On the trail of Robert Louis Stevenson
As one of the most renowned novelists in British literature – penning such enduring masterpieces as Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson’s reputation for possessing an exceptional imagination means he is often touted as one of the most influential fiction writers of the 19th century. Less known, however, are his travel writings.
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes
One of the earliest examples of Stevenson’s writing, and among the first published works of his career, was Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes. Still in his 20s at the time, Stevenson embarked on a solo hike around this now beautiful, tranquil area of southern France, covering 120 miles in 12 days.
It was in pursuit of adventure – and, as is so often the case, to overcome unrequited love – that Stevenson set out on his journey, accompanied only by a stubborn donkey named Modestine. The resulting hike would take the pair through what was an impoverished region, but one from which Stevenson was able to convey the sparse, rugged charm of the terrain. It also recounted tales of the characters they met along the route, as well as detailed descriptions of villages and towns, such as Pont-de-Montvert.
The entertaining journal, which features a number of amusing passages detailing the author’s relationship with Modestine, has gone down in history as a revolutionary work of travel writing and is considering a pioneering piece of outdoor literature. The plaudits reserved for Travels… are afforded to its accounts of camping and hiking as recreational pursuits, and also the details given to commissioning one of the very first sleeping bags.
Following publication of Travels… in 1879, Stevenson would continue his passion for documenting his travels, before achieving greater success with his works of fiction. The legacy of his work, however, has given travel writing the humorous, anecdotal formula that was so unique to Stevenson at the time and is now a renowned travel writing technique.
Thanks to the success of Travels... and Stevenson’s major works, the writer is inextricably linked to Cevennes, with tourists following the route taken in the book and experiencing the natural wonders of Cevennes themselves. Whether travelling in a group, alone or with a donkey, there is much to intrigue in this delightful region.