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Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson Robert Louis Stevenson[1†]

Robert Louis Stevenson, originally named Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson, was a Scottish novelist, essayist, poet, and travel writer[1†][2†]. He was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland[1†][2†]. Stevenson is best known for his works such as “Treasure Island”, “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, “Kidnapped”, and "A Child’s Garden of Verses"[1†][2†].

Despite suffering from serious bronchial trouble for much of his life, Stevenson wrote prolifically and traveled widely[1†]. As a young man, he mixed in London literary circles, receiving encouragement from Edmund Gosse, Leslie Stephen, and W.E. Henley[1†]. In 1890, he settled in Samoa, where his writing turned from romance and adventure fiction toward a darker realism[1†]. He died of a stroke in his island home in 1894 at the age of 44[1†].

Stevenson’s critical reputation has fluctuated since his death, but today his works are held in general acclaim[1†]. In 2018, he was ranked just behind Charles Dickens as the 26th-most-translated author in the world[1†].

Early Years and Education

Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland[2†][3†]. He was the only son of Thomas Stevenson, a prosperous civil engineer, and his wife, Margaret Isabella Balfour[2†]. His father belonged to a family of engineers who had built most of the deep-sea lighthouses around the coast of Scotland[2†][3†]. His mother, Margaret Isabella Balfour, came from a family of lawyers and church ministers[2†][3†].

Stevenson’s health was poor from the start, and it was primarily for this reason that he was educated at home by private tutors until he was eight years old[2†]. His nanny, Alison Cunningham, known as “Cummy”, played a significant role in his upbringing, often reading to him from the Old Testament, Catechisms, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress[2†][3†]. This somewhat isolated childhood led to the development of a healthy imagination through which dreams of being a writer developed[2†][3†].

In 1861, he was educated at the all-boys school, Edinburgh Academy, where he stayed for about fifteen months[2†][4†]. Thereafter, he spent a term at a boarding school in Middlesex[2†][4†]. At the age of 17, he entered Edinburgh University, where he was expected to prepare himself for the family profession of lighthouse engineering[2†]. However, Stevenson had no desire to be an engineer, and he eventually agreed with his father, as a compromise, to prepare instead for the Scottish bar[2†].

Stevenson had shown a desire to write early in life, and once in his teens, he had deliberately set out to learn the writer’s craft by imitating a great variety of models in prose and verse[2†]. His youthful enthusiasm for the Covenanters (i.e., those Scotsmen who had banded together to defend their version of Presbyterianism in the 17th century) led to his writing The Pentland Rising, his first printed work[2†].

During his years at the university, he rebelled against his parents’ religion and set himself up as a liberal bohemian who abhorred the alleged cruelties and hypocrisies of bourgeois respectability[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Robert Louis Stevenson’s career as a writer began early in his life. Despite his poor health, he was determined to write[2†][1†]. As a young man, he mixed in London literary circles, receiving encouragement from Edmund Gosse, Leslie Stephen, and W.E. Henley[2†][1†]. His first printed work was “The Pentland Rising”, inspired by his youthful enthusiasm for the Covenanters[2†][1†].

Stevenson’s most famous works are “Treasure Island” (1881), “Kidnapped” (1886), “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886), and “The Master of Ballantrae” (1889)[2†][1†][5†][6†]. These novels, filled with adventure and intrigue, have become classics and have been adapted for stage and screen numerous times[2†][7†].

In 1890, Stevenson settled in Samoa[2†][1†]. Alarmed at increasing European and American influence in the South Sea islands, his writing turned from romance and adventure fiction toward a darker realism[2†][1†]. Despite his remote location, Stevenson remained a literary celebrity during his lifetime[2†][7†].

Stevenson’s critical reputation has fluctuated since his death, but today his works are held in general acclaim[2†][1†]. In 2018, he was ranked just behind Charles Dickens as the 26th-most-translated author in the world[2†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary career was marked by several notable works that have since become classics in English literature[5†][1†][8†][2†][9†].

These works not only established Stevenson as a popular writer but also contributed significantly to English literature[5†][1†][8†][2†][9†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Robert Louis Stevenson is often seen as an unknowing progenitor of the mystery and detective genre[10†]. He was essentially a Romantic writer attempting to be taken seriously in a mainstream literary world caught up in the values of realism and naturalism[10†]. As a Romantic writer, he strongly affirmed the preeminent right of incident to capture the reader’s attention[10†].

