Treasure Island: Further Reading (1)

This post contains spoilers through Chapter 17 of Treasure Island. The two articles I chose for today’s post make a really good juxtaposition of different readings of this novel. One looks at the narrative structure and how it’s mix of historicity and fantasy; one looks at the social allegory being made, accidentally or not, by the characters.

[Text that looks like this] are my own thoughts and discussion questions. Articles were accessed via my free-but-limited JSTOR account (which you can get, too!).

“Historical Reality and Fictional Daydream in Treasure Island” by William H. Hardesty III and David D. Mann

This article goes through the plot of the novel bit by bit and shows how the narrative moves from “Historical reality (England in the mid-eighteenth century)” to “fantastic daydream (Treasure Island and its promise of great wealth)” (94). Hardesty/Mann point out that the first third of the novel establishes a very realistic setting. We can extrapolate from the clues that Jim’s inn is on the north Devon coast, at about 1758 or 1759 (95). All of RLS’s internal dates are consistent with each other. [This is especially nice after reading Stoker, amirite]. RLS gets the reader to empathize with Jim immediately, and establishes him as a reliable narrator (98). [DISCUSS: do you agree or disagree that Jim comes off as reliable? I agree, but I’m curious].

Once he’s got the realism set up, RLS uses the sea voyage as a “transitional device” (99) that leads from the Real World to the Fantasy World/ Romance of Treasure Island. Hardesty/Mann point out that we are deliberately kept in the dark during the voyage as to the island’s location, because of narrative reasons (the characters don’t want anyone stealing their treasure) but it also works to ease us into the less-realistic world of the island.

The island itself doesn’t seem very Caribbean – it’s based off RLS’ experiences in California and off of pirate tropes, which help it“acquire a pseudo-historical validity” (99). Additionally, the passing of time isn’t very specific once we get to the island. [I won’t talk more about this because of spoilers, but it is kinda interesting. Pay attention to how time works haha.] However, RLS “[maintains] a precise orientation in space, thanks to the map” (100); we know where everything happens because of the map and his matching descriptions.

The article also talks about the end of the book, but no spoilers here. [But pay attention to if and how the story returns to the “realistic” beginning or if it stays in the vaguer, more romantic island world.]

“Long John Silver, Karl Marx and the Ship of State” by Loraine Fletcher

Meanwhile, according to Fletcher, Treasure Island

“offers an analysis of the contemporary condition of England in an allegory as precise as Animal Farm (1945) and on much the same subject: class conflict and the threat posed by Marxism. In the Hispaniola, Stevenson creates a ship of state whose cabin party and alarming crew represent respectively Britain’s ruling class and an underclass of workers gathering confidence with the growth of the Trades Unions and the circulation of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ publications” (34).

Fletcher points out that the conflicts in the novel revolve around “working relationships, identifies the cash nexus that binds them, and examines received ideas in the light of changing economic conditions” (35). [I mean, this seems legit. Gentry vs. pirates, they all want money, they have different ideas about how the money should be distributed….DISCUSS how socalist this book is on a scale from 1-10.]

Jim isn’t gentry or underclass. As Fletcher notes (and I’ve mentioned in my posts, just saying), he admires Livesey’s “educated gentility” (35). He’s also the “most upwardly mobile figure” (39) in the novel.

Aside from Jim, both the pirates and the cabin group want the money, but  Trelawney judges the pirates for wanting the same thing he does (36). There’s a very fedual master/servant relationship system that’s upheld through the story – if characters go against it, they are evil and/or die. The pirates want what their former masters the gentry have, but they are represented as not fully human, their “consciousness is formed only of appetite and competitive individualism” (36).

Abraham Gray is an example of a “rare working man of good character” (40)  who sticks with the established system of the gentry and is rewarded for it (38), whereas the pirates are criticized for wasting their resources. [Interestingly, Silver himself criticizes the pirates for this and considers himself super great for being good with money but also good at murder and stuff.] Since he’s so clever but also evil, “Silver is a worthy fictional representation of Marx the nineteenth-century bourgeois nightmare” (44). He encourages fighting the system, and he’s good at it, too.

