Treasure Island Published
The 14th of November 1883 AD
Where would British culture be without Treasure Island? Comedians would have to walk on two legs when doing pirate impersonations; no parrots would be taught to say pieces of eight; and children’s treasure maps would be bereft of the X that marks the spot. Where too generations of film actors, and their brethren in panto?
Robert Louis Stevenson published the story first in serial form in the children’s publication Young Folks, where it apparently made few waves. When it appeared in a single volume, however, published by Cassell, it created a sensation – then as now gripping adults as much as their offspring. Even Gladstone was reportedly an early fan.
The idea was gifted to Stevenson by his stepson, who was passing a moment or two by painting a map of an imagined island when the family was holidaying near Braemar . The author on seeing it immediately added piratey place names, and three Xs in red; then the title Treasure Island: the plot came to him in one flash of inspiration, its translation into words on paper only slowed by his feeble health – at one point he was polishing off a chapter a day.
In spite of the stifling superficial morality of Victorian England Stevenson’s most interesting and even attractive character is the pirate Long John Silver, cut-throat, mutineer and turncoat, but clearly capable and no drunken idler like many of his fellow buccaneers; it is arguably Silver who brings the book the life force that endeared it to 19th century readers as it does to current ones.
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