Not the best example. My point is, it comes across as an outdated, frankly obnoxious perspective, where people of a certain class aren't worthy of having their own stories told.
Frankly, I enjoyed his other novels better, although this one is certainly more ambitious than the others. I felt that certain parts dragged on too long and the whole "prodigal son returns" trope works better when it isn't done three times in a row. By the time James reappeared the last time, I was ready to close the book on both of them.
FINAL RANKING OF STEVENSON:
2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
3. Treasure Island
4. Master of Ballantrae
Adapted into a 1953 film with Errol Flynn. I don't remember any character being hot enough in this to justify that casting.
Original manuscript has been lost.
UP NEXT: Hunger by Knut Hamsun. I'm eager to read any novel by someone named Knut.