Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Scottish Highlands. Mountainous region of northern Scotland that is the scene of many adventures of young David Balfour, who finds the Highlands a wild, frightening, demanding, and alien environment. However, with the help of Highlander Alan Breck Stewart, he learns to survive there and to understand himself in doing so. There, he learns what it means to be Scottish. His own upbringing in the Scottish Lowlands has made him ambitious, thrifty, careful, and a little selfish. In the Highlands, he encounters heroism, romance, honor, tragedy, and loyalty. The Highlands thus represent aspects of Scotland and of David himself which, after David’s adventures with Alan Breck Stewart, he cannot ignore or forget.
House of Shaws
House of Shaws. Balfour family estate that is David’s birthright but which at the beginning of the novel is in the possession of David’s wicked uncle, Ebenezer Balfour. The House of Shaws is a dark, forbidding, dangerous, and mysterious place. Its decayed and incomplete state reflects the grim family history and blighted lives of the Balfours. Its darkness and dangers mirror the evils of Ebenezer Balfour. David’s retaking possession of Shaws at the end of the novel signals his achievement of maturity and the beginning of a much brighter future for both the Shaws and the Balfour family.
Covenant. Ship captained by Elias Hoseason...
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The story takes place in Scotland and the waters around it in the summer of 1751. David's travels take him over much of the Scottish countryside, especially the Highlands. Most editions of the novel contain background explanations that clarify the historical situation. The 1700s saw two Scottish rebellions against England caused by the decision that the House of Hanover would rule both countries. The Scots wanted their own royal family, the Stuarts, to rule again; they fought bloody wars in the attempt to accomplish this goal. The last revolt, in 1745-1746, ended with defeat for Scotland. By 1751 many of the Highland chiefs were either in hiding or had escaped to the Continent, and their followers were still supporting them with money and assistance.
One of the principal conflicts in the text exists between the attitude of David, who represents the Whig Lowlander acceptance of the Hanoverian monarchy, and that of Alan Breck Stewart, who stands for the rebellious Highland resistance to British control and, in some cases, the hope that the Stuarts might again rule the British Isles. This issue causes considerable friction in the plot, as it did in history. Stevenson manages to achieve an admirable objectivity toward both sides of the controversy. Among the perennial historical lessons in the book lies the fact that armed rebellion, successful or not, never leads to absolute peace and serenity.
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The main device in Kidnapped is that David Balfour narrates the entire text. The reader knows only what he knows and tends to believe what David believes. Thereby an element of realism is developed, in that the headlong plot is not slowed by deep thoughts and profound speculations, such as might be expected from the author himself in a third-person narrative or from a more sophisticated narrator. David tends to believe what he is told, at least for the first several chapters. As he becomes more aware of the machinations of his enemies, he grows more wary, but in a quite credible manner. For example, in the early scene in which the wicked uncle, Ebenezer Balfour (it has been speculated that Stevenson used his mother's maiden name as something of a tribute to her), tells David that he must lock the lad out of the house while Ebenezer is absent, David accepts the strange suggestion with unexpected equanimity, although he is surprised. Also, he is remarkably unperturbed by his uncle's crude attempts to kill him. Although he is temporarily indignant, the feeling passes, and he soon is ready to follow Ebenezer's suggestions. It would be difficult for an author to create this sense of honest naivety with any other point of view.
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While Treasure Island benefits from being told mostly in the voice of the bright and observant young Jim Hawkins, it suffers from the fact that parts of the story—matters that could not be known to Jim—have to be told by a different character. Kidnapped, on the other hand, is told as a memoir, so that the text benefits from the consistency of one voice and the perspective of a distance in time. David, in the telling, can recognize things he could not know at the time of the action.
