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ClassicsOnline Home » STEVENSON, R.L.: Kidnapped (Abridged)
When the naïve David Balfour sets out on his quest for a long-lost relative, a terrifying chain of events is set in motion. He is plunged into a world of infamy and violence from which there seems no escape, until, that is, he meets the enigmatic and valiant Highlander, Alan Breck.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Kidnapped is an epic, which stands as Stevenson’s personal
journey into the heart of his homeland’s troubled predicament. Born in
Edinburgh in 1850, Stevenson was forced by a serious respiratory condition to
leave the harsh climate of Scotland. The book was written when the illness had
become particularly severe, and when Stevenson was feeling intensely homesick
for his country. In an attempt to escape from the ordered world of
‘Skerryvore’, his home in Bournemouth, Stevenson embarked on a quest to
recapture the rugged heroism of his native land.
The story is set in the years of upheaval that followed the
rebellion of 1745. The themes of the book are twofold: first, the struggle of
the lowland, Presbyterian David Balfour, to claim his inheritance, and second,
the fight of his Highland countryman Alan Breck, to preserve his land against
the English. Beginning with the image of an orphan setting out to solve the
crisis of his own identity, we are reminded of the start of Treasure Island and
the character of Jim Hawkins. Both characters begin by finding themselves
strangers in the worlds they are forced to inhabit. Yet romance turns into
epic, as David’s journey becomes a quest, not only into experience, but also
into the very history of the Highlands. David’s guide for such a quest becomes
the flamboyant, feudal and Jacobite Breck. The Highland characteristics of
Breck mark him out as being very different from Balfour, yet together they form
two sides of the Scottish coin.
This theme of duality is central to the book’s design. The
name of the boat upon which David is kidnapped — The Covenant — is a good
example. This name suggests not only the central document of Scottish history
for which so much blood was shed, and by which Scotland achieved a short-lived
independence, but also the basis of the ethnic context from which David comes.
Covenant represents both the glorious and the tragic — a reminder of past
achievements and a recognition of present dishonor.
Yet as the story progresses this duality is partly resolved.
After being wrongly suspected of involvement with the murder of Colin Campbell,
Breck and David are forced to flee the pursuing English. As they travel the
world of the Highland countryside, David learns about his ancestral heritage
and about the blood he shares with those who must hide their passions under a
rule that seeks to repress their very humanity. Gradually the relationship
between David and Breck becomes a profound one. Breck becomes the father that
David lost, and the brother he never had.
Thus Stevenson places two very different voices side by side
and finds a way of uniting them against the common English opposition; yet
Scotland herself cannot be so easily joined. After the monumental journey
through the Scottish landscape and history the book can end only with
Ebenezer’s confession of his involvement with David’s kidnapping. National epic
reverts to personal narrative and, as David becomes the Lord of Shaws, we are
left thinking that the title seems far less valuable than the struggle to achieve
Notes by Heather Godwin
John Sessions is a highly versatile actor and comedian, well
known for his comic work in films such as My Night with Reg, In the Bleak
Midwinter, and The Pope Must Die, and the television shows Whose Line Is It
Anyway?, The New Statesman, and Spitting Image.
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STEVENSON, R.L.: Kidnapped (Abridged)