Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A Lodging for the Night,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s first published fiction, was also the first fictional treatment in English of Francois Villon (1431-1463?), the greatest poet of medieval France. Born as Francois de Montcorbier, Villon, author of Le Petit Testament (1456) and Le Grand Testament (1461), was neglected in subsequent centuries but rediscovered in the nineteenth century, when his bohemianism struck a kindred chord and his writing contributed to the romanticizing of the Middle Ages. In the 1860’s, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) did three notable translations of Villon, and soon several other poets, including Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), did some translations and imitations of the French poet. The first complete translation into English did not appear until 1878, the year after Stevenson’s story, and it may well be that “A Lodging for the Night” was the catalyst for the project. Just before writing the story, Stevenson wrote in 1877 an article entitled “Francois Villon, Student, Poet, and Housebreaker.”

In it, Stevenson, an advocate of the heroic, stoic, and active life, condemned Villon as a whining, cowardly knave and used this portrait to attack the aesthetes and bohemians of his own day. Stevenson was both drawn to and contemptuous of Villon; he preferred the vigor and sometimes brutal realism of Villon to the work of more effete and languid poets of his own day, but he also disliked the extreme realism of the rising naturalist writers, of whom he saw Villon as an ancestor. “Not only his style, but his callous pertinent way of looking on the sordid and ugly aspects of life, becomes every...

(The entire section is 682 words.)