News archive 2006
First publication of Stevenson stories3 February 2006, PR11/06
A cover story in the Times Literary Supplement (20 January edition) featured the first UK publication of two stories by one of the most famous writers of the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson, following research by Dr Ralph Parfect, School of Humanities. He transcribed the two stories, previously unpublished in English, while researching for his PhD thesis, Hell's Dexterities: The Violent Art of Robert Louis Stevenson.
While a student in the Department of English, Ralph Parfect researched the large Stevenson archive in the Beinecke Collection at Yale University. He examined the manuscripts of ‘The Clockmaker' and ‘The Scientific Ape', two ‘fables' by Stevenson (1850 - 1894), who is best known for adventure novels such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped and the horror story The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Dr Parfect described his excitement at recognising the literary quality of the two stories, and his mystification as to why they had not been published along with 20 other similar tales by Stevenson in the collection Fables, printed soon after the writer's death. The stories were also excluded from subsequent editions of Fables, except for a French translation first published in 1985.
‘These entertaining and provocative narratives have been strangely neglected by Stevenson's admirers. They are as good as many of his other published works. But his editor and literary executor Sidney Colvin had a rather conservative perception of literary taste at the time which may have led to his feeling they were too provocative and might damage Stevenson's reputation,' Dr Parfect speculates.
Both stories use the ancient fable genre to poke fun at misguided scientific and ethical thought, and to raise serious philosophical and moral issues. ‘The Clockmaker' satirises scientific dogmatism by portraying a community of microbes in a glass vase making various absurd attempts at understanding their world. The more ridiculous their positions the more violently they defend them, until they are all wiped out at a stroke as the ‘clockmaker' drinks the water in the vase.
‘The Scientific Ape' attacks the exploitation of other species by human beings in the name of scientific progress. It tells the story of an ape who tries (but fails) to turn the tables on a vivisector by stealing his baby and preparing his own experiments.
Dr Parfect, who is now Programme Manager for the King's MA Creative & Cultural Industries, published the two stories in full in the Times Literary Supplement together with an article describing the works and suggesting reasons why they may have remained unpublished for so long.
The stories and article were first published in the American academic journal English Journal in Translation last year before the TLS reprinted them in a special Scottish issue timed to coincide with Burns night (25 January).
King's College LondonKing's College London is one of the two oldest and largest colleges of the University of London with over 13,800 undergraduate students and nearly 5,700 postgraduates in nine schools of study. It is a member of the Russell Group: a coalition of the UK's major research-based universities. The College has had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level, and it has recently received an excellent result in its audit by the Quality Assurance Agency.
King's is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings, with income from grants and contracts of £100 million, and has an annual turnover of more than £348 million. In 2004 the College was once again awarded an AA- financial credit rating from Standard & Poor's.
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