Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson (1893)

Catriona continues the story of David Balfour who was introduced in Stevenson’s well-known book, Kidnapped. Kidnapped was published in 1886 but Stevenson’s ill health at the time prevented him from bringing the story to the conclusion he originally intended so he left the door open for a sequel. Catriona didn’t appear until 1893 and it is quite a different story compared with most of Stevenson’s other works, being more of an historical romance with a convoluted plot and strong female characters as opposed to high adventure and daring exploits.
Catriona starts just at the point where Stevenson left David Balfour at the end of Kidnapped – at the doors of the British Linen Company’s bank – only this time he was coming out instead of going in.

The Gist of the Story

The book is set in the mid 1750’s after the Battle of Culloden in which the Jacobites were defeated. In 1752, Colin Roy Campbell, a government official also known as The Red Fox, was shot and killed, and members of the Jacobite Stewart clan were blamed. David sets out to clear his old friend, Alan Breck Stewart and his relative James Stewart (James of the Glens) of what became known as the Appin murder.
David visits his cousin, Mr Balfour, who provides him with a letter of introduction to the Lord Advocate Prestongrange and David presents himself before him as a witness for the accused.
Prestongrange is in a difficult situation as the Campbell clan are determined that James Stewart should be hanged for the murder but he tells David that he will arrange for him to be a witness at the trial.
In the meantime, David meets Catriona Drummond, the beautiful young daughter of James More Drummond, a son of the notorious Rob Roy.
David is unimpressed with More and thinks he is an unworthy man to be the Catriona’s father. His dislike is warranted as More is working behind the scenes to get him out of the way until after the trial, which he does by getting his Highland followers to kidnap David and keep him on the Bass, an island off the east coast of Scotland.
More is a selfish, conniving man, but Catriona is devoted to him. Gradually, his treachery comes to light but not before David and Catriona are separated and she realises that her father has been a manipulator and helped to send an innocent man to the gallows.
I enjoyed the latter part of the book most of all as it describes David’s poor attempts at courting Catriona, their misunderstandings of one another, and Alan Breck’s advice to his friend on the subject.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the description of the Lowland Scots’ attitude to the ‘Heiland’ folk. My Grannie was a Lowlander and she had a typical reaction if someone did something stupid or very clumsy. She’d say, “Och, dae’n be sae Heilan’!” I only found out many years later that it was a put down of the Highlanders. I don’t know if it’s still like that now but the same attitude has come up in Josephine Tey’s books only she takes the side of the Highlanders and makes references to ‘vile Glasgow speech.’.

Catriona contains many of the characters found in Kidnapped so it’s best to have read that book beforehand or else you’ll miss connections. Kidnapped also helps to introduce some of the Scot dialect – and be warned, it’s all through Catriona.

Some highlights:

Upon our reaching the park I was launched on a bevy of eight or ten young gentlemen (some of them cockaded officers, the rest chiefly advocates) who crowded to attend upon these beauties; and though I was presented to all of them in very good words, it seemed I was by all immediately forgotten. Young folk in a company are like to savage animals: they fall upon or scorn a stranger without civility, or I may say, humanity; and I am sure, if I had been among baboons, they would have shown me quite as much of both…

From these I was recalled by one of the officers, Lieutenant Hector Duncansby, a gawky, leering Highland boy, asking if my name was not “Palfour.”
I told him it was, not very kindly, for his manner was scant civil.
“Ha, Palfour,” says he, and then, repeating it, “Palfour, Palfour!”
“I am afraid you do not like my name, sir,” says I, annoyed with myself to be annoyed with such a rustical fellow.
“No,” says he, “but I wass thinking.”
“I would not advise you to make a practice of that, sir,” says I. “I feel sure you would not find it to agree with you.”
“Tit you effer hear where Alan Grigor fand the tangs?” said he.
I asked him what he could possibly mean, and he answered, with a heckling laugh, that he thought I must have found the poker in the same place and swallowed it.
There could be no mistake about this, and my cheek burned.
“Before I went about to put affronts on gentlemen,” said I, “I think I would learn the English language first.”

A sample of the Scot’s tongue:

“Mony’s the time I’ve thocht upon you and your freen, and blythe am I to see in your braws,” she cried. “Though I kent ye were come to your ain folk by the grand present that ye sent me and that I thank ye for with a’ my heart.”

