Can completing a book affect or reflect its cultural ties?
The Hair Trunk or The Ideal Commonwealth, to give it its full name, will be published in France next month by Gallimard. Of its 300 pages, [Robert Louis] Stevenson provides the first nine chapters, [Michel] Le Bris the final seven... With two thirds of the novel completed, Le Bris spent two decades attempting to resolve it. He has written several books on Stevenson and translated scores of his essays, travel writing and short stories. Le Bris argues that Stevenson is appreciated more in France than in his native Scotland. There are more works by the Edinburgh author published in French than in English.
From one point of view, this could be seen as a remarkable act of cultural appropriation: tot up appreciation scores for France and Scotland, announce France the victor, and duly finish off Stevenson’s partial draft in French even though Stevenson was himself a Scotsman (who abandoned the project at around the time he left for America). From another, it could be viewed merely as one of many international manifestations of Stevenson’s continuing literary vibrancy; after all, it remains open to others to write alternative continuations.
How on Earth is appreciation to be measured, though? Counting editions measures only the flow of new print onto the market; citing appreciative literati tells us nothing of an author’s broader appeal; and in any case, is being appreciated as a foreign author equivalent to being appreciated as a compatriot? It may be that Stevenson is more admired by Scots than read; it may be that in different nations he appeals to different sections of society. Quite an epistemic and demographic tangle, if one had to quantify appreciation precisely.