Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Friday, January 16, 2009

Robert Louis Stevenson says ...

'In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. The words, if the book be eloquent, should be thenceforward in our ears like the noise of breakers, or the story, if it be a story, repeat itself in a thousand coloured pictures to the eye.'

There's a man who loved his medium, and had mighty and noble aspirations for his - and every other author's - writing.

I've been reading Jekyll and Hyde, (recommended long ago in the comments here), which although it's rendered me incapable of neither sleep nor continuous thought, I've certainly found absorbing.

More thoughts on it another time perhaps (they boil down to it's a good and interesting tale), but one thing that strikes me particularly clearly: it's the most glaring, most unambiguous, illustration I've ever seen of the capacity of a spoiler to detract from enjoyment of a story. The novella is robbed of a very substantial portion of the power it must have had for its original audience by every modern reader's foreknowledge of the central conceit. I can't think of any other classic work of fiction that is quite so handicapped by its own fame. RLS very carefully and deliberately structured the story to keep the reader uncertain of the true nature of the events it describes until almost the very end: all that authorial care and intention undone by his own immense success in creating a mythic and cultural icon. I guess that's the kind of unforeseen problem most authors would not lose too much sleep over.