Susan Oliver deposited “Cloaking and Hiding: Dressing up in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae.” in the group Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century English Literature on MLA Commons 5 years, 2 months ago
This article explores Robert Louis Stevenson’s use of costume as a device for exploring Scotland’s fetishization of it’s literary and cultural history. In Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae, the mythologizing of James Durie as the eponymous Master depends upon a series of dramatic costume changes. Durie confounds attempts to consign him to the grave and to history by returning, time and again, in new guises. Staging his own cult of personality, the Master transforms himself from a Jacobite with a “white cockade in his hat,” into a pirate, a smuggler dressed in “a sea-cloak,” a diamond- and-lace adorned French fop, a Nabob and finally into an emigrant Scottish New Yorker seeking a fortune in the Forests and mountains of North-America. The Master’s refusal to die, consumption of the family fortune, and final live burial also configure him as a vampire. All of these appearances ironically address Romantic stereotypes of Scottishness. Clichés abound and are ironically treated by Stevenson. But under the costumes lie the less glamorous problems faced by the nation: bankruptcy, violent cultural division, mass emigration and separation from the land. This essay compares James, Master of Ballantrae, with Walter Scott’s earlier Edgar Master of Ravenswood in The Bride of Lammermoor (1819): Edgar Ravenswood has only one set of clothes: a cloak that perpetually wraps about him and a hat with a black feather. Ravenswood’s cloak hides a starving body. Living on the edge of a cliff, he is going nowhere. Read comparatively, dressing up in both novels ultimately draws attention not to Scotland’s glamorous love affair with itself, but to what is concealed and why there’s such a reluctance for it to be seen.