So according to Fletcher, Treasure Island is basically an allegory about feudalism between the owners, their servants, the military, and “the dogs of the proletariat” (40), although she admits that RLS most likely didn’t intend it as an allegory. [DISCUSS: does authorial intention matter? Why or why not?]

I recommend reading the full article once you’ve finished the book, as she goes into a lot of other specific examples that I haven’t mentioned here.


Fletcher also criticizes the fact that multiple pirates have disabilities and it is “concomitant with their moral shortcomings, and constructed as vengeful and frightening” (38), and she also goes through all of the anti-Semitism and stereotypes represented by Israel Hands. [I think these are important things to point out and give the side-eye. DISCUSS. Problematic book is very problematic!]

Dracula: Further Reading (1)

Warning: This post doesn’t spoil anything past Chapter 14, but the links to the articles below do contain spoilers (mostly Craft and Wicke).

I read a few academic articles (some found by @kemendraugh) about Dracula. Two of them have to do with my favorite thing (technology in the novel) and one has to do with my least favorite thing (sex) but I’ve got brief summaries/thoughts below for those interested in some further reading.

Phonograph, Shorthand, Typewriter: High Performance Technologies in Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Leanne Page

This article contains vague spoilers.

The main point of this article wasn’t so much to provide a deeper reading to Dracula as it was to defend the “high-performance” aspect of the technologies in the novel. For its time, Dracula was a high-tech thriller and should be treated as such. I liked how in-depth Page went describing the different technologies and how they could be used (it also has some fun advertisements for typewriters back in the day). She observes that the  occasional failure of these technologies disrupt the purposes of the characters (just like for real people in real life). I like her assertion that the role of technology in literature can become “a central character” (104) as it does in Dracula, and that she points out that Van Helsing and Dracula are unfamiliar with technology and how it creates problems for them (107). 

“Kiss Me with Those Red Lips”: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Christopher Craft

This article contains many spoilers.

When I was in college, most of our discussions about Dracula revolved around whether or not something was a metaphor for sex. I still think this is a fairly boring discussion to have, but to be fair this article is probably the best argument for it I have read. There is a lot in this article about Victorian anxiety about gender roles and how they’re being overturned or supported in the novel. There is also a lot of discussion about who is being penetrated by whom, how, and for why.

Babe, I know.

There’s a lot of good stuff in here, a lot of extreme stuff in here, and a lot of explicit stuff in here. I really liked its criticism of how Van Helsing’s team constantly idealizes women and puts them on a pedestal of purity while also judging and demonizing any woman acting outside of their ideal, eg: “A woman is better still than mobile, better dead than sexual” (122) and points out that “the field of this battle [between Dracula versus Van Helsing], of this equivocal competition for the right to define the possible relations between desire and gender, is the infinitely penetrable body of a somnolent woman” (117) and “both men prefer to immobilize a woman before risking a penetration” (126) whether it is to suck her blood or replace it. So, yeah, enjoy this if you go for it.


Vampiric Typewriting: Dracula and Its Media by Jennifer Wicke

This article contains many spoilers.

If you’re going to pick one of these three to read, I’d recommend this one. It compares vampirism (specifically vampires’ tendency to create more vampires) to mass culture (specifically its tendency to both consume and spread): “Mass culture is protean, with the same horrific propensity to mutate that also defines Dracula’s anarchic power, as he becomes a bat or a white mist at will” (476). It compares Dracula’s ability to copy himself by turning people into vampires to the powers of technology and culture, such as Mina’s typewriting. “Here we step into the age of mechanical reproduction with a vengeance, since the reproductive process that makes vampires so closely allied to the mechanical replication of culture” (476). I really appreciate the sympathetic reading of both Mina and Lucy in this article. I can’t say much more about it without being spoilery, though.