46 pages 1 hour read

Robert Louis Stevenson


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1886

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Summary and Study Guide


Kidnapped is a historical romance novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson published in 1886. Stevenson was well known for both his travel writing and his adventure stories. Kidnapped was his third novel, a coming-of-age story that follows the adventures of a young heir-apparent after he is abducted and shipwrecked in Scotland. Famous for incorporating real-life events and people into its plot, Kidnapped explores themes of Authority, Treachery, and Justice and The Duality of Human Nature as its protagonist treks across the wilderness after being falsely accused as an accomplice in the infamous Appin murder.

This study guide refers to the 2017 Digireads.com edition.

Plot Summary

The novel opens in Scotland in 1751. David Balfour is a 17-year-old with limited prospects. After his father dies, David learns that he has an uncle, Ebenezer Balfour, who owns Shaws, an estate near Edinburgh. He sets off with a letter of introduction, but when he arrives at Shaws, he finds it a near ruin and his uncle a miser living alone. David hears from the locals that his father was the elder brother and should have inherited the estate. Before he can act on this information, his uncle has him kidnapped and bound for slavery in America.

The ship taking David to America makes its way around the northern coast of Scotland under rough weather. On a foggy night, it runs down a small boat, killing all hands on board save one. That man is Alan Breck Stewart, a Jacobite agent on a mission to France. (The Jacobites were the supporters of King James and his descendants after he was deposed in 1689.) The sailors plan to rob Alan, but David warns him and joins him in a fight against the crew. In thanks for his help, Alan pledges his friendship to David and gives the young man a button from his coat. Alan tells David that the Campbell clan is evicting people from his clan, the Stewarts, out of their homes. The effort is being led by the crown’s agent in the region of Colin Campbell, known as the Red Fox. Soon, the ship runs aground near the rocky coast of the Highlands, and David is washed overboard and marooned on a small island.

After surviving alone for four days, David escapes with the help of local fishermen. He learns that Alan also survived the wreck and left word for David to follow him. David travels across the Highlands, using Alan’s button to prove his friendship. Eventually, David comes to Appin, where he witnesses the murder of the Red Fox. Mistaken for an accomplice, David flees and, by luck, runs into Alan, who quickly takes David into hiding. The two go to Alan’s foster father, James Stewart, who tells them they will have to flee south since they will both be blamed for the killing. James supplies them with weapons and money and sends them on their way.

Alan leads David across the Highlands, narrowly avoiding British redcoats sent to find the fugitives. They come to a cave where they hide while they gather information from Alan’s friends and contacts about the ongoing search. When they read the bill describing them, David realizes the description of him is so vague that he would never be identified if he left Alan. He cannot bring himself to do that, however, as the two have become close friends.

They continue their flight, and David grows weary under the strain of constant travel. When they come to the hideout of a Jacobite named Cluny, David collapses into an exhausted fever and sleeps for two days. While he recovers, Alan plays cards with Cluny and loses all their money. Cluny returns it willingly, but the episode leaves David resentful of Alan and ashamed of having to beg for the money to be returned.

The two walk on in silence for several days while David’s health and mood continue to deteriorate. At first, Alan is ashamed of himself for losing their money, but after David refuses to let it go, Alan’s shame gives way to annoyance, and he begins taunting David. The young man eventually snaps and insults Alan’s honor, challenging him to a duel. Alan draws but then can’t bring himself to fight. David, realizing his childish outburst has lost him a friend, collapses and blames his outburst on exhaustion. Alan grieves at the thought of David dying and forgives all, carrying the young man to the nearby village of Balquhidder.

The two spend a month in Balquhidder. David recuperates in a cottage while Alan hides in the hills. Once David recovers, the friends continue south at a more relaxed pace since the search lightened while David was recovering. They come to the River Forth. When they find the bridges guarded, Alan has David pretend to be a disinherited young lord on the run from the law to attract the pity and assistance of a young barmaid. With her help, they are ferried to safety across the river.

Now in southern Scotland, Alan hides in the hills while David searches for his father’s lawyer, Mr. Rankeillor. After David proves his identity and shares the story of his travels, Rankeillor agrees to help him secure his birthright. The two recruit Alan to pretend he is holding David hostage to get David’s uncle Ebenezer to admit he wants David out of the picture. Ebenezer falls for the ruse and offers to pay Alan to keep David prisoner. Rankeillor uses the incident to get Ebenezer to turn over Shaws’s revenue to David without a lawsuit.

With his future and title secure, David makes plans to smuggle Alan to France. He also learns of the execution of James Stewart and resolves, at great personal risk, to give testimony to clear Stewart’s name. David and Alan walk together one last time. They stand in silence on top of a hill, knowing they will likely never see each other again, and then they part ways with a handshake.