Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 292

The publication of Treasure Island marked the beginning of Stevenson’s reputation as a writer worth reading. By the end of the nineteenth century, Stevenson enjoyed what William B. Jones Jr. refers to in the preface to Robert Louis Stevenson Reconsidered as the “heights of near idolatry.” However, the public fervor...

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The publication of Treasure Island marked the beginning of Stevenson’s reputation as a writer worth reading. By the end of the nineteenth century, Stevenson enjoyed what William B. Jones Jr. refers to in the preface to Robert Louis Stevenson Reconsidered as the “heights of near idolatry.” However, the public fervor and appreciation of Stevenson’s life’s work would both rise and fall. His contemporaries and fellow British authors, such as Virginia Woolf, often belittled his work, accusing Stevenson of not challenging himself with serious topics. Despite this, Jones writes, “Stevenson actually never lost his popularity with readers, as the countless editions and numerous film versions of Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde attest.

Despite many critical statements about the lack of depth of Stevenson’s material, Ian Bell, writing in the preface to his book Dreams of Exile: Robert Louis Stevenson, states that nonetheless, Stevenson was able to connect with “public taste” at a “deep level” and marvels at the continued popularity of Stevenson’s work. “What was it,” Bell asks, “he [Stevenson] did in his ‘children’s stories,’ his ‘adventure tales,’ his ‘romances,’ that others failed— fail—to do?” Bell continues, “We can admit that there have been better writers than Stevenson, writers more subtle and ambitious, more tenacious, certainly more profound. Then it is necessary to remind ourselves that many of the names offered have long since faded from the public’s memory. Whatever Stevenson had they lacked. The durability and ubiquity of his tales suggest a man touching something basic.” As if to bolster Bell’s commentary, in a review of a recent edition of Stevenson’s novel, Laura Moore, writing in Urbana, concludes that Treasure Island “is perhaps the best adventure story ever written.”

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Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson