The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson

Suzie Eisfelder

This text is actually one and a half books. It’s The Master of Ballantrae and also the Weir of Hermiston. The second is a half a book as Robert Louis Stevenson died while writing it. He apparently dictated the last published words and died after having a seizure later that day.

The Master of Ballantrae I found a confusing book. The main voice seems to change from point to point and I didn’t manage to keep track of who was speaking. Whether that’s the fault of the writing or the reader is unclear to me. Although, I am happy to have read a book by Stevenson. Part of it is set in Scotland, so that’s nice to see. There are some really old words which I didn’t understand. I picked up two, both of which I’d really like to resurrect as sometimes the old words are the best. The first is ‘begrutten’ meaning to have showing the effect of much weeping. The second is ‘thrid’ meaning to make a course through or to thread a needle.

One part of it is set in America in the mid to late 1750s. The brothers Durie have a hate/hate relationship. Each wishes to have all the money and ruin the other. This leads to some unpleasant scenes. I won’t detail any of them, nor will I speak much of the plot as I don’t think I could do it justice.

There were parts when I struggled to put the novel down as they were so evocative of the time Stevenson was writing. And I really loved the parts set in Scotland, the Scottish brogue is lovely, even in print.

The half book is the Weir of Hermiston. This was very much set in Scotland, with full Scottish brogue. I would have preferred to have read this in audio format with someone doing the right accent. It would have been much easier to understand.

This Wordsworth Classic edition also has an introduction which includes a short reading list to explain some of the book. I feel that reading Stevenson should include learning some history of the time and area, so reading these five books would help to understand Stevenson’s writing. What I also get is an author’s note to The Master of Ballantrae, this was a pleasure to read. I do love reading author’s notes and this was great. He explains his discussion of how he should write the book, whether in the third person or not.

Anyway, I can’t find a Wordworth Classics edition to promote to you so I’ve found this one instead. It has four novels by Robert Louis Stevenson.

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