Thursday, 23 June 2011
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
I really enjoy travel books and this is the oldest I've read so far. First published in 1879 Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes chronicles a twelve day hiking journey taken by Robert Louis Stevenson when he was in his twenties. The book is brilliant and very easy to read despite its age.
Stevenson had been sickly for much of his early life and craved adventure now he was well enough to travel. He took the trip on his own with nothing for company but a stubborn donkey he purchased to carry his equipment. The Cevennes region was very poor at that time and had seen a lot of religious upheaval in the past often resulting in violence. Because of his he went armed with a revolver, though thankfully he never had cause to use it.
He writes with old world charm and honesty which I found refreshing. The simplicity of the book and the journey added to the appeal. The colourful characters he met were great to read about and there were some very funny moments. He paints a vivid picture of the rugged landscape and the conditions he lived in.
Stevenson was obviously a fluent French speaker and conversed with the locals in their own language. As a result he would sometimes write segments of conversation in French which, unfortunately, were not translated for the benefit of those who don't understand French. This is more a criticism of the publishers rather than Stevenson himself. This is a very minor criticism and it certainly doesn't reduce enjoyment of the book especially as it doesn't happen all that often.
For those readers who are very fond of animals I feel it is fair to mention that Stevenson sometimes resorted to beating the donkey to get it to do his bidding. Whereas I agree that beating an animal is wrong, if you bare in mind the period this was written in then you will understand his actions were not at all unusual for that period.
Final verdict 5/5