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Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was a Scottish writer of international fame, known mainly for Treasure Island and The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Novelist, poet, travel writer, Stevenson experimented with many genres: adventure, horror, travel...He was acclaimed in his time and is still acclaimed in ours, but was strangely dismissed as a second class author over many decades of the twentieth century, a strange time of cultural self-denial when moral intentions seemed to matter more than creativity. Stevenson was also an intensive traveller. He went to France numerous times, crossed the Atlantic, crossed the American continent, sailed to the South Pacific, and died in the South Seas aged forty-four.

Short biography

Stevenson was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson in Edinburgh on November 13th, 1850. His father was a successful lighthouse engineer. He did visit the western shores of Scotland in his young age, accompanying his father, found more interest in the sceneries which had already inspired Walter Scott than in civil engineering, and it is from the exposure to Celtic verbal culture over these travels that he drew his art of story-telling. Three things had a profound influence on Stevenson's early life, therefore influencing his future as a writer: his weak health, explaining why he would eventually die supposedly of tuberculosis (although people now think it was a different disease), and why Scottish winters were terrible, dark ordeals for him; his Presbyterian family, of which he did not share the religious views; and Edinburgh, that he chose to escape all his life, even though it had a profound influence on his aesthetic view of the world, its dark, dreary side, its physical contrast between good and evil... He attended Edinburgh University, chose not pursue engineering as a career, and studied law. He became increasingly bohemian, let his hair grow, belonged to the LJR club (Liberty, Justice, Reverence), something which his father eventually discovered much to his discomfort: “Disregard everything our parents have taught us”, so goes the preamble of the LJR constitution.

Stevenson then took part in literary circles. He met Leslie Stephen from the Cornhill magazine, who liked Stevenson's work, and then introduced him to William Ernest Henley, a man with a wooden leg who would then become a close friend and also the model for Long John Silver of Treasure Island. It is because of health reasons that Stevenson started travelling, first to Menton in 1873; then back in Scotland, he finished his studies but never practised law. And he travelled again, mainly in France, Grez-sur-Loing, Fontainebleau and Paris, where he also spent time within the local Bohemian circles. He made a canoe voyage with Walter Simpson between Belgium and France, true story which would become the basis for his first book, An Inland voyage. At the end of the canoe voyage, he also met Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. He would later fall for her and become her lover. He travelled to the Cévennes, which would inspire another book, Travels with a donkey in the Cévennes. He then decided to join Fanny and embarked for America. He arrived in New York and travelled to California by train, eventually reaching Monterey. He was once again fighting against his poor health, and had to wait before making the trip to San Francisco, where he finally found Fanny. He married her in 1880, they spent time in the Napa Valley, and together travelled back to Britain.

Between 1880 and 1887, Stevenson continued to struggle with his health, and regularly changed residence, living in Scotland and England, but mainly Bournemouth, Poole, Dorset, and France in the winter. This is during this period that he wrote his most famous works: The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The black arrow.

In 1888, he chose to leave Britain and travel to the South Seas. This is where he would spend the rest of his life and die. His first port of call was San Francisco, then Hawaï, then Tahiti, New Zealand and finally Samoa. He wrote “In the South seas” as an account of his South Pacific trips. He settled in Valima, a village situated in the Samoan island of Upola, where he managed to be in very friendly terms with the locals whilst managing the colonial authorities. He asked many of his friends from Britain to come and visit him, but none of them ever did. After being very concerned he was losing his creative streak, he produced interesting work in the last few years: “Catriona” (or David Balfour), and also “Weir of Hermiston”, which he never finished but that he considered to be his best. He then died aged forty-four of a cerebral haemorrhage. Tusitala (or “story-teller”, his Samoan name) was buried on Mount Vaea.

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Stevenson's heritage

At the end of the Nineteenth century, along with Kipling, Stevenson was one of the most popular writers. The diversity of Stevenson's work, adventure, travel writing, “gothic” tales, meant later literary authorities struggled to put him in a category, explaining why both in France and in England he came to be considered as a second class writer, or a children's writer (witness the proliferation of shortened versions and adaptations of Treasure Island). In France, the “high brow-ness” of the Structuralist phase, with its theoretical, uncompromising approach to writing, its emphasis on style over content, its willingness to break with the past at any cost, its disdain of minor genres, its rejection of narrative, all this meant Stevenson was forgotten. Fortunately, he has come back in recent years, and more and more people now appreciate him for what he is: a prolific, extraordinary story-teller and writer.

© 2013- Les Éditions de Londres

Livres publiés

  • Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

    par Robert Louis Stevenson

    ISBN : 978-1-909782-10-5
    Date de parution : 21 juin 2013
    Nombre de pages : 75 pages

    “Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” is a short novel by Robert Louis Stevenson published in 1886. It tells the story of a strange Dr Jekyll who seems to know an evil Mr Hyde, responsible for all kinds of crimes throughout London. It is said Stevenson first wrote the story in one night and then burnt it, (...)

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  • Victor Hugo's romances

    par Robert Louis Stevenson

    ISBN : 978-1-910628-82-9
    Date de parution : 25 juin 2016
    Nombre de pages : 35 pages

    Victor Hugo's Romances is a short essay from the compilation “Familiar studies of men and books”. “Victor Hugo's Romances” was first published in Cornhill magazine in August 1874. Hugo's Romances.—This is an instance of the “point of view.” The five romances studied (...)

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  • Walt Whitman

    par Robert Louis Stevenson

    ISBN : 978-1-910628-83-6
    Date de parution : 25 juin 2016
    Nombre de pages : 37 pages

    Walt Whitman” is a short essay from the compilation “Familiar studies of men and books”, written by Robert Louis Stevenson. “Walt Whitman” was first published in New Quarterly Magazine in October 1878. Walt Whitman.—This is a case of a second difficulty which lies continually (...)

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  • Some aspects of Robert Burns

    par Robert Louis Stevenson

    ISBN : 978-1-910628-84-3
    Date de parution : 26 juin 2016
    Nombre de pages : 48 pages

    Some aspects of Robert Burns” is a short essay from the compilation “Familiar studies of men and books”, by Robert Louis Stevenson. “Some aspects of Robert Burns” was first published in Cornhill magazine in August 1879. Burns.—I have left the introductory sentences on Principal (...)

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