Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cheerful plagiarism

It would appear that one of my favorite books was largely plagiarized and, moreover, the plagiarist, Robert Louis Stevenson, admitted it. John Sutherland, who has edited a new edition of Treasure Island argues though, that Stevenson did not identify the author from whom he borrowed the most. The admitted sources:
Stevenson insists that, as originally conceived, the story was designed solely for his domestic audience. If so it would explain his cheerful plundering of so many other writers’ material in Treasure Island’s early chapters. “Plagiarism”, he candidly confides in “My First Book”, “was rarely carried farther.” The opening (Billy Bones’s arrival at the Admiral Benbow inn) was lifted, Stevenson confides, from Washington’s Irving’s Wolfert Webber. The juvenile hero (Jim Hawkins) is a conscious nod towards W.H.G. Kingston’s Peter the Whaler. The desert island – and its marooned inhabitant, Ben Gunn – is borrowed from “brave Ballantyne” and The Coral Island. The buried treasure and the map were taken (again) from Washington Irving’s Tales of a Traveller. Silver’s parrot is taken from Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The siege at the stockade on Treasure Island is, Stevenson acknowledges, a loan from Captain Marryat’s Masterman Ready. The grisly skeleton signpost, and coded instructions, to where the treasure is buried are taken from Poe’s “The Gold Bug”. Stevenson is engagingly frank about these borrowings. ....