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The Master of Ballantrae

Robert Louis Stevenson


Robert Louis Stevenson’s fascination with the mid-18th Century Jacobite rebellion in Scotland led to the production of his classic Kidnapped, along with its later sequel, Catriona. The Master of Ballantrae—written only a couple years after Kidnapped—shares the same evocative historical setting.

The story revolves around the fractious relationship of the two sons of the Lord of Durrisdeer: the elder and duplicitous James, and Henry, the stolid younger brother. Split apart on opposing sides in the Jacobite rising of 1745, it appears that James has met his death on the battlefield of Culloden, while Henry not only wins as a bride the love of James’s life but looks set to inherit the title and the estate. James, however, proves both more hardy and more sinister than he appears, and the stage is set for anguish and tragedy.

The narrator of the story is the loyal steward to the estate, Ephraim Mackellar, who employs the documentary evidence of other characters to relate events. Along with Stevenson’s preface offering an account of how he (putatively) came across the tale, the narration becomes pleasingly complex: who is telling the story, and how far can their account be trusted? Meanwhile, this tale of adventure, passion, and revenge carries its own timeless appeal, giving rise to several adaptations for radio, screen, and stage.

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