How did R. L. Stevenson intend Olalla to be pronounced – in English, since he wrote in English? (The Spanish pronunciation is discussed in the comments to Baia, the post at Language Hat’s that inspired this and the previous one.) A possibly related question would be whether Stevenson was familiar with E. A. Poe’s Eulalie – these two names are both variants of Eulalia.

Is this pronunciation question important at all? If you’re interested in a piece of fiction keenly enough to attempt a deeper understanding of it – which may be unattainable – you ought to check all the items on the list, including the pronunciation of personal names:

And the stone crags answered, Olalla! and the dumb, unfathomable azure answered, Olalla!

What did they answer? How should I imagine their answer? But let’s leave aside the acoustics and move on to the novella’s conclusion.

At the end of the story, Olalla invokes Christ’s example to help the narrator understand her choice. Up to that point, she appeared a young girl determined to stop the degeneration of her family line by never marrying. Now she is speaking of imitating Him, in a certain respect, and of relying on His help. The narrator understands some of that, from his own angle. Looking at a crucifix standing on the top of a rock, he perceives in it

an emblem of sad and noble truths; that pleasure is not an end, but an accident; that pain is the choice of the magnanimous; that it is best to suffer all things and do well.

This sounds to me an expression of the narrator’s stoicism, revived or reaffirmed by Olalla’s renunciation. Not of his Christian faith – although he’s apparently a Scottish protestant – but of a moral principle. “Suffer all things and do well.” Always lurking in the Stoa’s shadows is Duty.

Here’s a footnote by John Fowles to Chapter 8 of his novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman:

I had better here, as a reminder that mid-Victorian (unlike modern) agnosticism and atheism were related strictly to theological dogma, quote George Eliot’s famous epigram: “God is inconceivable, immortality is unbelievable, but duty is peremptory and absolute.” And all the more peremptory, one might add, in the presence of such a terrible dual lapse of faith.

Of course the story is set in the Regency era but its author was born thirteen years into Victoria’s reign and died seven years before her demise.

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