The Master of Ballantrae by R.L. Stevenson – Classics Club Spin

The tale is told by Ephraim McKellar, the steward of the estate belonging to Durie of Durrisdeer in Scotland. The laird of Durrisdeer has two adult sons and as the 1745 Jacobite uprising is about to begin sides have to be taken. It’s a dangerous time for landed estates as supporting the losing side will mean that they will lose everything. To avoid this disaster familes with two sons have one son, usually the younger one supporting the Jacobites while the eldest one supports the status quo, King George. But James Durie the eldest is keen to leave home for the more exciting prospect of the rebellion and decides to toss a coin to do so, of course he wins the toss which leaves his brother Henry at home.

Henry is very much the ‘spare’ heir as far as his father is concerned. The father can’t stop talking about James as if he’s some sort of hero whereas in reality he’s a ‘right bad yin’. When the Jacobites lose the Duries eventually get word that James has been killed and the father persuades Henry to marry James’s fiancee, and that’s as far as I’ll go with this one.

I can’t say that it’s one of my favourites by Stevenson, I really disliked the whole idea of the father favouring his eldest son to such an extent, and the younger brother ending up more or less being mentally tortured by him, but that’s my problem. I felt so sorry for Henry that I really couldn’t enjoy the story and it has a really sad ending.

I could definitely have been doing with something more uplifting, but don’t let me put you off reading this one! You might really enjoy it as so many people seem to have done.

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson – The Classics Club

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1888 and it’s one of the books on my Classics Club list. It’s set during the Wars of the Roses in the time of King Henry VI and as you would expect it’s a combination of adventure and romance. Sadly it didn’t come up to the standards of Treasure Island, Kidnapped or even its sequel Catriona.

Dick Shelton’s father was murdered when Dick was younger and now that he is grown up Dick wants to get justice for his father. Unfortunately Dick’s guardian is Sir Daniel, he’s a rogue although supposedly a gentleman. Sir Daniel buys up guardianships so that he can plunder their money before they reach maturity. He has kidnapped Joanna Sedley from her legal guardian, intending to marry her off to Dick.

Meanwhile Dick is beginning to think that Sir Daniel and his cronies are actually responsible for his father’s death and Joanna is sure of it, she persuades Dick to team up with The Black Arrow outlaws against Sir Daniel.

I really disliked the style of writing that Stevenson employed in this book, a sort of archaic English which Stevenson himself called ‘tushery’. I suppose that he thought it would help with the historical atmosphere, but it really doesn’t.

There is quite a lot of fighting and killing, as you would expect in a book which features battles and spies and a 15th century setting. I read this one for The Classics Club and I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg as my copy of the book dates from 1908 and has teeny weeny print.

Edinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

Edinburgh cover

Edinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1878 but my copy is a lovely edition published by Seeley and Co in 1905. It’s leather bound, gold edged with thick cream pages. Obviously this one comes under his travel writing, not that he had to do much travelling to write about his home town of Edinburgh.

In Chapter 1 Stevenson describes the beauty of Edinburgh and there’s no doubt it is beautiful, as well as being unique, in fact I’ve witnessed tourists’ jaws actually dropping when they see the castle rock from Princes Street.

The ancient and famous metropolis of the North sits overlooking a windy estuary from the slope and summit of three hills. No position could be more commanding for the head city of a kingdom; nor better chosen for noble prospects. From her tall precipice and terraced gardens she looks far and wide on the sea and broad champaigns. To the east you may catch at sunset the spark of the May lighthouse where the Firth expands into the German Ocean; and away to the west, over all the carse of Stirling, you can see the first snows on Ben Ledi.

But it’s not long before R.L.S. goes on to describe the downside of living in Edinburgh – and it’s hilarious.

But Edinburgh pays cruelly for her high seat in one of the vilest climates under heaven. She is liable to beaten upon by all the winds that blow, to be drencched with rain, to be buried in cold sea fogs out of the east, and powdered with the snow as it comes flying southward from the Highland hills. The weather is raw and boisterous in winter, shifty and ungenial in summer, and a downright meteorological purgatory in the spring. The delicate die early, and I, as a survivor, among bleak winds and plumping rain, have been sometimes tempted to envy them their fate.

So there you have it, R.L.S. obviously had a love/hate relationship with his place of birth, and no doubt Edinburgh’s atmospheres of genteel civility on one hand – and dark and menacing on the other played a huge part in his writing, particularly of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde.

