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Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

The Scottish novelist, essayist, and poet Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was one of the most popular and highly regarded British writers of the end of the 19th century. He played a significant part in the revival of the novel of romance.

During Robert Louis Stevenson's youth the romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott and his followers had been eclipsed by the realism of William Makepeace Thackeray and Anthony Trollope. Writing in conscious opposition to this trend, Stevenson formulated his theoretical position in his essays "A Gossip on Romance" (1882), "A Humble Remonstrance" (1884), and "The Lantern-bearers" (1888). Romance, he wrote, is not concerned with objective truth but rather with things as they appear to the subjective imagination, with the "poetry of circumstance." Romance, according to Stevenson, avoids complications of character and morality and dwells on action and adventure.

Stevenson was born on Nov. 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, the son of a noted lighthouse builder and harbor engineer. Though robust and healthy at birth, Stevenson soon became a victim of constant respiratory ailments that later developed into tuberculosis and made him skeletally thin and frail most of his life. By the time he entered Edinburgh University at the age of 16, ostensibly to study engineering, Stevenson had fallen under the spell of language and had begun to write. For several years he attended classes irregularly, cultivating a bohemian existence complete with long hair and velvet jackets and acquainting himself with Edinburgh's lower depths.

Early Works

When he was 21 years old, Stevenson openly declared his intention of becoming a writer against the strong opposition of his father. Agreeing to study law as a compromise, Stevenson was admitted to the Scottish bar in 1875. Having traveled to the Continent several times for health and pleasure, he now swung back and forth between Scotland and a growing circle of artistic and literary friends in London and Paris. Stevenson's first book, An Inland Voyage (1878), related his adventures during a canoe trip on the canals of Belgium and France.

In 1876 in France, Stevenson had met an American woman named Fanny Osbourne. Separated from her husband, she was 11 years older than Stevenson and had two children. Two years later Stevenson and Osbourne became lovers. In 1878 Osbourne returned to California to arrange a divorce, and a year later Stevenson followed her. After traveling across America in an emigrant train, Stevenson arrived in Monterey in poor health. After his marriage, a stay in an abandoned mining camp, later recounted in The Silverado Squatters (1883), restored his health. A year after setting out for the United States, Stevenson was back in Scotland. But the climate there proved impossible, and for the next 4 years he and his wife lived in Switzerland and in the south of France.

Despite ill health these years were productive. In his collections Virginibus puerisque (1881) and Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882) Stevenson arrived at maturity as an essayist. Addressing his readers with confidential ease, he reflected on the common beliefs and incidents of life with a mild iconoclasm, a middling disillusionment.

The stories Stevenson collected in The New Arabian Nights (1883) and The Merry Men (1887) range from detective stories to Scottish dialect tales. The evocation of mood and setting that he practiced in his travel essays was used to great effect here. Despite his theory of romance, he was unable entirely to keep away from moral issues in these stories, but he was rarely successful in integrating moral viewpoint with action and scene.

Early Novels

Treasure Island (1881, 1883), first published as a serial in a children's magazine, ranks as Stevenson's first popular book, and it established his fame. A perfect romance according to Stevenson's formula, the novel—riding over all the problems of morality and character that might have arisen—recounts a boy's involvement with murderous pirates. Kidnapped (1886), set in Scotland shortly after the abortive Jacobite rebellion of 1745, has the same charm. In its sequel, David Balfour (1893), Stevenson could not avoid psychological and moral problems without marked strain. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) he dealt directly with the nature of evil in man and the hideous effects of a hypocrisy that seeks to deny it. This work pointed the way toward Stevenson's more serious later novels. During this same period he published a very popular collection of poetry, A Child's Garden of Verses (1885).

After the death of his father in 1887, Stevenson again traveled to the United States, this time for his health. He lived for a year at Saranac Lake, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. In 1889 Stevenson and his family set out on a cruise of the South Sea Islands. When it became clear that only there could he live in relative good health, he settled on the island of Upolu in Samoa. He bought a plantation (Vailima), built a house, and gained influence with the natives, who called him Tusifala ("teller of tales"). By the time of his death on Dec. 3, 1894, Stevenson had become a significant figure in island affairs. His observations on Samoan life were published in the collection In the South Seas (1896) and in A Footnote to History (1892). Of the stories written in these years, "The Beach of Falesá" in Island Nights' Entertainments (1893) remains particularly interesting as an exploration of the confrontation between European and native ways of life.

