Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY is one of the most perfect pieces of prose composition in the English language. With infinite grace and precision, Stevenson tells of his simple journey through the French countryside. The author’s style is flawless and yet without pretension. TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY is a book easily underrated because it presents such a simple, unaffected appearance, but its charm and humor and the beauty of the writing make it a sheer delight to read.
The book illustrates Stevenson’s continual strain to overcome his physical handicap and lead a natural and vigorous life in the out-of-doors. At the same time, Stevenson possessed the gift to turn everything into art, from his encounters with peasants to his battles with a stubborn donkey. Although a learned and sophisticated writer, he was able to view his experiences and the scenes of his travels with a fresh eye. The descriptions of the mountains and the farm lands are exquisite, the meetings with the peasants are earthy and humorous, and the donkey, Modestine, proves to have a distinctive and intractable personality.
Stevenson understood the fascination of apparently petty details. Much of the book is taken up with minute descriptions of his preparations, of his equipment, and of the plotting and planning of routes. The reader, because of these carefully presented details, comes to feel that he is sharing the experience with Stevenson. The freshness of mountain air, the shade of a cloud, the aromas of the cattle, are all described vividly and made real by Stevenson’s immense skill. The discovery of the unknown little French villages tucked away in tiny mountain valleys results in some of the most charming passages in the book. The chapters dealing with the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of the Snows are handled with a sensitivity and beauty which make them the heart of the book. The distance of the trip is only a hundred and twenty miles, but it is a fascinating experience and shows that one need not cover vast distances if one is able to observe truly and interpret what one sees.