I wasn’t aware when I picked up Weir of Hermiston that it was Robert Louis Stevenson’s last and unfinished novel. But unlike The Mystery of Edwin Drood, only nine chapters of it exist. It has been packaged in the slim volume I found, dated 1925, with several other unfinished novels or stories, but of the others only one or two chapters or partial chapters exist. Between most of the fragments is a note from the editor containing what is known about the fragment and Stevenson’s intentions.
Weir of Hermiston tells the story of Archie Weir, whose mother brought him up to fear and distrust his father, the Lord Justice-Clerk. As a young man, Archie reacts in a disgraceful way, possibly treasonous, to a hanging, so his father sends him to his estate in Hermiston to learn to run it. Archie is ashamed and is not socially adept, so he becomes a bit of a recluse. However, he meets Christina, a cousin, and begins to fall in love with her. He is joined by Frank, a financially embarrassed friend, who decides to give him some competition for Christina. Things aren’t looking good when the fragment ends.
The next fragment is Heathercat, about a young boy whose mother keeps disobeying the law in regard to religion—I didn’t really understand the details—to the point where his father is being ruined by fines. She is using her son, whose nickname is Heathercat, to run illegal errands and keep guard on illegal services of worship. The notes explain that this novel was going to be based on a true story about a young boy who was married to an older girl to prevent her being forced to marry someone else.
Other stories are about a beautiful wife of a wine seller who falls in love with an aristocratic customer, a prince, presumably Prince Charlie, who tires of waiting around and decides to act; a man who takes over the household of a friend who has fled the country; and so on. The fragments are set in Scotland, England, or France during the 15th to 17th centuries, except Weir of Hermiston, which is set in the 19th.
I forgot to add that my copy begins with a description of Stevenson’s death and funeral, written by his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, who was apparently very fond of him.
I found a book composed of fragments to be frustrating, but it made me want to read more of Stevenson’s adult novels.