Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Suicide Club” was included in a collection called The New Arabian Nights (1882). As the title would appear to suggest, the stories in the collection are highly mannered and artificial in character. Robert Louis Stevenson does not represent either the life of Victorian London or the character of a crown prince with any psychological reality; his intention seems rather to have been the production of a story with peculiar and exciting incidents, however unlikely the circumstances they depict might actually have been.

In structure and technique, the story has the same superficial character. Besides the elaborate and peculiar events of the plot, Stevenson indulges the habit of introducing characters without developing them beyond the few bold strokes in which they are drafted at their first appearance. As a result, recognizable stereotypes—the completely amoral villain, the young man disappointed in love, the miserly New Englander, the war hero—predominate in the action of each story. Even the prince (the name and country of whom Stevenson borrows from William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, c. 1610-1611) is conspicuously lacking in developed personality, serving for the most part as a mere representative of an extraordinary notion of honor. The only significantly developed character is Colonel Geraldine, who must be more fully represented if his actions are to be at all credible. Nevertheless, the absence of any explicit indications of his grief at the death of his brother suggests that even in his case, Stevenson had in mind not a portrait of human beings as they actually are but an exciting story that would engage and entertain readers with a taste for suspense.