Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weir of Hermiston by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is the first book I read for the Victorian Reading Challenge. I didn't realize it was an unfinished novel until I, well, finished it, so I am pointing that out now for any potential readers.
But from what we get (9 chapters), it looks like it was supposed to be a sort of bildungsroman for a Scottish aristocrat trying to escape the shadow of the father. The novel focuses on Weir, Sr., and Weir, Jr., who are reasonably well-to-do noblemen. Sr. is a judge, infamous for harsh justice and no mercy. Jr. (named Archie) is a bit of a thinker, shy, but usually comes off as reserved and proud, so he has trouble making friends. He is eventually banished to the country house, Hermiston, by his father, for being an outspoken prat. There he tries not to rot away, and has to deal with two different Kirsties who both seem a bit obsessed with him.
There's also a villainous sort of guy, Frank, who is the worst of the best of Archie's peers, if that makes sense. He was the most intriguing, 3-dimensional character here, I think, because he doesn't exactly have malice at work in what he does, but he is hugely self-centered and moves himself through life by ruining or putting down other people. Sorta like the guy who trips his friend so the bear will eat the friend and he can escape. But he's charming and really doesn't think, "Hey, I should ruin lives today," he just sorta does it. It was fascinating for me to watch and I really would have liked to see what happened to him.
Archie is the sort of character that you really want to see grow and stand up to his father and get the girl, but in this novel we only see tiny foreshadowings of that transformation. Young-Kirstie starts out as a flat, typical-adolescent girl, but we also see some glimmerings of character and personality for her, notably in the final scene where she tells Archie she won't be used.
Robert Louis Stevenson is one of my favorite Victorian writers. His writing style is just really lush, if that makes sense. I love watching the man describe stuff. He is also very good with young male heroes who have good intentions but have to learn how to...execute their intentions properly, as it were. The pacing of this story is a bit slow, although depending on how the rest of it turned out, it might have been okay. There is also a lot more Scottish dialect than I was expecting, which can take a bit of time to "translate" as you read, unless you have much Scottish experience, which I don't.
Overall, Weir of Hermiston is a bit slow and never gets far enough to really flesh out its characters, but has a lot of potential and a few good moments. I gave it 3/5 stars.


Snazel said...

Did you really read "other stories", or did you just steal that cover cause it was pretty?

Bahnree said...

Oh I just stole the cover. XD My copy is a battered, jacketless hardcover.