Allan Massie

Much More Useful than Writing Novels

The Lighthouse Stevensons

By

HarperCollins 208pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

For everyone who has heard of ‘Lighthouse Stevensons’ a thousand or more will recognise the name [Robert] Louis Stevenson. Yet he wrote of his father, and it might have been of his grandfather and uncles too, that: ‘I might write books till 1900 and not serve humanity so well; and it moves me to a certain impatience, to see the little, frothy bubble that attends the author, his son, and compare it with the obscurity in which that better man finds his reward.’ Louis was the tantony pig of the family, who, as Bella Bathurst says, with only small exaggeration, ‘stole all the fame that posterity has to give’. Now she has set herself the task of giving the engineer Stevensons their due, and ha done so admirably. It is ironic that she has far more in common with Louis than with his engineer relations. For one thing, like him, she writes with unusual grace and charm, and that makes what might have been a dry book (despite the lashing waves on almost every page) a great pleasure to read.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,