Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: The author of thirty-two books during his brief lifetime, Stevenson created various classics in the field of children’s literature as well as several popular adult works, including The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which has exerted a powerful influence on Western cultural imagination.
Scotland was not only the country of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson’s birth, but it was also the history-laden nation he later often revisited in both his nomadic life and his adventure romances. As the son and only child of Thomas Stevenson, a lighthouse engineer in Edinburgh, Robert was expected to adopt his father’s profession. However, he was more interested in the sea and travel in general than in the coast. In fact, from his teenage years until his death, Stevenson’s travels were so extensive that no biographer has been able to give a full account of them. His journeys began when his mother took him, as a young man, on periodic visits to the European continent for the sake of his health, which was compromised throughout his life by lingering pulmonary disorders. Despite a lackluster performance as a student and numerous interruptions in his education caused by illness, Stevenson eventually completed a law degree at the University of Edinburgh in 1875. Nevertheless, his heart was set on travel and writing. Although Stevenson was sincere in these avocations, they also expressed...
(The entire section is 1960 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Robert Louis Stevenson is one of those intriguing writers, like Oscar Wilde, whose life often competes with his works for the critics’ attention. He was born Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh. He was the only child of Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Isabella (née Balfour) Stevenson. His father, grandfather, and two uncles were harbor and lighthouse engineers who had hopes that Stevenson would follow in their profession. Stevenson, however, was a sickly child whose interest in lighthouses was of the romantic, rather than the structural, sort. Although he studied engineering, and then law, to please his family, it was apparent early that he was destined to become a writer.
Stevenson chose his companions from among the writers and artists of his day, such as William Ernest Henley, Sidney Colvin, and Charles Baxter. One friend, Leslie Stephen, editor of Cornhill magazine, published some of his early essays. His first book, An Inland Voyage (1878), was not published until he was twenty-eight years old.
While studying art in France, Stevenson fell in love with Fanny Van de Grift Osborne, who returned reluctantly to her San Franciscan husband, Samuel C. Osborne, in 1878. Stevenson pursued her to the United States, and after her divorce in 1880, they were married. Unfortunately, Stevenson’s tubercular condition was a constant difficulty for him; thus, the couple spent the first ten years of their...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
The only child of a prosperous civil engineer and his wife, Robert Louis Stevenson was a sickly youth, causing his formal education to be haphazard. He reacted early against his parents’ orthodox Presbyterianism, donning the mask of a liberated Bohemian who abhorred the hypocrisies of bourgeois respectability. As a compromise with his father, Stevenson did study law at Edinburgh University in lieu of the traditional family vocation of lighthouse engineer. In 1873, however, he suffered a severe respiratory illness, and, although he completed his studies and was admitted to the Scottish bar in July, 1875, he never practiced. In May, 1880, Stevenson married Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, a divorcée from San Francisco and ten years his senior. The new couple spent most of the next decade in health resorts for Stevenson’s tuberculosis: Davos in the Swiss Alps, Hyéres on the French Riviera, and Bournemouth in England. After his father’s death, Stevenson felt able to go farther from Scotland and so went to Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, where treatment arrested his disease. In June, 1888, Stevenson, his wife, mother, and stepson sailed for the South Seas. During the next eighteen months they saw the Marquesas, Tahiti, Australia, the Gilberts, Hawaii, and Samoa. In late 1889, Stevenson decided to settle and bought “Vailima,” three miles from the town of Apia, Upolu, Samoa, and his home until his death. His vigorous crusading there against the...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
The only child of Thomas and Margaret (Balfour) Stevenson, Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was in poor health even as a child, and he suffered throughout his life from a tubercular condition. Thomas, a civil engineer and lighthouse keeper, had hopes that Stevenson would eventually follow in his footsteps, and the youngster was sent to Anstruther and then to Edinburgh University. His fragile health, however, precluded a career in engineering, and he shifted his efforts to the study of law, passing the bar in Edinburgh in 1875.
Even during his preparation for law, Stevenson was more interested in literature, and, reading widely in the essays of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Charles Lamb, and William Hazlitt, he began imitating their styles. Their influence can be seen in the style that Stevenson ultimately developed—a personal, conversational style, marked by an easy familiarity.
