Dec 25, 2012

Tales of Boys and Men: Robert Louis Stevenson

Strangely, I always associate Christmas Day with boredom.  Opening and playing with your presents takes about an hour, Christmas dinner takes another hour, leaving fourteen hours to sit around the house, with no school, friends incommunicado, bad weather outside, and nothing on tv.

Time to break out your stash of Robert Louis Stevenson books. 

The Scottish novelist (1850-1894) is  relegated to the junior high classroom nowadays, probably because his works aren't usually heterosexist.

His two main subtext novels both involve bonds between teenage boys and adult men:

Treasure Island (1883), an adventure with pirates and buried treasure in the South Seas, originally serialized in the magazine Young Folks, deliberately written with "no women in it."  No heterosexual imaginings, but young Jim Hawkins develops a grudging friendship with Long John Silver.

My favorite version was full of beefcake illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.

 In every generation, the current Hollywood It-boy seems to get a chance to play Jim Hawkins: Jackie Cooper (1934), Bobby Driscoll (1950, left), Kim Burfield (1972), Christian Bale (1990, above), and Kevin Zegers (1999).

Kidnapped (1886): David Balfour, tricked out of his inheritance by a villainous uncle, travels the rough Scottish Highlands, where he is rescued by and buddy-bonds with the rogueish Alan Breck. Again, "no women in it." 

David has been played by Freddie Bartholomew (1938), James MacArthur (1960), Lawrence Douglas (1971), Brian McCardie (1995), and Anthony Pearson (2005).  Some versions give him a girlfriend.

This photo is actually from The Light in the Forest, but I couldn't resist including a shirtless shot of James MacArthur.

A statue commemorating David and Alan Breck has been erected in Edinburgh.

Some scholars also find a subtext in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), but I didn't see one.

The Black Arrow (1888) was a heterosexual romance, but The Master of Ballantrae (1889) is about two brothers, James Durie and his brother Harry, on opposite sites of the Jacobite Rebellion.  There's some heterosexual romance, but the emphasis is on the enmity between the two brothers melting into love. They die the same hour, and are buried under the same stone.

Bisexual Errol Flynn (left) starred in a famous 1953 version.

So, was Robert Louis Stevenson gay? According to his biography, Myself and the Other Fellow, by Claire Harmon, no, but he appreciated homoerotic desire, and he enjoyed the attention of the many gay men who were drawn to him.