Five things I learn about Robert Louis Stevenson from his short stories

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I was biding farewell to Robert Louis Stevenson as I closed the final page of ‘The Treasure of Franchard’, the last piece of his popular short stories anthology a few weeks ago.  Thanks to ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, ‘The Merry Men’, ‘Will O The Mill’, ‘Markheim’, ‘Thrawn Janet, ‘Olalla’ and ‘The Treasure of Franchard’, I gather these following ideas about this beloved Scottish author:

  1. Philosophical and reflective

Reading Robert Louis Stevenson can be a hard task. His works invite me to reflect so much, even when he writes something funny. It’s like watching Adam Sandler’s dark comedy, the kind of laugh that tears my heart because something serious and ironic is in it, too. ‘Will O The Mill’ proves me this. This tells a story about Will, a very generous and kind-hearted person, who spends his lifetime staying in the same place until the day he dies. For me, Will is the type of person who is very close to all of us, the sort of a good-boy-next-door, the man whom you would like to make friends with. He is so nice that he doesn’t fight for the girl that he loves when another man approaches her. His story is very touching, a kind of calm, sombre one that leaves very impressive mark in my reading list.

  1. You reap what you sow

Although wrapped in cheerful tone, ‘The Merry Men’ teaches me a lot of life lessons, each and every thing that I throw will come back to me in abundant ways. Gordon Darnaway, the uncle of Charles Darnaway, is the perfect example of this. From the very beginning of the short story, it prompts me to think how can this old man is very serious about his life. He seems distant and takes everything so heavy. After I read on the part where he murders now I understand that he probably reaps what he sows. He feels uneasy because of the crimes he does before. His life seems unpleasant because he runs away from his guilty for so long. The last scene where he is seen jumping off the sea makes my heart breaks. So ironic for his life.

  1. Oh, the Gothic style

‘Olalla’ brings me back all about Gothic things, the stuff that I learn during my university years. The mysterious, horror, thrilling tones are strongly felt in the story. Although some of key questions remain unanswered, the short story successfully keeps me going completing it. Robert Louis Stevenson is really good at presenting the Gothic idea in it although does not executing it all as smooth as I expect.

  1. ‘Markheim’ proves his work can be unsatisfying

From ‘Markheim’ I learn that even a master like Robert Louis Stevenson can produce deficient writing. I can feel his writing misses a number of scenes. Disorganized. The last scene when Markheim indicates he will surrender himself to the police after a thoughtful conversation with a man doesn’t make any senses to me.

  1. ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ remains his exceptionally masterpiece

‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is by far his brilliant work, which completely sticks in my heart in different ways despite the fact ‘Of Mice and Men’ is my most favorite book and ‘Wuthering Heights’ is the best novel I have read so far. ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ stands out from the crowd not only because of it tells about someone’s split personality but also because of his very, very subtle language with huge focus on details. This story runs really delicate that if you don’t pay enough attention, big things will slip away.

Thank you Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson!

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The missing piece: Thomas Hardy’s less popular books

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I completed reading the short story anthology by Robert Louis Stevenson a few weeks ago and I haven’t bought any new novels. This makes me feel a little bit hollow. On one side, I feel lighter because I have no commitment of reading a number of pages within a day or a week. I have no self-appointment to be met. I can read online articles whenever I want without feeling guilty.

On the other hand, something is missing. An important piece of my life is wandering, waiting to be found. And I know I need to read a decent book. In particular, I want to read another title by one of my most favorite authors, Thomas Hardy. I want his books BADLY. The problem is I don’t know how I can find them in the offline bookstores in Jakarta. The store I frequently visit sells only his popular works, such as The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I read all of them years ago.

The point is I have to buy his lesser known stories via online, something that I haven’t done. May be you wonder why should Hardy’s books? Well, I have to admit that there are no writings that suit my taste better than his. I like Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing style and his descriptive writing technique yet his chosen themes don’t match up with my likeness. They are incomplete, some things remain unresolved, as seen in Olalla and The Treasure of Franchard. Although, yes, they definitely entertain me so much.

In addition, I think it is because Hardy’s works or say, Hardy’s viewpoints are similar with my own; idealistic, realistic and pessimistic (I am working on the latest point to be more positive tone). His view of life and society and romance are comprehensive and contains a lot of critics. His writings are very reflective, prompting me to think on issues in broader ways possible. Romance in his eyes are not just a matter of feelings. And I am always captivated by his fictitious characters, so humane with flaws here and there.

For the sake of enjoying good writings, I am going to buy Hardy’s books. Let’s see how can they fill up the voids in my heart for I can’t take it anymore. I am really in dire need of beautiful words, thoughtful writings.

The picture is taken from this.

Unanswered key questions in ‘Olalla’ that make me feeling unsatisfied

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‘Olalla’ reminds me on the moments when I enjoy reading books about Gothic literature, the sort of mysterious tale that keeps me going until the last page of the story. Reading ‘Olalla’ brings so much fun in a way it successfully makes me curious about Felipe, Olalla and their mother. And oh the language by Robert Louis Stevenson in this short story is really, really damn good.

The challenge in reading this type of story is that there are a few or even a lot of clues that are hidden behind self-narration and dreams. In this short story, the narrator’s dream about Olalla gives very important foreshadowing on what is going on with her. Though different forms, the narrator’s dream later becomes true; that he has to go despite the fact they love each other.

Another hard task grasping the essence of the story is visualizing the gestures and appearances of the characters, especially the senora and Felipe. Although the senora is beautiful and elegant, I can tell by the narrator’s depictions that she has the royal blood. I just know it.