This conversation between David and his gaoler while he was captive on The Bass is found in Chapters XIV and XV contains the largest section of Scottish dialect:

“Well, Andie, I see I’ll have to be speak out plain with you,” I replied. And told him so much as I thought needful of the facts.
He heard me out with some serious interest, and when I had done, seemed to consider a little with himself.
“Shaws,” said he at last, “I’ll deal with the naked hand. It’s a queer tale, and no very creditable, the way you tell it; and I’m far frae minting that is other than the way that ye believe it. As for yoursel’, ye seem to me rather a dacent-like young man. But me, that’s aulder and mair judeecious, see perhaps a wee bit further forrit in the job than what ye can dae. And here the maitter clear and plain to ye. There’ll be nae skaith to yoursel’ if I keep ye here; far free that, I think ye’ll be a hantle better by it. There’ll be nae skaith to the kintry — just ae mair Hielantman hangit — Gude kens, a guid riddance! On the ither hand, it would be considerable skaith to me if I would let you free. Sae, speakin’ as a guid Whig, an honest freen’ to you, and an anxious freen’ to my ainsel’, the plain fact is that I think ye’ll just have to bide here wi’ Andie an’ the solans.”
“Andie,” said I, laying my hand upon his knee, “this Hielantman’s innocent.”
“Ay, it’s a peety about that,” said he. “But ye see, in this warld, the way God made it, we cannae just get a’thing that we want.”


And Alan’s opinion of David’s attempts at wooing:

“I cannae make heed nor tail of it,” he would say, “but it sticks in my mind ye’ve made a gowk of yourself. There’s few people that has had more experience than Alan Breck: and I can never call to mind to have heard tell of a lassie like this one of yours. The way that you tell it, the thing’s fair impossible. Ye must have made a terrible hash of the business, David.
…It’s this way about a man and a woman, ye see, Davie: The weemenfolk have got no kind of reason to them. Either they like the man, and then a’ goes fine; or else they just detest him, and ye may spare your breath — ye can do naething. There’s just the two sets of them — them that would sell their coats for ye, and them that never look the road ye’re on. That’s a’ that there is to women; and you seem to be such a gomeril that ye cannae tell the tane frae the tither.”
“Well, and I’m afraid that’s true for me,” said I.
“And yet there’s naething easier!” cried Alan. “I could easy learn ye the science of the thing; but ye seem to me to be born blind, and there’s where the deefficulty comes in.”

Catriona was published under the title David Balfour in the USA.

18 thoughts on “Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson (1893)

  1. I have actually not read Kidnapped. I have loved the Stevenson thaf I have read however. This sounds very good and as you point out a bit different. I am thinking thaf I might read Kidnapped and this book straight through. Sometimes I have trouble reading dialect and slang but I usually just push my way through. I have found thaf hearing the passages on audiobooks makes it a lot easier.


  2. Great review! I've only read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson. I think I might find reading the dialect difficult so would look either for an annotated edition or as Brian states above, an audio version. 🙂


  3. My son is currently reading Kidnapped this term. It is going rather slowly for him. He hasn't been able to get into it. I noticed this past week though that things picked up for him a little. I wonder if he will be interested in David Balfour. Thank you for the review!


  4. I have not read this book, although I've read most of Stevenson. I remember the first time I read something in Scottish dialect. I had to read it out loud to understand. It's still a chore, but I don't mind it too much.


  5. Alan's such a character, haha… I love Kidnapped. I read this one, too, but barely remember it. I was always impressed with Stevenson's portrayal of Scottish dialect; it is tough at times, but overall pretty readable.


  6. Ruthiella, it's so different to Dr, Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, which makes me appreciate Stevenson's skill even more. The problem with listening to it on audio is finding a good Scottish narrator – I don't know that I've heard any non-Scots do a good enough accent! But maybe I'm prejudiced 🙂


  7. Hi Lucy, I'd probably leave Catriona for early-mid teens. My daughter is 13 & just read it recently & thought it was 'o.k'- she didn't really enjoy Kidnapped when she read it but her older sister loved Catriona at that age & she also liked Kidnapped. I'm always looking for books for my 13 yr old and waver with some titles, not so much because of content but for her some books just have to be read at the right time to pique her interest.


  8. Hi Carol ,Thanks for this review, we read Kidnapped earlier in the year. Now I can try for the free kindle version of Catriona.Do you understand the written dialect by Stevenson…I know you can speak it:)?Margaret


  9. Hi Margaret, I can understand most of it. Some of it is either archaic or belongs to a different part of the country I'm not used to hearing. An example – bairns is a well known Scottish word for children but I never heard it growing up. We used the word weans & pronounced it as 'waynes.'


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