Date of Award

Winter 1985

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


As the title suggests, this dissertation investigates Stevenson's works which are set in the South Pacific, works emerging from his study, experience, and observation during his travels through and residence in island of the South Pacific. The works discussed include a travel book, In the South Seas; two narrative poems which approximate Polynesian folklore, "The Feast of Famine" and "The Song of Rahero;" two short stories in a fairy tale mode, "The Isle of Voices" and "The Bottle Imp;" two full-length novels written in collaboration with Lloyd Osbourne, The Wrecker and The Ebb Tide; and one novella, The Beach of Falesa.

The introductory chapter is largely biographical. While this study is not an example of archetypal criticism, it initially defines the sense westerners have of Pacific islands as the South Seas archetype. This chapter reveals Stevenson's early receptivity to the region, traces his travels, and begins to suggest the modifications Stevenson makes of the South Seas archetype in his writing. Chapter II focuses on Stevenson's travel writing. It contrasts the epic aspirations Stevenson had for In the South Seas with the reality that his travel writing was more useful as a source book for his fiction. The first two chapters provide a background for the subsequent chapters in which Stevenson's fiction is actually discussed.

The dissertation shows the extent to which Stevenson draws on his imagination, his observations and experiences, Polynesian oral tradition, and the tradition of the sea yarn for each work of fiction. Chapter III focuses on the works which make most extensive use of Polynesian folklore--the poems and stories. Chapter IV reveals Stevenson's extensive use of sea yarns as source material for The Wrecker, an adventure novel which also explores human violence. Chaper V discusses Stevenson's use of allegorical land and sea scape to intensify the grim realism of The Ebb Tide. Chapter VI suggests that The Beach of Falesa, which encompasses most of what Stevenson learned about the Pacific, remains his most successful work.

Finally, this dissertation shows two ways in which the South Seas fiction is significant. These works reveal Stevenson's artistic growth, showing his change from a master of the romance and adventure novel to a realist. In vividly depicting the South Seas, these works have offered an alternative to the South Seas archetype which subsequent writers have adopted.