Who Wrote The Dynamiter?

“The Story of the Destroying Angel” and “The Fair Cuban” are likely to have been written by Fanny. The chapters appear together often enough. The fact they sometimes appear relatively close to the works known to have been written by Robert Louis is due to Robert Louis being a very conscientious writer. His hand in the editing process could have obscured and, ultimately, overpowered Fanny’s stylistic features.

Another possibility is that Robert Louis wrote The Dynamiter in its entirety, even if Fanny was the mastermind (back in their days in Hyères). However, we do not think this is the most likely explanation. Our findings surrounding “The Half-White”, a story written by Fanny, makes us believe the former hypothesis is more probable.

The analyses consistently showed results in which “The Half-White” was closer to Robert Louis’ writings. We had originally thought it plausible the story was more thematically similar to the “South Sea Tales” than had hitherto been recognized by scholars. However, as shown below, though the graphs seemed to indicate that “The Half-White” was not similar to the rest of Fanny’s writings, nor was it similar to South Sea Tales.

Function-Word Trials_PCA_150_MFWs_Culled_0_Pronouns deleted_PCA_001

For an explanation of PCA graphs (like the one above) see here

We carried on with further tests using an expanded corpus for Robert Louis’ writings. The first results seemed to support our original hypothesis: “The Half-White” clustered closer to the few Robert Louis samples we put in in addition to South Sea Tales. However, when we ran tests with a more robust corpus, “The Half-White” clearly grouped with Fanny’s writings.

Function-Word Trials2_PCA_150_MFWs_Culled_0_Pronouns deleted_PCA_001

To confirm the results, we reviewed all our previous tests in which “The Half-White” had appeared clustered with the rests of Robert Louis’ writings: the word-list, parameters, and the general features. All was in order. The only difference was that in this case we were not using  samples from The Dynamiter. So we reran tests: “The Half-White” with and without The Dynamiter, against the whole of our Stevenson corpus. Consistently, when we ran tests with The Dynamiter, “The Half-White” clustered closer to our Robert Louis corpus; yet when we ran them without The Dynamiter, it clearly fell closer to our Fanny corpus.

Why? “The Half-White” is a sort sui generis story within Fanny’s literary corpus because it is based on Robert Louis’ own account of his time on the island of Molokai, an island used by Hawaii to exile lepers. According to Fanny’s biographer Margaret Mackay,1 Robert Louis wrote poignant letters to Fanny describing the island’s conditions; later, on his return home, he told his story with his whole family present. All this happened at the very end of 1890, briefly preceding the story’s publication.

If we believe what his friend Harry Jay Moors tells us, then we know that Robert Louis indeed edited The Dynamiter in its entirety — but out of deference to Fanny, this editing only existed to a certain degree.2 After taking this into account, it becomes clear why “The Half-White” clusters closer to Louis’s writings; in point of fact, it clusters very close to where some of The Dynamiter chapters fall.

The irregular positioning of “The Half-White” in these tests is likely due to the authorial traces present in The Dynamiter chapters which Fanny is likely to have written. By authorial traces we mean the subtle traces of authorship that PCA graphs overlook due to the influence of another editorial hand – in this case, Robert Louis’. We must remind ourselves that PCA graphs visualise resemblance amongst the statistics it represents, and as such The Dynamiter chapters resemble Robert Louis’s writings more than Fanny’s.

The rest of The Dynamiter looks like it was written by Robert Louis Stevenson: Our final results grouped all of the other chapters consistently closer to Robert Louis’ corpus than to Fanny’s. As seen in the graph above, The Dynamiter (in red) appears clustered with Robert Louis’ other samples (in orange and black). Therefore, even though we suspect the reason they are together is Robert Louis’ heavy editorial hand, the fact stands that the novel effectively looks like a Stevensonian piece of writing.

“The Brown Box”, “The Tale of the Spirited Old Lady”, and “Squire of Dames” could have been written by either author:  Despite the fact that the novel, as a whole, looks like it was written by Robert Louis, these three chapters in particular displayed inconsistent movements across our graphs: sometimes they appeared clustered with Fanny’s corpus, sometimes with Robert Louis’. While their placement in the different analyses could be due to the strangeness of some of Fanny stories (such as “Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman,” discussed here), or, perhaps, to the different visualization methods we used, we believe further research is necessary to fully understand the reason behind it.

  1. Mackay, Margaret. The Violent Friend: The Story of Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson 1840-1914. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1969. Print. 198-199.
  2. Moors, Harry J. With Stevenson in Samoa. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1910. Print. 95-96.