“The Wrong Box,” by Robert Louis Stevenson

“The Wrong Box,” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a classic farce first published in the 1800’s.

Book Cover Art for The Wrong Box by Robert Louis StevensonSimply summarized “The Wrong Box” is a rather ridiculous book full of slapstick humor and foolish turns. The plot begins with a Tontine, a scheme in which subscribers invest their funds in a common pool that is then paid to the last person in the group who is still alive. As Stevenson puts it:

“The proceeds are fluttered for a moment in the face of the last survivor, who is probably deaf, so that he can not even hear of his success-and who is certainly dying, so that he might just as well have lost.”

In “The Wrong Box” the plot revolves around a Tontine in which many youths, including two brothers, were all subscribed. By some freak of chance the last two surviving members of the Tontine are the two brothers, Joseph Finsbury and Masterman. Now they are both very old men with sons of their own.

Old Joseph Finsbury is kept under lock and key by his two sons Morris and John, who view their father as a sort of investment. They are determined that he will outlive his brother, their uncle, and that they, the two sons will get the whole Tontine as an inheritance. Therefore Morris keeps a strict watch on his father, making sure that he always dresses for the weather, and ordering routine doctor’s visits to make sure his health is in good condition. Joseph Finsbury resents the intrusions on his life, though.

Everything changes, though, when Joseph and his two sons Morris and John are traveling and are involved in a deadly train wreck. When Morris and John awake they find themselves in the midst of a scene of scattered destruction, but their father is nowhere to be found. After a brief search they find a body that they are convinced must be that of their father, Joseph.

At that moment there begins one of the most foolish and desperate blunderings ever portrayed in literature. Morris and John decide to hide the body so that they can still win the Tontine by concealing their father’s death and waiting for their uncle to die. But of course, somewhere along the way the body is mislaid. Morris and John are left afraid that the body will be found. On the other end the body ends up being transported by a variety of different means, in a variety of different conveyances, finally ending up in a grand piano.

Little do Morris and John realize, though, but the body that they took such great pains to conceal is not even that of their father. Joseph Finsbury survived the accident, yet saw it as a chance to escape the oppressive life that his sons imposed upon him.

“The Wrong Box” is simply silly. Unlike some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s much better writings “The Wrong Box” seems very rough, lacking grace. The passages are loquacious to the extreme, yet the plot still seems ill thought and clumsy.

Overall, “The Wrong Box” is definitely an eccentric book, and for that fact it is mildly interesting, but I definitely could not consider it to be a classic masterpiece.

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Inkweaver Review 2009-05-23T12:34:00-05:00

2 replies so far. What are your thoughts?

Alan said...

This one sounds absolutely hilarious.

Alan (is off to Worldcat to get a copy)

NathanKP said...

"The Wrong Box" is a pretty old story, and not very popular but I know that there are a few modern editions of it. You should be able to find a copy.

Thanks for commenting.