Stevenson countered Jane Austen’s polite cup of tea with Dr. Jekyll’s fantastic potion; he left the discreet parsonage to others, while he explored the mysteries of Treasure Island[10†]. He eschewed the chronicling of petty domestic strife and struck out instead to write about, not the uneventful daily life of ordinary men, but rather their extraordinary daydreams, hopes, and fears[10†].

Stevenson also insisted on the importance of setting to a narrative[10†]. As he writes in “A Gossip on Romance”, “Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder”. The creation of atmosphere has been an important element in mystery fiction since Edgar Allan Poe first had his amateur French sleuth Monsieur Dupin investigate the murders in the Rue Morgue[10†].

Stevenson also had a profound interest in psychology[10†]. His emphasis on the criminal’s motivation, rather than on his identity, clearly presages the method of much modern, post-Freudian, mystery-suspense fiction[10†].

In terms of plotting, setting, and characterization, Stevenson is a master of all the elements that became so important to the development of the mystery and detective genre[10†]. For clarity and suspense, Robert Louis Stevenson is a rarely equaled raconteur[10†]. He reveals his mastery of narrative in his economical presentation of incident and atmosphere[10†]. Yet, despite his sparse, concise style, many of his tales are notable for dealing with complex moral ambiguities and their diagnoses[10†].

Personal Life

Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland[1†]. He was the only child of Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Balfour[1†][11†]. His father, Thomas, belonged to a family of engineers who had built most of the deep-sea lighthouses around the coast of Scotland[1†][3†]. His mother, Margaret Isabella Balfour, came from a family of lawyers and church ministers[1†][3†].

Throughout his childhood, Stevenson suffered chronic health issues which confined him to his bed[1†][3†]. These illnesses, frequently described as a “weak chest”, persisted throughout his life, taking the form of fevers, coughing, bronchial infections, and eventually the “Bluidy Jack”, a hemorrhaging of the lungs[1†][3†]. As a result of his persistent poor health, Stevenson had a limited formal education[1†][3†]. Instead, he was typically educated by private tutors and nannies, none so beloved as Allison Cunningham, whom he nicknamed “Cummy.” Cummy would regularly read to him from the Old Testament, Catechisms, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress[1†][3†].

This somewhat isolated childhood led to the development of a healthy imagination through which dreams of being a writer developed[1†][3†]. Stevenson spent the greater part of his boyhood holidays in his maternal grandfather’s house[1†]. “Now I often wonder what I inherited from this old minister,” Stevenson wrote. "I must suppose, indeed, that he was fond of preaching sermons, and so am I, though I never heard it maintained that either of us loved to hear them."[1†]

Conclusion and Legacy

Robert Louis Stevenson’s legacy is vast and enduring. He became a literary celebrity during his lifetime and now ranks amongst the top 26 most translated authors in the world[7†]. Over a hundred years after his death, his works are widely read and frequently adapted for stage and screen[7†].

Stevenson was an indefatigable letter writer, and his letters provide a lively and enchanting picture of the man and his life[7†][12†]. His unique storytelling style, exploration of complex themes, and memorable characters have left a lasting impression on readers and writers alike[7†][13†]. His influence can be seen in countless works of literature, film, and television, and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations of writers for years to come[7†][13†].

Despite his early death at the age of 44, Stevenson’s brave, joyous, and pain-wracked life from its rebellious start in dour Edinburgh to its end on the island of Samoa where he finally came to rest, is still loved not only for his stories but for the adventurous life he lived[7†][14†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Robert Louis Stevenson [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Robert Louis Stevenson: British author [website] - link
  3. Stevenson Museum - The Life - Robert Louis [website] - link
  4. The Famous People - Robert Louis Stevenson Biography [website] - link
  5. Stevenson Museum - The Works - Robert Louis [website] - link
  6. Short-Fact - What are the achievements of Robert Louis Stevenson? [website] - link
  7. The University of Edinburgh - Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894) [website] - link
  8. Stevenson Museum - The Times - Robert Louis [website] - link
  9. Literary Devices - Robert Louis Stevenson [website] - link
  10. eNotes - Robert Louis Stevenson Analysis [website] - link
  11. Poetry Foundation - Robert Louis Stevenson [website] - link
  12. Britannica - Robert Louis Stevenson - Novels, Poetry, Adventure [website] - link
  13. RT Book Reviews - 10 Best Robert Louis Stevenson Books - Classic Literature [website] - link
  14. Smithsonian Magazine - ‘Merry of Soul’: The legacy of Robert Louis Stevenson [website] - link
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