The Dread of Living in the Shadow: A Comparative Study of J.S.Mill's Autobiography and R.L.Stevenson's Memories and Portraits
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
Dr Harish Chander
Associate Professor of English, Department of Humanities, Shaw University