A Friendship in Letters: Robert Louis Stevenson & J M Barrie by Michael Shaw (ed) - review by Joseph Farrell

Joseph Farrell

From Treasure Island to Neverland

A Friendship in Letters: Robert Louis Stevenson & J M Barrie


Sandstone Press 245pp £11.99

It was always an annoyance that while Robert Louis Stevenson’s side of his correspondence with J M Barrie was available in the canonical Booth and Mehew edition of his letters, Barrie’s replies were presumed lost. It now turns out that they were, like Poe’s purloined letter, concealed in plain view, in the Beinecke Library at Yale University, the prime archive of Stevensoniana. Michael Shaw may not have yelled ‘Eureka!’ in that venerable shrine but he could hardly have believed his luck when he found a cache in a box routinely made available to researchers.

Stevenson and Barrie never actually met. It was Stevenson who, two years into his exile in Samoa, initiated contact, noting that ‘we are both Scots … and I suspect both rather Scotty Scots’. As Scotty Scots, they reminisce about trout-fishing in Kirriemuir, Barrie’s home town, wonder whether their paths could have crossed in Edinburgh and sprinkle throughout their prose a variety of Scotticisms, helpfully translated in a glossary at the end of this handsome volume.

Stevenson was a letter-writer on the heroic, Victorian scale of Gladstone or the queen herself, and all the quirkiness, whimsy, humour and insight that make his correspondence such a delight are apparent here, with the extra element of a confidentiality not always apparent in letters to other friends. The two

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