A LOST novel by Scots author Robert Louis Stevenson has been found, completed, and is about to be published.
The Hair Trunk was started by Stevenson when he was just 27 but he abandoned it after two years with only 140 pages written.
The book, started in 1877, was intended to be a portrait of the Bohemian age, drawing on Stevenson’s experiences in artists’ colonies in France.
But the book has lain in an American library ever since, while Stevenson went on to pen classics such as Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
But it has now emerged that author and Stevenson scholar Michel Le Bris has spent the past 20 years in a labour of love, rescuing the book and finishing it.
And Le Bris, who effectively accuses Scotland of neglecting Stevenson, is publishing The Hair Trunk for the first time.
The downside for Stevenson fans – apart from those who speak French – is that it will be published in Le Bris’ native language and there are currently no plans for an English version.
He said: “We are watching the birth of Stevenson the novelist here. I think it shows wonderful invention.”
Le Bris, who lives in Brittany, took the exisiting nine chapters of Stevenson’s manuscript and added another seven.
It tells the story of Cambridge students who decide to take their Bohemian philosophy abroad.
The group suffer storms, sea battles and thieves during their adventures, and even discover a desert island off the west coast of Scotland.
Le Bris believes Stevenson abandoned the novel because, among other things, he got married. “There seemed to be no sense in continuing to write a novel…of the bohemian age. He had
moved on,” said Le Bris.
The author started his project in 1990 while researching Stevenson’s life.
He found references to The Hair Trunk in letters to Stevenson from a friend. Further research showed an eight-page rough draft of the novel was kept in a library at Yale University.
Yet more literary detective work over the course of several months led Le Bris to the Huntington Library, California, where the precious manuscript was finally uncovered.
Le Bris, who claims Stevenson is appreciated more in France than Scotland, spent the next two decades finishing the story.
He said: “How is it that in 2011 Stevenson’s entire work has not yet been published in English? Why is there no current edition of the Wrong Box, revised and corrected by Stevenson, available in English? Graham Green was already calling for it in 1950!”
Stevenson scholar Dr Penny Fielding said she was very pleased to hear the novel was finally being published.
She said: “The Hair Trunk was started when the young Stevenson was trying to work out what kind of author he wanted to be.”
Stevenson biographer Ian Bell said: “The French do have a bit of a thing our Louis. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if there is more Robert Louis Stevenson in print in France than here.
“And what does that say about us?”