Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Publisher: Huntington Library Press
Number of pages: 334
The story is set in the mid-eighteenth
century in Scotland. David Balfour is a boy who sets out in
the world to seek his fortune and undergoes hardship and
danger in his travels but returns as a man to claim his
rightful inheritance. Planning to cheat him of his
inheritance, Davidís uncle had him kidnapped. David strikes a
friendship with Alan Breck, a fleeing Jacobite leader, who
happens to be on the same ship as David.
At sea, David and Alan become comrades and
go through quite a few adventures. There are many suspenseful
events like sea battles and perilous chases across the
Scottish halls. As John Senior puts it, Kidnapped is a
"bonny good adventure, it transports a colonial American
boy back to his ancestral highlands and the Scottish honor,
poverty, audacity, hilarity and spunk that still flows in his
Note: Kidnapped can be found in many
satisfactory current editions. This Huntington Library Press
edition, however, is a special one, using the original text
exactly as written by Stevenson, including Scottish dialect
words. The story is preceded by an introduction and notes by
Barry Menikoff, a leading authority on Stevenson. The book
concludes with explanatory notes on matters mentioned in the
text with which general readers are not familiar, a glossary
of the Scottish dialect words used, and a gazetteer
identifying the location of places mentioned.
- The story is rooted in realism in a way that, for
instance, Treasure Island or Ivanhoe is not.
Stevensonís knowledge of his country is based on
observation. The accounts of some events such as the account
of being washed ashore near Iona has almost a documentary
immediacy fascinating to the reader.
- The teacher will be able to give to the students some
very interesting historical background on the Jacobite wars
and the fight of the valiant Scottish Highlanders for the
cause of the Stuart Catholic heir to the throne, "Bonnie
- Robert Louis Stevenson was brought up a Presbyterian but
as a man of fire and compassion, was drawn to the Stuart
cause. David Balfour, a Protestant is attracted by Alan
Breck. The Stuart cause is not explicitly supported but
shown as gallant and self-sacrificing.
- It is very interesting to compare the two main
characters and to show both their defects and their virtues.
David Balfour can be a bit dour, but he has his qualities.
Alan Breck is vain and quarrelsome, but also has good
- Kidnapped says as much about Stevenson as any
autobiography. In David Balfour and Alan Breck "he gives
substance to two sides of his own character, adventurer and
rationalist, man of duty and man of passion, restless
traveler with a mountain of Calvinist baggage to shoulder."
- More profoundly, Stevenson writes about two conflicting
cultures within Scottish history which have become two
deeply battling sets of sympathies within himself: The
mercantile Lowland Hanoverian, law abiding and rational and
the adventurous Highland Jacobite, romantic and sentimental.
Deeper still, there is the conflict between the Protestant
and Catholic cultures.
- Some students may find the Scottish dialect difficult
and will need help to understand some words.
- Stevenson, in spite of his Catholic sympathies (he wrote
a pamphlet to defend Fr. Damien), remains a Protestant. The
teacher should point out how a Catholic novelist may have
written differently on the same theme.
- G.K. Chesterton wrote (and this is especially true of
other novels like The Master of Ballantrae):
"There is really and seriously an influence of Scottish
Puritanism upon Stevenson; though I think it rather a
philosophy partially accepted by his intellect than the
special ideal that was the secret of his heart. But every
philosopher is affected by philosophy; even if, as in the
immortal instance in Boswell, cheerfulness is always
Kidnapped is really one of the best
historical novels ever written, and has quite subtle
characterization and exploration of mood and motive, as seen
especially in the self-analysis by David Balfour in the pages
preceding the famous quarrel scene. But central to the success
of this novel over a long period of time is its narrative
power. It is a great tale superbly told. Without either the
absorbing treatment of the post-Culloden theme, or the vivid
colour and drama of the narrow escape from death in Uncle
Ebenezerís house, the battle of the round-house, the flight
across the heather, the encounter with James, of the Blen, or
the re-visiting of the House of the Shaws, this novel would
not have lasted. It is not theme or characterization alone
which make it a perennial favorite, but rather its art of
narrative. (Peter Hunt)