After over 130 years in hibernation, a lost unfinished work by Robert Louis Stevenson has resurfaced, and is now appearing for the first time in book form, with Scottish newspaper of record The Scotsman publishing an extended extractThe Hair Trunk, or The Ideal Commonwealth: An Extravaganza is an extended but ultimately abortive draft of a comic novel, running to 30,000 words but left unfinished, dating from Stevenson’s youth. The characterization of it in some reports as a “missing masterpiece” is rather an exaggeration, as it was begun in 1877, when Stevenson was 27 years old, and broken off two years later, before he had published his first breakthrough story, Treasure Island (1883) or even his great short tale “The Pavilion on the Links” (1880),  and concurrent with the appearance of his great pieces of travel writing An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879).

The Hair Trunk is a Utopian romance involving bohemian students in search of an ideal community, not dissimilar The original manuscript was apparently rediscovered as a 140-page draft at the Huntington Library in California by a French academic, Michel Le Bris, in 2011, but has taken this long to see publication. A more extensive review of the new limited edition of the work is available here.

Stevenson is one of the great chroniclers of the Scottish temperament, and any new work by him has to be of interest. And The Scotsman has at least made enough of The Hair Trunk available for potentially interested readers to evaluate the work and form their own judgements, as well as, in true Scots fashion, try before they buy. (And I say that as a diehard Scot …)


  1. Ah, if your were a true Scot, Paul, you’d tell yourself, “I’ll just wait until it falls into the public domain .” Yeah, probably sometime in the 22nd century.

    As a previously unpublished work, I imagine it could get a copyright. I just wonder if there’s a Stevenson estate around to own that copyright? Literary estates are often badly managed.

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