Tribes of Louis : families, communities and secret societies in the works of Robert Louis Stevenson
If the Victorians privileged the idea of ‘the family’ and the domestic configuration, what, then, was the position of unrelated groups, quasi-families and outsiders? While mid-Victorian literature widely praised or denigrated the reputation of the family, Stevenson’s works take a different standpoint. Throughout Stevenson’s oeuvre we encounter families which are falling apart and unrelated, family-like groups which take their place: Stevenson’s writing features clubs, clans and secret societies. Recent Stevenson criticism associates the problematic family relations depicted in his texts with biographical details, such as the tempestuous relationship the writer had with his father. Yet this thesis offers a reassessment of the kinship relations in Stevenson’s works. It argues that Stevenson’s writing does not focus on domestic quarrels, but prioritises families which are not related. It asks what it means to be a member of a family which is not familial or a non-family group which is like a family. Is it possible to be both a member of a family and to be without kin? Stevenson’s works are characterised by strange and estranged family groups; it is by stepping outside of the Victorian family that characters in Stevenson’s works experience the familial. The chapters in this thesis survey a range of social groups in Stevenson’s works, all of which take on a quasi-familial form. The first chapter considers the fin-de-siècle writing world and Stevenson’s own position in London’s family-like clubland relations, which both rejected and replicated the family form. The following two chapters go on to explore the role of exile and outsiders in kinship groups. Chapter 2 looks at David Balfour’s extra-familial adventures in Kidnapped and the clan groups he encounters. The importance of the outsider to kinship is proposed in Chapter 3, which considers island communities in Stevenson’s South Pacific writings and the role of taboo as a method of social organisation. The final two chapters consider the appropriation of familial relations by the secret society. In Chapter 4 we encounter the Otherness between the brothers in The Master of Ballantrae and the similar relations of inequality in the Fenian Brotherhood in The Dynamiter; here, fraternal relations have been adopted by the political secret society. Chapter 5 explores this relationship between family and secret society in The Dynamiter further: it considers the female characters in the text and the crossovers and exchanges between domestic family life and political fraternity. These familial groups are characterised by difference, Otherness and exclusion; Stevenson’s works reconsider family relations and recognise the strangeness of social groups.