Robert Louis Stevenson – The Master Of Ballantrae

One who will read The Master Of Ballantrae (1889) by Robert Louis Stevenson will first think it is a historical novel, like Kidnapped, set behind the Scottish Jacobite rebellion of 1745, but then it changes to a more adventurous theme, like Treasure Island, before switching to a more darker and psychological narrative which resembles The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, after which it keeps changing again. Even so, the tale forms a coherent whole, as it is presented as a composition of collected narratives. As such one could see it as a somewhat experimental novel. There certainly is more than meets the eye. Compared to the other novels the story is much darker and gloomier, more realistic and raw, while containing elements of the mysterious. The only conclusion I could make that this book must be categorized as a gothic novel with some unusual characteristics. In a way it also has some resemblances with the novel-length Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Master Of Ballantrae is certainly Stevenson’s most mature psychological novel. The characters have their virtues and vices and also weaknesses. It is a study of how social standing limits behavior and forces to make choices of which none are good. As such this can be a tough book to read. The reader will worry, the characters are not very likable and how can things ever be resolved in a good way? Stevenson twists and turns and comes with a surprising end after all which any prediction will fail to guess.

It is hard to give a good opinion about a novel that is written in such a fatalistic way, but it is written well and all the strange peculiarities and its composed structure make it an interesting read. I do not feel like I should not have read this novel. It was certainly a strange but entertaining experience. It may not be Stevenson’s best or a classic, but more a work of literature than before, showing that he can do more than just a historical or adventure novel. So I will recommend it.

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