Have you heard the news? It seems that R. L. Stevenson’s lost The Hair Trunk, wasn’t quite as lost as everyone thought – rather just misplaced. The story about a bunch of Cambridge students founding their own little Commonwealth, and learning the shortcomings of utopia, which Stevenson wrote when he was only 27, turned up in manuscript form, and was transcribed and published.
An extract can be read here, on The Scotsman’s Write Stuff page. The accompanying article calls The Hair Trunk is a masterpiece – a claim with which, on the sole strength of the extract, I can neither agree nor disagree. The idea is certainly whimsical, but I’d rather suspend my judgment.
When it comes to Stevenson, I’ve grown wary of “masterpieces”. When I read the unfinished Weir of Hermiston – which Stevenson himself considered well on its way to become his masterpiece – I was rather disappointed. I love Stevenson, and from a novel that filled its own author with such enthusiasm, I expected… oh, I don’t know: I expected better. Then again, Weir is unfinished, and therefore hard to compare to Stevenson’s finished and published work. Then again again, THT is very early work. Then again again again, I’m the one with a weak spot for early and atypical works – so perhaps I’d better stop speculating, and read the damn story instead.
I’ll let you know.