Between 1875 and 1879, Stevenson wandered through France, Germany, and Scotland in search of a healthier climate. In 1876, at Fontainebleau, France, he met Fanny Osbourne, an American with whom he fell in love. She returned to California in 1878, and in that same year became seriously ill. Stevenson set out immediately to follow her. Traveling by steerage, he underwent considerable hardships on his journey, hardships that proved detrimental to his already poor health. In 1880, he married Fanny and settled for a...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born to Thomas and Margaret Isabella (Balfour) Stevenson in Edinburgh on November 13, 1850, the midpoint of the Victorian era. Thomas Stevenson, destined to be the last of a line of illustrious Scottish engineers, had hopes that his only child would take up that profession. His hopes proved to be unrealized when Stevenson switched from a sporadic study of engineering to a sporadic study of the law at Edinburgh University. Never a strong child, Stevenson spent much of his childhood and, indeed, much of his adulthood, either undergoing or convalescing from long and serious bouts of illness, chiefly respiratory disorders. His early life and education were overshadowed by illness, confinement, and frequent changes of climate. His youthful wanderings after health and sun led to later trips to France, Switzerland, and America, and, finally, in 1888, to the South Seas, where he ultimately built a house, “Vailima,” in Samoa. There he remained until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1894. His recent biographers make much of his turbulent adolescence and hint of his several early love affairs, especially the platonic affair with Fanny Sitwell, whom he met in 1873 when she was newly separated from her husband. The more important woman in his life was the American, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, whom he met at Grez, France, in 1876, and married in California in 1880. From the time of his marriage (which drew him away from such friends...
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Scotland was not only the country of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson’s birth, but it was also the history-laden nation he later often revisited in both his nomadic life and his adventure romances. As the son and only child of Thomas Stevenson, a lighthouse engineer in Edinburgh, Robert was expected to adopt his father’s profession. However, he was more interested in the sea and travel in general than in the coast. In fact, from his teenage years until his death, Stevenson’s travels were so extensive that no biographer has been able to give a full account of them. His journeys began when his mother took him, as a young man, on periodic visits to the European continent for the sake of his health, which was compromised throughout his life by lingering pulmonary disorders. Despite a lackluster performance as a student and numerous interruptions in his education caused by illness, Stevenson eventually completed a law degree at the University of Edinburgh in 1875. Nevertheless, his heart was set on travel and writing. Although Stevenson was sincere in these avocations, they also expressed resistance to his Scottish family’s expectations in particular and to Victorian respectability in general.
This implicit rebellion against convention informed his early substitution of...
(The entire section is 2318 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850, the only son of Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Balfour. His mother’s family and ancestors were primarily clergymen and physicians; his father’s family and ancestors were engineers. On both sides of his large extended family (both his mother and father were the youngest of thirteen children) were successful, wealthy, socially prominent professionals. His father’s family, in fact, was famous in Scotland. The family firm designed and built lighthouses that had become famous landmarks, and “Stevenson” was a name to reckon with: Robert Louis’s father, Thomas, and grandfather, Robert, both appear in Scotland’s national portrait gallery. He was born into privilege, therefore, and was expected to carry on the tradition of a wealthy, successful professional life.
When Stevenson was an infant, his mother developed symptoms of tuberculosis, and she was an invalid for much of his first decade. After his third year, Stevenson also became sickly, plagued with fevers and fits of coughing. Eventually, he contracted what was diagnosed as tuberculosis, and much of his adult life was a scramble to stay one step ahead of the disease. He spent much of his childhood, then, as an invalid; the attitudes and habits of mind that he developed as a result meant that he was destined...
(The entire section is 1635 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Robert Louis Stevenson’s life is a study in contrasts, if not contradictions: His parents were wealthy, but he spent the first half of his adulthood one step ahead of genteel poverty. His ancestors for three generations were pillars of the community, but he was a perpetual tourist. His family was very religious, but he became an iconoclast and an agnostic. His family made its living building lighthouses; he was to make his building imaginary worlds. In these contradictions; he rivaled the best of his complex characters. His life was an attempt to contain, and, in a sense, to live up to his own complexity. In time, however, the craftsman, the iconoclast, and the moralist became reconciled and unified, and Stevenson was still growing as an artist and as a man on the day that he died. The deeply rooted family tree flowered in Stevenson’s short life.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, born in Edinburgh in 1850, achieved fame because of his romantic life nearly as much as because of his romantic fiction. His life displays the same split between romantic adventure and grim reality that the discerning reader finds in much of his writing. Stevenson’s brief life was a nearly constant journey in search of adventure and relief from the agonies of tuberculosis, with which he was afflicted from early childhood. His father, Thomas Stevenson, a successful Edinburgh lighthouse engineer, hoped for a law career for his only son. Robert did study to be a barrister, but he soon commenced a life of traveling that took him to Switzerland, France, the United States, and, finally, the South Seas. In each place Stevenson found adventure; when he did not find it ready-made, he created it for himself out of his teeming imagination.
Although Stevenson is best known for his fiction, he was a prodigious essayist. The vivid impressions made by the places he visited are recorded in such brilliant travel sketches and essays as An Inland Voyage, which tells of a canoeing trip through Belgium and France, and Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, which records his journeys in southern France. In these books Stevenson shows the sharp eye and sensitivity that were to add so much to the popularity of his...
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Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the only child of Margaret Balfour Stevenson and Thomas Stevenson, a lighthouse engineer. The formative years of Stevenson's life were influenced by his father's emphasis on duty and responsibility, and his mother's warm affection.