Later Novels

The Master of Ballantrae (1889), set in the same period as Kidnapped, showed a new sophistication in Stevenson's use of the elements of romance. Its basic theme involved complexities of character that his earlier romances had deliberately avoided. In the more advanced Weir of Hermiston, the legends of the romantic Scottish past saturate the setting and serve as a symbolic background for a tragic conflict between the primitive energies of a father and his sensitive, effete son. Left unfinished at his death, this novel would have ranked as Stevenson's greatest work. While living in the South Pacific, Stevenson also collaborated on three novels with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne.

Further Reading

The best biographies of Stevenson are David Daiches, Robert Louis Stevenson (1947), and Joseph C. Furnas, Voyage to Windward: The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson (1951). Recommended critical studies include David Daiches, Stevenson and the Art of Fiction (1951); Robert Kiely, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Fiction of Adventure (1964), and Edwin M. Eigner, Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition (1966).

Additional Sources

Bell, Ian, Dreams of exile: Robert Louis Stevenson, a biography, New York: H. Holt, 1993.

Hammond, J. R. (John R.), A Robert Louis Stevenson chronology, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

McLynn, F. J., Robert Louis Stevenson: a biography, New York:Random House, 1994. □

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Stevenson, Robert Louis

Robert Louis Stevenson

Born: November 13, 1850
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: December 3, 1894
Upolu, Samoa

Scottish writer

The Scottish novelist, essayist, and poet Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the most popular and highly praised British writers during the last part of the nineteenth century.

Sickly childhood

Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of a noted lighthouse builder and harbor engineer. Though healthy at birth, Stevenson soon became a victim of constant breathing problems that later developed into tuberculosis, a sometimes fatal disease that attacks the lungs and bones. These persistent health problems made him extremely thin and weak most of his life.

By the time Stevenson entered Edinburgh University at the age of sixteen to study engineering, he had fallen under the spell of language and had begun to write. For several years he attended classes irregularly, developing a bohemian existence (an artistic lifestyle different than that of mainstream society), complete with long hair and velvet jackets. He also associated himself with Edinburgh's seedy and dangerous neighborhoods.

Early works

When Stevenson was twenty-one years old, he openly declared his intention of becoming a writer, against the strong opposition of his father. Agreeing to study law as a compromise, in 1875 Stevenson was admitted to the Scottish bar, an organization for lawyers. Having traveled to the European mainland several times for health and pleasure, he now swung back and forth between Scotland and a growing circle of artistic and literary friends in London, England, and Paris, France. Stevenson's first book, An Inland Voyage (1878), related his adventures during a canoe trip on Belgium and France's canals.

In France in 1876 Stevenson met an American woman named Fanny Osbourne. Separated from her husband, she was eleven years older than Stevenson and had two children. Three years later Stevenson and Osbourne were married. After accompanying his wife to America, Stevenson stayed in an abandoned mining camp, later recounted in The Silverado Squatters (1883). A year after setting out for the United States, Stevenson was back in Scotland. But the climate there proved to be a severe hardship on his health, and for the next four years he and his wife lived in Switzerland and in the south of France. Despite his health, these years proved to be productive. The stories Stevenson collected in The New Arabian Nights (1883) and The Merry Men (1887) range from detective stories to Scottish dialect tales, or tales of the region.

Popular novels

Treasure Island (1881, 1883), first published as a series in a children's magazine, ranks as Stevenson's first popular book, and it established his fame. A perfect romance, according to Stevenson's formula, the novel tells the story of a boy's involvement with murderous pirates. Kidnapped (1886), set in Scotland during a time of great civil unrest, has the same charm. In its sequel, David Balfour (1893), Stevenson could not avoid psychological and moral problems without marked strain. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) he dealt directly with the nature of evil in man and the hideous effects that occur when man seeks to deny it. This work pointed the way toward Stevenson's more serious later novels. During this same period he published a very popular collection of poetry, A Child's Garden of Verses (1885).

After the death of Stevenson's father in 1887, he again traveled to the United States, this time for his health. He lived for a year at Saranac Lake, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. In 1889 Stevenson and his family set out on a cruise of the South Sea Islands. When it became clear that only there could he live in relatively good health, he settled on the island of Upolu in Samoa. He bought a plantation (Vailima), built a house, and gained influence with the natives, who called him Tusifala ("teller of tales"). By the time of his death on December 3, 1894, Stevenson had become a significant figure in island affairs. His observations on Samoan life were published in the collection In the South Seas (1896) and in A Footnote to History (1892). Of the stories written in these years, "The Beach of Falesá" in Island Nights' Entertainments (1893) remains particularly interesting as an exploration of the confrontation between European and native ways of life.