The strangest trait in the story I think is Felipe. In spite of his niceties, he is a weirdo as shown when he plays with a maggot. He enjoys torturing the animal. He acts like a child sometimes. This is so ironical knowing that he is the descendant of the royal family. So odd.

While those make the short story very rich and requires me to fully concentrate in digesting it, I hate to say this but I am a bit disappointed. Some key questions remain unresolved. I feel some things are left out.

For instance, what makes the senora act like a beast? How does the former influential family go from riches to rags, figuratively? Is there a thing called supra natural powers here?  What is the connection between losing respect from the society and becoming cruel person, like the senora? And then.. Is there a sort of curse that haunts the family for generations that make Olalla has no choice other than staying in the residencia then die?

There are missing links between losing power and opting becoming like a monster. Or I don’t know. May be I don’t understand the story well. All I know is that the narrator gets the whole story from the villager, which I feel it insufficient still. If not something is missing, I guess something is excluded. I feel the story is a little bit incomplete.

Just my humble thoughts though.

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‘Olalla’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

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An unknown, handsome gentleman who is also the narrator of the short story is on his course recovering from his illness. He follows what his doctor says. He leaves for a residencia in a small village in Spain to make his recovery goes quicker. But he goes there under one warning; that the owner of the residencia is a little bit strange and that the people of the village won’t be warmed by his good-looking. The doctor refers to Felipe and Olalla by the way.

He sets for the place somehow. He doesn’t get what the doctor says on Felipe’s weirdness on their first encounter. For the visitor, Felipe looks like every one else, tender and kind. The narrator decides doing something that’s risky; he wants to prove if what the doctor says is correct. So, they both get drunk. During the tipsy moments, the protagonist touches Felipe’s family that later causes him to get a little bit out of his temper.

Thankfully, that lasts short. The narrator goes to his bed. His eyes stare at a panting hanging on the walls of his room. It shows a middle-aged woman, a high class one along with her attire. What makes it looks very astonishing is her overall apperance, especially her eyes that make it as if she were alive.

Felipe’s attitude starts looking strange. Once the narrator catches him playing wickedly with a maggot. It seems like Felipe enjoys torturing the animal. The narrator scolds at him even cursing the owner, leaving him begging like a child. After the incident, Felipe acts like a normal man.

After a few days, the narrator meets Felipe’s mother. According to him,  the senora looks beautiful despite her old age. She inherits what it means as ‘royal women’, well-mannered, educated and elegant.

The narrator makes a good friend with her and has some opportunities to talk with her. All goes well until one evening he hears cries outside the residencia. He can’t help finding out what is going on but as he is about to open the door it is locked. Intentionally from the outside. The narrator can’t find ways to unlock it.

Things get more mysterious after he happens to meet a woman, namely Olalla. He knows the name for sure because the doctor mentions her before he goes to the residencia. The narrator is amazed by her beauty. They don’t speak for each other despite the fact they meet several times. The narrator falls in love with her although no words ever spoken yet.

Every day, he yearns for her. Sometimes they meet but sometimes they don’t until the narrator feels he can’t take it anymore. His feeling quickly drains his energy until one evening he smashes his own hand on windows. It bleeds so bad. He runs looking for help then he meets the senora.

But instead of helping his bleeding hand, the senora bites the narrator’s hand to the bones! His hand gets much worse. Fortunately, Felipe comes to rescue him, bringing the narrator to his room. There, Olalla nurses him for a few days until the narrator gets better.

During the time, Olalla tells him about her family and that she loves him, too. But it’s better for the narrator to leave the residencia for good for the sake of his life. Though hard it feels, the narrator agrees. Felipe takes him out of the residencia.

The narrator doesn’t go far though. He opts staying in a village not very far from the residencia. From his brief stay, people give more information about the family, that they are sort of corrupted royal family. The one who reigned the region but later on they were falling down.

But the narrator wishes he could save Olalla because of his huge love for her. So one day he approaches the residencia again and there he meets her. Olalla makes up her mind though. She doesn’t want to be rescued. She wishes to stay where she is. Then the narrator leaves her at the foot of the cross on a hill where they meet for the last time.

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Goodbye ‘Janet’ now welcome ‘Olalla’

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I finally bid farewell to ‘Thrawn Janet’, the first short story ever that confuses me because of its writing style. You can read about the reading struggle of this writing here. I get through it, eventually, after a few weeks.

I can’t tell you how relieved I am now. It feels as if I just pass very dark, dense forest with no helps at all. All in front of my eyes are now clear path with the sound of river nearby where I currently stand. The sun shines so bright. The land looks so vast.

I am so ready to resume the journey of this short story collection by Robert Louis Stevenson. Well, in fact I have been enjoying the first three pages of ‘Olalla’ another short story in this book anthology. And I quite like it.

At least, the writing style is my kind of favorite. No Scottish dialect, all is written in formal language. And oh yes, what I have been missing from this author shows up again; his beautiful writing style, the one that contains vivid descriptions that encourage my mind to visualize.

I can’t tell you much about what this story is all about other than the protagonist of the story is a handsome man from well-to-do family who wishes to seek therapy in a fresh, beautiful village in Spain in exchange of better health condition.

‘Olalla’ is the name of the characters in the story, the wife of Felipe, the narrator’s servant. What goes after this? I don’t know yet. I am going to share it all after I complete reading it. In the meantime I just want to say that I am happy I fulfill my commitment to finish reading ‘Thrawn Janet’ which completely confuses me. But I manage to keep my words and somehow I am proud of myself because of that. Also, I am happy to say here that I enjoy reading ‘Olalla’ so far.

Thank you for providing the above happy picture.