I could not believe such wickedness, and ran along the shore from rock to rock, crying on them piteously. The vivid personality traits in nearly all the characters add realistic complexity and humor to the story. Captain Hoseason, for instance, participates in the brutal kidnapping of David, but whenever his ship passes a certain point of land, he has a gun salute fired in honor of his aged mother, who lives there. Also, the hard-hearted captain never swears. Other characters abuse the language but prove much kinder than Hoseason, such as Mr. Riach, the mate who tends to David's injuries and treats his illness. One mate is unmanageable when he drinks; another cannot be trusted when he is not drinking. Stevenson effectively weaves these quirky characteristics into the action-filled plot. Stevenson also carefully mixes Scottish terms into the dialogue in a believable fashion, but never to the point of sacrificing clarity or slowing down the action.
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From a historical point of view, one of the chief conflicts in Kidnapped is that David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart are from different parts of Scotland and hold opposing political beliefs. David is a Lowlander with loyalist sympathies, while Alan is a Jacobite with a price on his head for aiding the cause of the Stuarts in their endeavor to seize the throne of England. At the time of the story, 1751, sentiments on both sides of the issue ran high. From a social standpoint, these two characters have lived very different lives. David comes from the small community of Essendean, among common folk; Alan, however, has traveled widely and consorted with persons of all levels of society.
One important social revelation in the novel is the high sense of honor among people of but modest rank. In the Highlands, where Alan is from, the people often surprise David by exhibiting a sensitivity and civility unexpected in such rude surroundings. And, even the bragging, rowdy Alan can be gracious, as in the fact that he refuses to speak Gaelic with his comrades because he knows that David does not understand the tongue. Thus, while Alan brags of being "a bonny fighter," which indeed he is, he also displays a profound respect for character, as in the way he treats the honorable lawyer Mr. Rankeillor.
No social issues presented in this novel seem likely to prove controversial. The issue of rebellion, however, could be...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Since this book has been dramatized a number of times, it might be rewarding to view some of the available versions in order to determine how faithful the adapters were to the original text. For example, one could ask whether the characters are as clearly and fully developed as they are in the novel.
1. Does the quarrel between David and Alan seem realistic? They really have no solid basis for the conflict, but they are both tired and anxious. Is this enough to make the scene credible and effective?
2. Throughout much of the plot David is of two minds: He likes Alan and feels a loyalty to him, but he is also apprehensive about the course of action upon which Alan is bent. Is this inner conflict represented realistically by Stevenson? Does it deepen the characterization of the hero?
3. Is the fight scene on The Covenant believable? Could two persons hold off such a large band of attackers in the fashion presented in the text?
4. What are the central conflicts in the novel, apart from the obvious one involving combat? Are these oppositions adequately developed? Are any of them gratuitous?
5. Is there anything in Kidnapped that directly supports Stevenson's claim that romance is a literary form worthy of high respect?
6. What seem to be the principal motivations for the Highlanders to support what is plainly a lost cause? Are these motives valid?
7. Why does David not finally part from...
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Topics for Discussion
1. Readers have noticed Stevenson's fascination with duplicity. In what ways do various forms of duplicity play a large part in the novel?
2. David and Alan have been judged by some critics as two parts of a whole, rounded person. How are they shown to have opposite and also complementary qualities? Do these traits truly "fit" together?
3. What does the episode of David's stay on the island contribute to the story? What aspects of his personality does it emphasize?
4. What seems to be the Highlanders' chief motivation in maintaining their loyalties to a lost cause?
5. The visit to the cave of Cluny Macpherson is not integral to the plot, but it enriches the characterization of both David and Alan. How?
6. David tells himself several times, especially after the murder of Colin Campbell, that he would be better off escaping alone than with Alan, who is suspected of the murder. Why does he not at least propose the separation to his friend?
7. Stevenson is known for his love of setting. How do the various locations, particularly in the Highlands, add to the force and vigor of the events?
8. Do the reasons for the quarrel between David and Alan seem valid? Is the settlement of the dispute readily believable? Why?
9. At the conclusion of the narrative, several matters remain unresolved, such as Alan's escape and the murder mystery. Is the ending satisfactory?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Although Stevenson considered Kidnapped his best novel, some critics prefer David Balfour. Is the sequel a better literary production?