For More Information

Calder, Jenni. Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Furnas, Joseph C. Voyage to Windward: The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson. New York: Sloane, 1951.

Woodhead, Richard. The Strange Case of R. L. Stevenson. Edinburgh, Scotland: Luath, 2001.

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Stevenson, Robert Louis

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850–94, Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist, b. Edinburgh. Handicapped from youth by delicate health, he struggled all his life against tuberculosis. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1875, but he never practiced. At an early age he had begun to write, and gradually he devoted himself to literature. The essays that were later published as Virginibus Puerisque (1881) and Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882) began to appear in the Cornhill Magazine in 1876; he was soon contributing to periodicals such famous stories as "A Lodging for the Night" and "The Sire de Malétroit's Door" and the tales later published as New Arabian Nights (1882). An Inland Voyage (1878), an account of a canoe trip in Belgium and France, was his first published book.

In 1880 Stevenson married Frances Osbourne, an American divorcée ten years his senior. With W. E. Henley he wrote four plays, only moderately successful. His first popular books were Treasure Island (1883), a swashbuckling adventure story of a search for Captain Kidd's buried treasure, and the fantasy Prince Otto (1885). A Child's Garden of Verses appeared in 1885, followed in 1886 by two of his best-known works: Kidnapped, an adventure tale noted for its Scottish setting, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a science-fiction thriller with moral overtones.

Constantly in search of climates favorable to his health, Stevenson went in 1887 to Saranac Lake in New York, where he began The Master of Ballantrae (1889). In 1889 he and his family set out for the South Seas, settling on the island of Upolu in what is now Samoa. There Stevenson gained the affection of the natives, who knew him as Tusitala (teller of tales). At his estate there ( "Vailima" ) he collaborated with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, on the novels The Wrong Box (1889), The Wrecker (1892), and The Ebb Tide (1894), and wrote and planned numerous tales and essays. He died in Samoa and, by his own request, was buried high on Mt. Vaea "under the wide and starry sky," which he described in his famous poem "Requiem."

Among Stevenson's other published works are Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879); The Merry Men (1887); The Black Arrow (1888), a novel; A Footnote to History (1893), a defense of Father Damien; and a novel, The Weir of Hermiston (1896), which, although uncompleted, contains some of Stevenson's finest writing. Stevenson's reputation suffered severely after his death—he was considered an overly mannered writer of children's stories. However, by the mid-20th cent. he was again regarded as a writer of power and originality with a strong moral vision.

Bibliography

See The Complete Short Stories: The Centenary Edition (1994), ed. by I. Bell; The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (2 vol., 1994), ed. by B. A. Booth and E. Mehew; biographies by G. Balfour (2 vol., 1901; repr. 1968), R. O. Masson (1914, repr. 1973), D. Daiches (1947), J. C. Furnas (1952), J. Calder (1980), F. McLynn (1993), I. Bell (1994), P. Callow (2001), and C. Harman (2005); studies by J. Calder (1981), P. Maixner (1981), and N. Rankin (1988).

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Stevenson, Robert Louis

Stevenson, Robert Louis (1850–94). Writer. A spirited but sickly child, Stevenson abandoned engineering studies at Edinburgh for law but, although admitted as advocate (1875), never practised: rejecting parental calvinism for liberal bohemianism, he was determined to write. Much of his life was spent journeying in search of health after tuberculosis developed, and this provided material for future publication; it was while in France that he met his future wife, the American Fanny Osbourne. His output covered essays, short stories, poetry (A Child's Garden of Verses), travelogues, and collaborations with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, while delighting readers with Scottish romances (Kidnapped, Catriona) and story-telling (Treasure Island, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Financially independent after his father's death (1887), Stevenson took the whole family to the South Seas, settling eventually at Vailima (Samoa), where his health improved partially and he gained a reputation as ‘Tusitala’ (‘Teller of Tales’).

A. S. Hargreaves

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"Stevenson, Robert Louis." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Stevenson, Robert Louis

Stevenson, Robert Louis (1850–94) Scottish novelist, essayist, and poet. He is celebrated for his classic children's adventure stories, such as Treasure Island (1883) and Kidnapped (1886). His later work includes historical novels, such as The Black Arrow (1888) and The Master of Ballantrae (1889), as well as the psychological novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Stevenson spent the last years of his life in Samoa, where he wrote The Ebb-Tide (1894).

http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/stevenso.htm

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