The contents of this book include chapters on:

Old Town – The Lands
The Parliament Close
The New Town – Town and Country
The Villa Quarters
The Calton Hill
Winter and New Year
To the Pentland Hills

My Blog’s Name in TBR Books

I’ve never done this meme before but lots of the blogs that I enjoy frequenting have been doing it including Margaret at BooksPlease and I decided to join in. The idea is that you choose book titles from your TBR pile which begin with the letters of your blog name. So, here goes – sixteen of them. I intend to read them before the end of this year.

TBR Books

PPapa-la-bas by John Dickson Carr

IIf This Is a Man by Primo Levi

NNicolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

IIf Not Now, When by Primo Levi

NNot So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

GGuest in the House by Philip MacDonald

FFor the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil

OOld Hall-New Hall by Michael Innes

RReputation for a Song by Edward Grierson

TTroy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

HHow Late It Was – How Late by James Kelman

EEdinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

WWinter by Len Deighton

EEverything You Need by A.L. Kennedy

SSpiderweb by Penelope Lively

TTrooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell

Have you read any of these books and if so where should I begin?

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

As I’ve already completed my reading for the Classics Club I decided to get stuck into Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 which is run by Karen @Books and Chocolate (what a fab blog name).
My book list consists of:

1. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
2. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
3. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
4. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
5. Montaigne Essays
6. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
7. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
8. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
9. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary by Hugh Lofting
10. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
11. I, Claudius – Claudius, the God by Robert Graves
12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Have you read any of these ones? I’ve had most of these book waiting in a queue to be read for years now and this will encourage me to get around to them at last!

Robert Louis Stevenson at Bridge of Allan

We really like Bridge of Allan, which is a very small town (or is it a large village?) in Stirlingshire, not far from Stirling. It has some lovely views and good hillwalking nearby and also the Stirling University Campus is there so it always seems to be a thriving community, with a nearby film theatre too.

In fact we looked at a couple of houses there but decided against moving there, mainly because the house which we sort of liked had a very wee garden but worse than that it almost backed on to the only women’s prison in the whole of Scotland. The house was about 100 yards away from a huge perimeter fence. I would just have found that outlook too depressing, especially as I’ve been told that most of the inmates are suffering from mental problems and are on suicide watch. I think the estate agent was doing that thing beloved of such people, namely changing the location to something more salubrious, the house should really have been marketed under the place name Cornton.

Anyway, it was when we were having a look around the town for the umpteenth time that I noticed this plaque on a wall just off the High Street.

RLS Bridge of Allan

It says that Robert Louis Stevenson and his family often stayed there for holidays. I don’t blame them, it must have been a nice change from smoky Edinburgh, which at that time was often called Auld Reekie. Apparently Charles Dickens was also a regular visitor.

I grew up in a town with two rivers in it, the Clyde and the Leven and for me a town has to have a good river and bridge to qualify as a ‘proper’ town. It usually means that it has been settled for donkey’s years, a place with a long history. Bridge of Allan fits that bill too, and as you can see from the photo below it also has a resident heron which is often to be seen close to the bridge. It actually moved this time but it wasn’t fishing, just sorting out its feathers.


If you want to see more images of Bridge of Allan, have a look here. To read more about the town’s history have a look here.

The Classics Club

The Classics Club October question is: Why are you reading the classics? Before you start, I’m warning you this is a ramble and a half!

There are lots of reasons why I read classic books. When I was about 9 or 10 I started reading classics which had been abridged for children and Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. I really enjoyed reading books which were set in a more genteel time I think and it was about that time I tried my hand at embroidery, I think I fancied myself as a Victorian heroine!

I soon moved on to reading the unabridged books like Jane Eyre and then everything by Jane Austen, and George Elliot’s Mill on the Floss was a favourite of mine when I was about 12. I think at the back of my mind I had a feeling that if a book was still being read and reprinted after so many years then it must mean that it’s a book worth reading. I do hate giving up on books which have been a disappointment to me, there’s less chance of that with a classic I think.

I still have the very first classic book which I bought with my own money, and I can clearly remember buying it. My mum gave all of my books away when she was having a mad clear out, apparently I had grown out of them, I of course knew nothing about it until the deed was done. But my first purchase survived the pogrom because it was for adults. It is a small cream coloured book, published by Thomas Nelson and it’s Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson. Apart from being a dinky wee book it was the title which made me buy it, vanity I suppose, or just curiosity because Catriona is the Gaelic spelling of my own name of course, and I wanted to know what this other Catriona/Katrina got up to.

