A Gossip on Romance
“In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images,incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. The words, if the book be eloquent, should run thenceforward in our ears like the noise of breakers, and the story, if it be a story, repeat itself in a thousand coloured pictures to the eye. It was this last pleasure that we read so closely, and loved our books so dearly, in the bright, troubled period of boyhood.”
From A Gossip on Romance, by Robert Louis Stevenson (collected in The Lantern-Bearers).
During a period when I was loosely involved in a project to adapt several of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales of the supernatural for television (which came to naught because BBC Scotland didn’t see any need to celebrate Stevenson’s centenary in such a fashion), I stumbled upon the above passage and felt that Stevenson had invented cinema.
I imagined using this passage at the start of the show, as a voice-over as we look down at Stevenson’s writing-desk from above. We descend as his quill moves across the page, inscribing the words we hear spoken, and then we HIT THE PAGE in a blinding flash of light and pass THROUGH it —
One the other side, all is darkness, except for the page, which appears as a transparent panel allowing us to see up into our world, where Stevenson leans forward, inking the words which now appear as mirror-script. We continue our movement, now backing away so that the glowing window of the page diminishes, but we can see a beam of light admitted by it, glowing in the void. As we move further, other pages can be seen, each shining a beam of strong illumination into the void, motes of silver dust glowing in the rays. Each beam flickers as the hand writing on the page moves. And then we spin around and we see a screen on which the beams project a fiery kaleidoscopic image, from which forms the title of the show.
A bit much, perhaps? But perhaps my youthful response was triggered by the compact, fervid power of phrases like “the bright, troubled period of boyhood”. Although yes, it’s odd that Stevenson imagines all his readers are male, but then all the characters in Jekyll and Hyde are male, and Stevenson’s wife, Fanny, apparently looked like a man, so draw your own inferences.
Image from Raul Ruiz’s TREASURE ISLAND.