double scotch


There are always two to a talk, giving and taking, comparing experience and according conclusions,” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in an 1882 essay. “Talk is fluid, tentative, continually ‘in further search and progress.'” Biographer Claire Harman seizes on this passage from “Talk and Talkers” and appends the rhetorically incomplete response, “To be continued.” The device allows her to underline the vexed sense in which a lack of completeness resides at the core of the life and work of the curious Scottish writer.

“The pleasure in writing the beginnings of stories (natural enough in an apprentice) and a revulsion from the work involved in finishing them would remain the most marked characteristics of Stevenson’s creative life,” Harman writes in Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson. As she sees it, a thoroughgoing sense of unfinishedness goes hand in hand with a theme permeating the writer’s oeuvre—the split self and its familiar counterpart, the double, a leitmotif not just in Stevenson’s best-known tale, that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but also in any number of his works, especially the nocturnal miscreant of Deacon Brodie, the Raskolnikovian killer in the short story “Markheim,” even the pairing of innocent Lowlander David Balfour and exiled Highlander Alan Breck in Kidnapped.

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