Despite the reanimation of critical and biographical interest in Robert Louis Stevenson in recent years, the significance of a vital source of narrative energy and desire in his fiction has remained buried in obscurity. The reanimated corpse plays a central role in The Wrong Box, Stevenson's comic masterpiece of 1889, and also surfaces in other of his fictions including Treasure Island (1883), The Master of Ballantrae (1889), and The Ebb-Tide (1893-94). The desires brought into play by these narratives of reanimation are at once secret and homoerotic in nature, infringing taboos by treating death in a comic light, and by reminding readers of what were considered "unspeakable" sexual practices between men. In its disruption of narrative plot, moreover, the reanimated corpse represents an assault on the nineteenth-century realist aesthetic and has a contaminating effect on the agents of narrative closure in Stevenson's fiction. Despite the attempts to conceal or dispose of the unruly corpse, it continues to evoke disturbing desires that, once brought to life, cannot be "buried" by the narratives' strategies of containment. The corpse is thus associated with the indefinite deferral of narrative closure, and with the hollowness of character in the romance style that Stevenson preferred over literary realism. Through its effects of generic disruption and narrative desire, the reanimated corpse ultimately demonstrates the impossibility of containing Stevenson's work in any of the "boxes" traditionally constructed for the classification of narrative fiction.
- Copyright 2000 The Regents of the University of California