Friday, 25 June 2010


I'm currently plastering over one of the many gaping cracks in the semi-detached cottage that is my reading. This is to say I've been discovering the lovely travel writing of Robert Louis Stevenson, in the form of Travels with a Donkey and Across the Plains. The clarity and detail Stevenson offers, together with his sense of humanity and appetite for adventure and not least his naturally elegant style, have made my vicarious journeys across Languedoc and America an absolute treat, not to mention enabling me to discourse at length on donkey goads.

Stevenson moves across subjects - place, religion, food, work - with all the ease the hapless donkey lacks, making these books an educational journey also. Here are a few samples, beginning with the plains of Nebraska:

To one hurrying through by steam there was a certain exhilaration in this spacious vacancy, this greatness of the air, this discovery of the whole arch of heaven, this straight, unbroken, prison-line of the horizon.

moving to a frosty Dutch woman with whom he shares a train carriage:

Her parting words were ingeniously honest: 'I am sure' said she 'we all ought to be very much obliged to you.' I cannot pretend that she put me at my ease; but I had a certain respect for such a genuine dislike. A poor nature would have slipped, in the course of these familiarities, into a sort of worthless toleration for me.

and from Languedoc:

We struck at last into a wide white highroad, carpeted with noiseless dust. The night had come; the moon had been shining for a long while upon the opposite mountain, when on turning a corner my donkey and I issued ourselves into her light. I had emptied out my brandy at Florac, for I could bear the stuff no longer, and replaced it with some generous and scented Volnay; and now I drank to the moon's sacred majesty upon the road.

All this is not entirely unrelated to Capuchin, as in January we are publishing our an edition of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to follow on from Kidnapped. The former will be the first Capuchin to carry a new cover design, but more of that later.


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