The Dread of Living in the Shadow: A Comparative Study of J.S.Mill's Autobiography and R.L.Stevenson's Memories and Portraits

Dr Harish Chander
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Tormented by the thought of being eclipsed by the eminence and fame of their fathers, both J.S. Mill and R.L. Stevenson are compelled to play down their fathers' achievements, and to magnify their wives' role in shaping their personalities and ideas. To negate his father's influence on him, J.S. Mill describes James Mill's educational experiment as a failure; and to detract from his father's eminence as an engineer, R. L. Stevenson points to Thomas Stevenson's lack of knowledge of the theory underlying the instruments he invented. To show the failure of the educational experiment, J.S. Mill points out that it has made him "a mere reasoning machine", and brought on him his mental crisis of 1826-27. The fear that he may never be his own man acts upon him as an incubus. To weaken the impression that he is a "product" of his father, he claims that he owes his intellectual development to his wife Harriet. Like J.S.Mill, R.L. Stevenson suffers a mental crisis that lasts about six months. In his letter of 22nd October 1885 to W.H. Low, he confesses that he needs to learn how "to fight this vast featherbed of an obsession that now overlies and smothers me.' To diminish his father's eminent status as an engineer, R.L. Stevenson avers that it was beyond his father to "calculate the necessary formulae for the instruments he had conceived". Again, like J.S.Mill, R.L.Stevenson exaggerates the influence of his wife Fanny on his work.

Keywords: Dread of living in their eminent fathers' shadow, Failure of the Educational experiment, Lack of knowledge of theory, Mental crisis, Tormented by an incubus, Smothered by an obsession, Wives' influence on their ideas and work
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr Harish Chander

Associate Professor of English, Department of Humanities, Shaw University

Harish Chander has his B.A. (Hons.) and M.A. from Panjab University, and PH.D. from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. He has taught at Panjab University Department of English, Miami University, and Shaw University. His dissertation title is "Secrets of the Self: The Obsessional Element in Selected Works of Nineteenth-Century Secular Confessional Prose from Charles Lamb to Oscar Wilde", He was the recipient of the Miami University dissertation fellowship. Over the years, he has taught a broad range of composition and literature courses. He has contributed chapters on Ralph Ellison, John Oliver Killens, Frederick Douglass, Rudolph Fisher, Briton Hammon, Sutton E. Griggs, Indira Ganesan, Lakshmi Gill, Janet Lim, and Ved Mehta to a number of bio-bibliographical and critical reference volumes, published by Greenwood Press, 1999-2002. Has contributed chapters on Willis Richardson and Loften Mitchell in the forthcoming Greenwood volume titled "African American Playwrights ".. Wrote essays on John Oliver Killens and Sutton E. Griggs for the "Online Columbia Literary Encyclopedia". Have presented papers on African American authors at The College Language Association conferences. Gave a paper this past August titled 'The Politics of Exclusion' in "A Passage to India" and "Native Son" " at the Sino-US Education Conference in Quilin, China.

Ref: H05P0452