Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Other authorsNoel Rooke (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1907




London: Chatto & Windus, 1909. Bound in full vellum. Illustrated with color and B&W plates by Noel Rooke and two folding maps at rear


In 1878 Robert Louis Stevenson set out on a walking tour of the Cévennes behind Modestine, the donkey that carried his baggage. The one hundred twenty-mile trip was through difficult country, and Modestine proved to be less than agreeable, too. Although Stevenson's adventure lasted only twelve days, his account suggests a much longer journey, with all sorts of backward glances, detours, and retracing of steps, both on the terrain and in spirit. Stevenson's third book, Travels with a Donkey was originally intended as a lighthearted sketch, a companion-piece to his recent Inland Voyage. Although he would not be recognized as a major author until the publication of Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one can see his voice developing. Full of charm and instruction, Travels with a Donkey serves as a guide to alternatives to the restless and distracted standard of contemporary travel.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Some animals, particularly domestic animals, take a prominent role in people's lives and in literature. While not as significant as dogs, which feature abundantly in literary fiction, nonetheless the donkey makes a regular appearance in literature as a companion of (wo)man. However, whenever the donkey makes its appearance in literature, it is almost always as a symbol of humility, humbleness or poverty. Donkeys are found in literature in the Bible, The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as, The Golden Ass by Apuleius, Platero and I by Juan Ramón Jiménez, Don Quichotte, etc. Whereas the dog is emblematic of loyalty, and cats perhaps the opposite, horses may express fierce pride, but donkey are often associated with stubbornness. At the same time, a donkey is immensely endearing.

A donkey is also Robert Louis Stevenson's main companion on his hike through southern France, described in Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes. It is a classic of travel writing, and a beautiful book for lovers of natural history writing. Stevenson chose the preciously beautiful region of the Cévennes for his 12-day journey on foot. The Cévennes is a mountainous region located in the Massif Central in south-central France, covering parts of the départements of Ardèche, Gard, Hérault and Lozère. The ruggedness of the terrain has offered various people a refuge from persecution, most notably the Huguenots in the late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth centuries, and Jewish people during the Twentieth century holocaust. Stevenson may have chosen the region as the situation of the Huguenots-Camisards' 1702 rebellion against the Catholic King reminded him of the Jacobite risings in Scotland. The episode is described in the book.

Travels with a donkey in the Cevennes is a lovely and short tale to read. In many places it is humourous, particularly Stevenson's exploits with the donkey, whom he christened "Modestine". There are beautiful descriptions of the landscape, nature and the people he encountered in the best tradition of travel literature, particularly hiking in the south of France.
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LibraryThing member Gnorma
A wonderful story, but be warned, he is pretty harsh with his donkey, and I found myself cringing. For a more humane trek, try 'The Wisdom of Donkeys.' 'Travels with My Donkey.'
LibraryThing member mbmackay
This is one of RLS's earliest published works, relating 12 days spent walking through remote southern France, with, of course, a donkey.
Although he doesn't explicitly state why he chose this area for his tramp, it becomes clear in the telling that the link to the suppression of protestants in the area in the early 1700s is a key factor. As a Scottish protestant, I would guess that RLS was fed tales of his fellow protestants fighting the good fight against the papists.
However the historical trigger does not really impact on the tone of the short work - which is more along the lines of Thoreau than a polemic.
Read Nov 2015
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LibraryThing member ctpress
In the autumn of 1878 Robert Louis Stevenson made a 120 mile hike in the Cevennes in France. The journey took him 11 days.

A donkey is bought at the beginning of the hike and christened Modestine - but the animal turns out to be very obstinate and difficult to manage. Very funny situations with that beast in the remote, mountainous region in southern France.

Stevenson is very good at observations and try to distill some thoughts on traveling, religion and life in general out of the experiences he has.

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.

Some of the highlights is his short stay at a Trappist Monastery - a challenge for him as a Protestant, but he likes the simplicity of life among the monks. And sleeping at an inn in a little room with a married couple. Mostly though he finds the farmers he meet quite inhospitable - and even reluctant to show him the way when he’s lost - at least twice he has to sleep outdoors in a homemade sort of a sleeping bag.
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LibraryThing member Forthwith
When attending a non-musical play based on Dr. Jeckel & Mr. Hyde at the Indiana Repertory Theatre that the author of the book married a lady from Indianapolis.
I thought that it would be interesting to learn more about Stevenson.

Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes is an excellent way to meet him. He shares a personal trek through the southern French countryside - the location of a religious clash over 150 years previously. The Camisard rebellion was a violent reaction by French Protestants in protest to the attempts by Louis XIV to put down the Protestants in favor of Catholics. He reflects on the long term results by visiting residents of the rural area.

So why did he do this as a young man?

"I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints."

Nearly any younger person could explain this yearning today as long as they are within range of a cell tower.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Fairly early in his career, Robert Louis Stevenson published a travel narrative about a two-week hiking trip through the mountains in central France. I love animals, so I was disappointed that the donkey wasn't featured as prominently as the title led me to believe. In fact, Stevenson only reluctantly accepted the need for a donkey to carry the equipment he thought was necessary for his journey. Stevenson's writing didn't persuade me to plan a trip to the Cevennes. I was most interested in the history of the religious wars in this region between Protestants and Catholics.… (more)
LibraryThing member jeffome
A bit of a yawner here......started out almost OK and got progressively worse in my book. This is likely an autobiographical smaller work about Stevenson walking thru the mountains of France as an Englishman with a recently purchased donkey he named Modestine. He has apparently no experience with an animal of this ilk and struggles to get his gear in order and the animal to abide. Not totally sure what the purpose of his journey is, other than to contemplate and commune with nature.....under the stars......and in dirty inadequate inns......(yawn - excuse me!). Once the 2 of them find their groove, we go on an on about the scenery......(many chestnut trees in this part of France, apparently).....the steepness of the trails ....(one might expect on a mountain journey).......and the seeming brutal wars fought in the 1700's between the Protestants and the Catholics......I mean with names and dates and tactics and on and on and on......( goodness, I'm sorry!!). None of the history is anything i have any knowledge of, nor do i have any idea where in France he was, because most of the locales, etc. were in French. And then, we reach the chapter entitled 'The Last Day'.....and he gets on a stage and leave Modestine behind......not sure why, but there you have it. Definitely proceed with caution, unless you are a student of what apparently was an unpleasant time to be in the mountains of France with religious unrest.… (more)
LibraryThing member RMMee
Only 130 years ago, but it may as well be a different planet. And the book is all the better for it! A lovely tale, of one man and his donkey, wandering in central southern France, an apparent virtual wildnerness. Stevenson's description of what he sees, and what he feels, are excellent, along with his occasional meetings with people on the way. His inclusion of snippets of the history of the Camisards also adds much to thw story.

A short read about a short(ish) hourney - well worth spending some time on.
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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
A good book by Stevenson. It is a fictional travelogue that borders on the sentimentally dramatic. All in all, a good effort and a solid novel.


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