Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa

1471845833259Peter Moore at Literary Review:

Many Europeans who had ventured to the South Seas before Stevenson had come to find ‘those elusive and imprecise factors termed exoticism, charm, mystique, glamour’. But by the time of Stevenson’s arrival, Samoa had been caught in powerful historical currents. Germany, Britain and the USA were all vying for colonial primacy, buying up the land and stripping the island of natural resources such as the coconut palm, which was converted into ‘a piece of productive machinery from which a profit could be extracted’.

From the beginning of his time in Samoa, Stevenson took the side of the local people, whom he considered ‘misunderstood, maltreated, and exploited’. He did so in his politically charged non-fiction work Footnote to History (1892), and also in a series of letters to The Times. Farrell writes illuminatingly about the reaction these letters elicited. The editors at The Times were perplexed by them. They openly wondered whether passion had warped his judgement and counselled Stevenson to return to his romances. Others agreed that he was squandering his talents on hopeless causes and that he should restrict his attention to imagined worlds.

But Stevenson emerges well from the episode, coming across as a man of fibre, unwavering in his support of the Samoan people and his condemnation of the ‘nincompoops’ who malevolently ran their affairs. Farrell frames his account of Stevenson’s activism with his famous statement, ‘I believe in the ultimate decency of things.’

more here.