“Stevenson and Pleasure”
Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France
June 18-20, 2020
“In the life of the artist there need be no hour without its pleasure. I take the author, with whose career I am best acquainted; and it is true he works in a rebellious material, and that the act of writing is cramped and trying both to the eyes and the temper; but remark him in his study, when matter crowds upon him and words are not wanting — in what a continual series of small successes time flows by; with what a sense of power as of one moving mountains, he marshals his petty characters; with what pleasures, both of the ear and eye, he sees his airy structure growing on the page; and how he labours in a craft to which the whole material of his life is tributary, and which opens a door to all his tastes, his loves, his hatreds, and his convictions, so that what he writes is only what he longed to utter. He may have enjoyed many things in this big, tragic playground of the world; but what shall he have enjoyed more fully than a morning of successful work? Suppose it ill paid: the wonder is it should be paid at all. Other men pay, and pay dearly, for pleasures less desirable.” (“A Letter to a Young Gentleman Who Proposes to Embrace the Career of Art” Scribner’s Magazine, 1888)
Following on from past conferences in Stirling, Gargano, Saranac, Sydney, Bergamo, and Edinburgh, the next Robert Louis Stevenson International Conference, RLS2020, will be held at Bordeaux Montaigne University, June 18th to 20th 2020, on the theme of “Stevenson and Pleasure”. Inspired by Stevenson’s description of the unalloyed pleasure he derived from “a morning of successful work” we propose to explore the relationships between writing/work and pleasure while also paying attention to the ways in which Stevenson transferred his gusto to the page and communicated it to the reader ensuring that the reading experience became “absorbing and voluptuous” (“A Gossip on Romance”).
Drawing on Stevenson’s novels, travel writing, essays, poetry and plays, as well as modern derivations of his work in, for example video games, we will see to what extent Stevenson’s texts address many different forms of pleasure and build up a dialectical, complex picture of the concept. From the seemingly easy enjoyment and “engaging images” of adventure and historical romance, to the ambivalence of the stereotypical pleasures derived in the South Seas, Stevenson explores the delights but also the dangers of pleasure and pleasuring, when “leaping impulses and secret pleasures” (Jekyll and Hyde) become overwhelming and challenge one’s sense of control. Pleasure thus becomes a liminal space, somewhere between the comfort of satisfaction and the challenge of transgression, where the ease and hedonism of epicurean delight is tinged with the thrill and hazard of overwhelming ecstasy. Stevenson explores both sides – pleasure as gratification and reward, but also pleasure as discomposure and loss.
The conference venue, Bordeaux, is itself the site and source of certain pleasurable experiences, as Stevenson hinted in “Portraits of Raeburn”, an essay that describes the pleasures of viewing and creating art and associates those with the pleasure procured by Bordeaux’s eponymous product: “If I know gusto in painting when I see it, this canvas was painted with rare enjoyment. The tart, rosy, humorous look of the man [Lord Braxfield], his nose like a cudgel, his face resting squarely on the jowl, has been caught …. A peculiarly subtle expression haunts the lower part, sensual and incredulous, like that of a man tasting good Bordeaux with half a fancy it has been somewhat too long uncorked.”
Please send proposals for twenty-minute papers on any aspect of Stevenson and pleasure – experiencing pleasure, giving pleasure, describing pleasure — along with a short biographical note to both conveners:
Lesley Graham, LACES, Université de Bordeaux
Nathalie Jaëck, EA CLIMAS, Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Deadline for paper proposals – 31 Jan 2020
Notice of acceptance by 15 Feb 2020
A selection of papers will be published in the Journal of Stevenson Studies.