I had to wait though as I hadn’t looked inside the book where it says – sequel to Kidnapped. As I hadn’t read Kidnapped I had to find that one first. Both books are well worth reading and have a Scottish setting, which is something else which I enjoy. I know – how parochial of me!

I’ll give you a flavour of that first classics book purchase. I bought it in John Menzies (pronounced Ming-is – it’s that yogh letter of the alphabet again) Stationers and Bookshop in Helensburgh, on the west coat of Scotland, north of Glasgow. Helensburgh is a town just about 7 miles north of where I was brought up and it was a favourite place to have a nice day out, a bit of a change of scene. It was a popular destination for day trippers, holidaymakers and at that time had the most millionaires living in it of any town in Scotland. It attracted successful football players and theatrical entertainers, showbiz types I suppose you could say. The actress Deborah Kerr was born there and John Logie Baird lived there and apparently started his experiments on the development of television there in the 1920s.

But all that was of not very much interest to my mum, what she liked Helensburgh for was the American Navy! At the time they were based at the Holy Loch and possibly Faslane, on the Clyde. Yes, all the nice girls love a sailor – so they say, and my mum certainly did. She was always terribly disappointed if for some reason there were no US sailors in the town when we were there. I was always quite relieved because she would urge me in a stage whisper, which really more resembled a fog horn. Touch their stars for luck! She always got the attention of the sailors – I always just about died of embarrassment and of course refused to touch up any sailors. I’m sure my mum made it up – that it’s supposed to be lucky to touch the star on the bottom corner of a US sailor’s collar.

Well I warned you it was going to be a ramble! But when I look at my copy of Catriona it reminds me of sailors and my somewhat eccentric mum. As it happens my dad had been a sailor when they got married, but then, it was during World War II and there were a lot of them about back then.

If you look carefully you should be able to see my cream coloured copy of Catriona on the shelf below.

The Amateur Emigrant and The Silverado Squatters by RLS

I have these two books in a lovely Folio Society edition. I used to be a member but nowadays I tend to buy their books in second-hand shops. Again, they’re on my 2011 reading list. RLS is of course Robert Louis Stevenson but he tends to be shortened in Scotland. I read somewhere years ago that his middle name was pronounced Lewis – as he came from a very strict Presbyterian family which wouldn’t have had anything to do with French Catholic sounding names. It seems strange that they gave him such a name then.

Anyway, RLS wrote quite a lot of travel books and these are two of them. The Amateur Emigrant is about his journey from the Broomielaw Docks on the River Clyde in Glasgow to New York in 1879, on his way to San Francisco to be with the American married woman that he had fallen for. The voyage was grim and RLS had always been sickly so it must have been even worse for him but his descriptions of the types of people who have decided to seek a better life in America is well worth reading and he makes a lot of observations about their personalities. I had imagined that emigrants would have been ‘go-getting’ types but RLS describes them as people who had failed to do well in their home country and predicted that they would fare no better in the new one because of their attitudes. It seems that work was as hard to come by in New York as it was in Scotland and although in my family uncles opted to go to Australia in the 1960s I have to say that life wasn’t any better for them there than it would have been if they had just stayed at home, and was probably even worse for their kids, jobs wise anyway.

In The Silverado Squatters RLS is married to his beloved Fanny Osbourne who had managed to get a divorce. As you can imagine the Stevenson family were dead against Fanny who was years older than him and seems to have been ‘a bit of a gal’ but she made him happy. They spend their honeymoon near Calistoga in California in a wreck of a ‘house’ which had been inhabited by miners years before. It had no windows and holes in the roof so it’s just as well that the weather was good. I think RLS probably hoped that the dry heat would help with the consumption which he had suffered from for years. The place was infested with rattlesnakes which they didn’t realise were dangerous until the end of their month long stay there.

I enjoyed this book but I think that it might be of even more interest to Americans who might have travelled to the places that he mentions. He met Californian wine makers in the Napa Valley and saw the fancy mock French labels which they put on their bottles because then they could get people to buy it. RLS was impressed with the wine but Californian wine was in its infancy then and I can remember fairly recently that wine snobs were very sniffy about ‘New World’ wine. ‘The smack of Californian earth shall linger on the palate of your grandson.’ RLS.

