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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 25 March 2016

"Weir of Hermiston" by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is the last book by RLS and it was left unfinished at his death, rather like Edwin Drood was by Charles Dickens. It finishes in the middle of a sentence ...

RLS was responsible for the pirate novel with Treasure Island, a novel which is almost perfect as it can be. The villain, one-legged Long John Silver, was based on a one-legged friend of RLS, W. E. Henley, a poet, who also knew J M Barrie the author of Peter Pan. Henley's daughter, who is buried beside him in Cockayne Hatley churchyard, as a child could not pronounce her rs. She called Barrie her 'fwendy-wendy' which is where the name of Peter Pan's girlfriend Wendy Darling comes from (and all subsequent Wendys).

I read Treasure Island when I was little and still remember having nightmares about blind Pew, tappping his way along the street.

RLS also wrote the horror classic Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, one of the very few novels to have created a mythic stereotype (perhaps Frankenstein, Dracula, and Treasure Island itself might be among the others).

Not content with that for a lifetime, he also wrote the brilliant adventure yarn Kidnapped in which the cattle-headed David Balfour is put on a boat by his evil uncle Ebeneezer and sent to be sold as a slave in the Americas but is rescued by the colourful, vain, dandyish Jacobite rebel Allan Breck Stewart; together they race through the heather across Scotland with a price on their heads.

I even enjoyed its sequel Catriona.

Weir of Hermiston is about a father, Weir the elder, a hanging judge, and his son, Archie Weir, who is rather ashamed of his dad and, having spoken out against the father, is exiled to be the laird of the family farm in Hermiston. There Archie, also called Erchie (the poorer characters speak broad Lallan Scots, the posher characters English) meets and falls in love with Christina, aka Kirstie, not to be confused with her aunt also called Kirstie, who has four black brothers made famous after their bloodthirsty revenge on the robbers who killed their father.

The fragment that we have sets the scene. Archie's father is a stern and rather horrid character, blackly drawn. Archie is a chip off the old block in some ways, being self-disciplined, but at the same time he takes after his dead mother (hers is a brilliant portrait of a pious lady completely down-trodden by her husband and regularly taken advantage of by servants). Old Kirstie regrets being an old maid and is jealous that the little boy she looked after is in love with young Kirstie. Young Kirstie is another wonderful character, well aware of clothes and the effect that a look can have on a lad, innocent in some ways but already old in the ways of coquetry.Into the Eden that is the Scottish countryside comes a snake in the guise of one of Erchie's old friends from Uni (although Erchie was only ever an acquaintance in the old days and is not so friendly now, extending the duties of a host with none of the tenderness for a guest) who guesses the secret love affair and decides to worm his way into the affections of young Kirstie. And the four black brothers include farmer Hob, Glasgow merchant Clem, and shepherd-poet Dand.

Wonderful characters and a wonderful setting, told in a mixture of English and beautiful Scots, looking set to create a great tale. The plan that we are left with is rather a melodrama involving seduction, murder, a prison-break and exile. Perhaps it is as well he never finished it.

March 2016; 111 pages

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