2. Although a knowledge of eighteenth- century Scottish history is not necessary for an appreciation of the book, in the year of publication (1886) many readers in England and Scotland would have had some grasp of that era. How does the study of the period of a "historical" novel facilitate understanding the book? How does the use of Scottish words and phrases make the novel seem more realistic and help the contemporary reader to gain a sense of eighteenth-century Scotland?
3. At one point, David complains about the Highlanders he has met, telling Alan that they could all use a bath. How does Stevenson seem to feel about these extraordinary people? Is he sympathetic or critical?
4. The plot of this book has been termed episodic. Are there any episodes that could be eliminated without detracting from the structure and effect of the novel?
5. Stevenson places much emphasis on the loyalty of Highlanders to their chief. Does this feeling seem valid and realistic? Are there logical reasons for the attitude? Is it better understood in historical perspective?
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The bildungsroman, a genre of novel about the development from youth and innocence to age and experience has an old tradition in world literature. While Stevenson probably did not have such an intention in mind. Kidnapped does bear a thematic resemblance to Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795-1796), Dickenss David Copperfield (1849-1850) and Great Expectations (1860-1861), and Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). The tradition has been followed by many authors in later years also. The novels of Sir Walter Scott offer numerous tales of young men learning about life and experiencing lively adventures.
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David Balfour tells the story of Alan's escape, an attempt to save Alan's cousin from execution as the murderer of Colin Campbell, and the love affair between David and Catriona Drummond.
Kidnapped has been adapted for the screen in four different motion picture productions: a 1938 film directed by Alfred L. Werker and starring Warner Baxter and Freddie Bartholomew; a 1948 adaptation directed by William Baudine and starring Roddy McDowall and Sue England; a 1960 Disney feature starring Peter Finch and Peter O'Toole; and a 1971 British version starring Michael Caine and Trevor Howard.
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For Further Reference
Allen, Walter. The English Novel. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958. A general history of the English novel, with a brief section placing Stevenson in the mainstream of the form.
Bowyer, John Wilson, and John Lee Brooks. The Victorian Age: Prose, Poetry, Drama. New York: Appleton- Century-Crofts, 1954. An anthology that contains a dense and informative introduction to Stevenson and his works.
Daiches, David. Robert Louis Stevenson and His World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1973. Probably the best biography, it is detailed and thorough, with sound literary judgments.
Eigner, Edwin M. Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966. Places Stevenson in the tradition of romanticism and examines several of his themes. It draws a number of fascinating parallels between Kidnapped and Huckleberry Finn.
Furnas, J. C. Robert Louis Stevenson and the Voyage to Windward. New York: Sloane, 1951. A somewhat idealized but useful biography.
Kiely, Robert. Robert Louis Stevenson and the Fiction of Adventure. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964. A scholarly explanation of the importance of adventure in Stevenson's life and the reasons for his treatment of it in his books.
Legouis, Emile, and Louis Cazamian. A History of English Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1964. Survey that indicates the high esteem in which Stevenson...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Calder, Jenni. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Claims that Stevenson could not have written Kidnapped or Treasure Island if he had not had the life experiences he had. Discusses the characters of David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart and concludes that the novel’s success rests on the credibility of Balfour’s character.
Calder, Jenni. Stevenson and Victorian Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981. Includes a number of articles that refer to Kidnapped. Christopher Harvie’s “The Politics of Stevenson” examines settings in Stevenson’s novels and his development of a rich Scottish dialogue, as well as the role that Scottish politics play in Kidnapped. W. W. Robson, in “On Kidnapped,” analyzes the way the vernacular and character interaction are affected by the intersection of time and place.
Stewart, Ralph. “The Unity of Kidnapped.” Victorian Newsletter 64 (Fall, 1983): 30-31. Discusses how the setting in the Scottish Highlands advances the adventure plot and examines historic sources that inspired Stevenson.
Zharen, W. M. von. “Kidnapped: Improved Hodgepodge?” In Children’s Novels and the Movies, edited by Douglas Street. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983....
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