He seems to have met quite a lot of Scotsmen around that area and they were always glad to hear another Scotsman and hear about the old country. They must have been homesick.

The Silverado Squatters ended very abruptly though which I thought was a bit strange, almost as if he had had to pack quickly and never added any more to his writing after he left the place.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

I’ve had this Daniel Defoe book in my house for over 30 years and it’s one of those lovely wee dark blue leather bound books but luckily the print is quite good so it’s easy on the eyes. I’ve been avoiding reading it mainly because I’ve seen numerous TV adaptations but over the last couple of years I’ve been struck by how many authors have mentioned Robinson Crusoe in their own books, it must get the most name checks of any book surely. It was the detective in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone who was most keen on reading it though and he seemed to find everything he needed in Robinson C.

Anyway, first published in 1719 and as you would expect, the writing seems quite archaic at first but I got used to it and ended up quite enjoying it. Everybody knows the story probably, if Robinson had been a dutiful son he would have taken his father’s advice and lived a sedate middle-of-the-road life as his father had noticed that those were the happiest of people. Being young and looking for adventure Robinson sailed off looking for excitement and he found it. He eventually ends up being taken as a slave but after years of slavery he manages to escape on a ship only to be shipwrecked and ending up being the only survivor of it when he manages to reach a nearby island.

Luckily he was able to swim back out to the ship and rescue lots of useful things to help him to survive – tools, some seeds, rum, sailcloth, guns and gunpowder – in fact he was fairly well stocked with the necessities of life. The island had a reasonable amount of edibles so I like to think that I could have managed as well as he did in the same circumstances.

The only thing that he doesn’t have is human company although he does have a dog and some ship’s cats. Robert Louis Stevenson thinks that the part where Robinson finds a human footprint in the sand as one of the most unforgettable scenes in English literature. Even although he later discovered that the island was used as an occasional ‘picnic area’ for a tribe of cannibals it was the scenes involving wolves in snowy mountains when he gets back to Europe which I found to be the most scary.

I did find the many descriptions of how he made pallisades around his cave a wee bit tedious but I’m glad that I’ve read it at last.

Daniel Defoe was born plain Daniel Foe and he decided to stick the De on to it to make himself seem aristocratic, that’s always a sign of a ‘dodgy’ person. And indeed Defoe was actually an English spy who took up residence in Edinburgh and infiltrated Scottish society and became an adviser to committees of the Scottish Parliament and the Church of Scotland. The English government had given orders to make sure that Scotland joined itself to England, for one thing Scotland had a ‘great treasury of men’ which England wanted to use.

Afterthe deed was done Defoe had the grace to admit that he had been wrong. He had apparently thought that Scotland would become more prosperous joined to England but of course the opposite was the outcome and poverty and unemployment became much worse.

Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe whilst he was living in Edinburgh and it’s thought that he got the idea from the true story of Alexander Selkirk from Lower Largo in Fife who had been marooned on the island of Juan Fernandez near Chile which has since had a change of name to Robinson Crusoe Island.

Willa Cather and others

I’m going to start reading Willa Cather’s Death of the Archbishop soon, so I was really chuffed when I paid a call on Christopher at ProSe last night and discovered that his new post was about his recent visit to Nebraska and Red Cloud, where Willa lived. His photographs are lovely and the houses are perfectly American, picket fence and all.

So if you’ve missed it, do yourself a favour and have a peek now. One of the houses featured is linked with the book My Antonia and is in need of some TLC apparently as is Robert Louis Stevenson’s home in Edinburgh, which you can see here. It really annoys me when literary history is just left to rot like this.

On the reading front, I’ve just finished Ian Rankin’s Let It Bleed. Does anybody else want to join in with the discussion on this book over at Judith’s ? (Reader in the Wilderness) I’m usually more of a vintage crime lass but I think I’m really going to get into the Rebus books.

I’m now nearly half way through Dracula and I’m really surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. Last night I decided to read War and Peace, I’ve been putting it off for years and the only way of doing it is to have a deadline, I think I have to finish it by January the 19th when there is going to be a discussion on it.

Last but not least, The Classics Circuit has started up again after a bit of a rest and the next tour is a Trollope one. I’ve signed up to read either The Belton Estate or The Claverings, which happen to be the only two of his which I have in the house but haven’t read yet.

I mustn’t forget Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers either.