Friday, April 28, 2006

The Art and Artifice of Literature

Robert Louis Stevenson to Henry James in an 1884 letter:

Seriously, from the dearth of information and thoughtful interest in the art of literature, those who try to practice it with any deliberate purpose run the risk of finding no fit audience. People suppose that it is 'the stuff' that interests them; they think for instance, that the prodigious fine thoughts and sentiments in Shakespeare impress by their own weight, not understanding that the unpolished diamond is but a stone. They think that striking situations, or good dialogue, are got by studying life; they will not rise to understand that they are prepared by deliberate artifice and set off by painful suppressions.

Quoted in Claire Harman, Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography (HarperCollins, 2005) at 280.


Quillhill said...

How interesting, in that it sounds more like something James would write to Stevenson than the other way around.

Buffy said...


I was thinking the same thing.

Kate S. said...

It's not the position that I would have expected Stevenson to take either. Harman's biography of Stevenson and the various excerpts featured within it from Stevenson's letters and essays are challenging many of the preconceptions about him that I had formed from my admittedly selective reading of his works. I'm scouring Edinburgh's second hand bookshops now for hard-to-find Stevenson books and thoroughly enjoying the hunt.