George R. Stewart’s works: The early books

Although it took years for George R. Stewart to write a best-seller, his early works are still used by scholars of literature, history, ecological thought, and so on. Since I’ll be doing brief reviews of his books over the next few weeks or months, it seems best to begin with work most people — even the most passionate Stewart fans — know little about.

His first work, [Robert Louis] Stevenson in California: A Critical Study, was Stewart’s thesis for his Berkeley Master’s in English. Stewart was as interested in California and western history as he was in English, especially after taking the excellent class offered by Herbert Bolton. But in those days, it was expected that an English MA would be about the work of a distinguished European author.  As a boy, Stewart had been greatly influenced by Treasure Island. He knew, from his informal study of the book that the Island was actually based on California scenery. So Stewart set out, into the field with the book in hand, and into the manuscripts of Stevenson’s work, to find out exactly what of California is in  Treasure Island. He found what he was looking for and wrote it up; then saw his thesis become a standard reference work for Stevenson scholars.

So where is Treasure Island? If you read Jim Hawkin’s descriptions of the place, you’ll be reading about Monterey Bay and shoreline, Mt. St. Helena near Napa, and an abandoned mine on the mountain that was called “The Old Juan Silverado Mine.” Since it’s now a California state park, you can hike to the location of the mine buildings, where Stevenson and his bride Fanny spent their honeymoon; and, like them, you can look down from the place that would be immortalized as “Long John Silver,” over the broad Napa valley.

Working on the thesis, Stewart also found a newspaper story which he was able to ascribe to Stevenson. His article about the story gave him his first national publication, in Scribner’s Magazine. It was a good preparation for his next work, his PhD. dissertation, which would be an exhaustive study of meter in ballads. More about that in the next entry.

By the way, the GRS bio is now at the printer’s, and should be out soon.