The lost letters of two literary legends are assembled

Until recently, JM Barrie’s letters to Robert Louis Stevenson were presumed lost.

In this fascinating book, Shaw compiles these lost letters into a chronological record of the pair’s written correspondence. He sheds light on their friendship, careers and shared love for Scotland.

Their friendship would not have been so remarkable nor the book so readable if the pair had met in real life – crucial nuances of their blossoming friendship would have been missing.

As it is though, peeping into the full evolution of Barrie and Stevenson’s friendship – or, dare I say it, bromance – makes for a tantalising read from start to finish.

Even if you are indifferent to these 19th-century literary heroes, Shaw’s dissection of their letters acts as a sort of SparkNotes, or ‘literature and a bit of history for dummies’. If you are well versed in their works, A Friendship in Letters is the ultimate fan non-fiction.

Of course, a conversation between two literary legends will always involve a bit of intellectual back rubbing, which I will admit can seem a little pretentious at times.

But when complemented with intriguing 19th-century high society gossip, the occasional bout of flattery can be forgiven. One of the most interesting anecdotes can be found not in their admiration of each other, but in their mutual hatred of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Through Shaw’s footnotes, it is clear their friendship also moulded their careers. Human connection, history, literature and sharp wit are the page turning ingredients here.

The timing is right too, if not 130 years late: the pair’s distant yet intimate relationship is poignant given the physical disconnect we are experiencing in the world today.

A Friendship in Letters: Robert Louis Stevenson & J.M. Barrie, edited by Michael Shaw, published by Sandstone Press, £11.99.

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