These two forces played a great part in the development of both Stevenson's personal attitudes and the themes and topics of his writing. He tended to rebel against the stern old-world rigors of Scottish culture and to appreciate deeply the warmth and sympathy of human affection. His poor health intensified his desire to escape the cold and the austere; Stevenson contracted tuberculosis when a child and was intermittently ill for the rest of his life. The first sign of true rebellion, at first not revealed to his parents but later causing a rupture with his father, was his disaffection for the strict tenets of the Calvinistic tradition of his family. The next was his decision to discontinue the study of engineering, a program he had entered at Edinburgh University in 1867 to please his father. Stevenson's desire to please the people he cared for had prompted him to undertake the study of law in 1871, but his principal enthusiasm was writing. He decided to teach himself to write and published a historical essay when he was only sixteen.
Stevenson's mode of self-instruction has caused considerable discussion among critics and...
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Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the only child of a prosperous, middle-class family. His father and grandfather were lighthouse engineers. Because his mother was of delicate health, Stevenson was raised primarily by his devoted nurse, Alison Cunningham, or "Cummy," to whom he later dedicated A Child's Garden of Verses (1885). His schooling was frequently interrupted by illness, but Stevenson traveled widely in Europe and was taught privately by tutors. At seventeen he enrolled as an engineering student at Edinburgh University, but changed to law after a year. Although he completed his degree, Stevenson never practiced law, and devoted himself to writing instead.
On a summer holiday to France in 1875, Stevenson met Fanny Osbourne, a married American ten years his senior who was traveling abroad with her two children. Osbourne was estranged from her husband, and when she traveled back to California in the fall of 1878 to obtain a divorce, Stevenson followed. They married in San Francisco in May of 1880 and sailed back to Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Stevenson was forced to ask his parents for money to supplement the meager income derived from his writing efforts. During a cold, wet summer in Scotland in 1881, Stevenson drew a treasure map for his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne—thus originating the world of Treasure Island. Stevenson set to work creating a story to accompany the map, and published...
(The entire section is 370 words.)
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850. He was dearly fond of his childhood nurse, Alison Cunningham (Cummy), who deeply influenced the young Stevenson. He was also closer to his mother than was common for people of that time and income; they may have understood each other better because both suffered from ill health. Stevenson was an avid reader and began writing at an early age. He wrote essays and sketches for various magazines and newspapers, and in 1878 published his first book, An Inland Voyage, based on his 1876 canoe trip through France.
In 1879, Stevenson traveled to the United States. This voyage not only symbolically liberated him from Great Britain and his parents, but allowed him to pursue Fanny Van de Grift, an American woman. He married her a year later.
It was the publication of Treasure Island that made Stevenson known as a serious writer. The novel began as an attempt to amuse his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, by drawing a map of an imaginary island. Serialized and published as a book two years later, the novel was well received. Even so, it was not until the publication of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that Stevenson found fame.
The story began with a nightmare that the author had while the Stevensons were living in Bournemouth, England (then a fashionable seaside health resort), in a house which his father had given to Mrs. Stevenson. Stevenson had been working too...
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Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850, to Thomas, a civil engineer, and Margaret Isabella (Balfour) Stevenson. He was six-years-old when he first displayed his literary talents during a competition against his cousins. After the competition, one of his uncles presented him with a prize for his history of Moses. At sixteen, his father published his first work, The Pentland Rising, an account of a 1666 rebellion by Covenanters. Both works had a religious focus, reflecting the influence of his parents. However, while attending Edinburgh University, Stevenson denounced his Presbyterian upbringing and declared himself to be agnostic. His parents were further disappointed when he discarded his plans to become an engineer and spent a good deal of his time at the university exploring the brothels and pubs of Edinburgh. During his university years, Stevenson gained a reputation for outrageous behavior and earned the name "Velvet Jacket" for his unconventional style of dress.
Stevenson read authors like William Hazlitt and Daniel Defoe at the university and subsequently adopted their styles in his early writing. While working on his law degree, he saw several of his essays published in various periodicals. His first two books, An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879) were based on travels that he enjoyed throughout his life. Although Stevenson earned a degree in law at the...
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Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the only son of a famed engineer and inventor. Stevenson’s grandfather was also an engineer, known around the world for the many beautiful lighthouses he designed. The family expected the young Stevenson to follow in his grandfather’s and his father’s footsteps. But in his earliest years, Stevenson suffered from a lung disease and spent much time in bed. To pass the time, he made up stories. Some of the earliest literary influences, authors he tried to mimic, included Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe, 1719), Edgar Allan Poe (“The Raven,” 1845), and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Scarlet Letter, 1850).
When it came time to go to university, Stevenson enrolled in engineering classes but later changed his mind. He was more interested in literature. Stevenson’s father did not approve of his son’s writing, however, and insisted that Stevenson gain a more respected and more practical degree. So Stevenson studied law and passed the bar in 1875, but he never practiced. Instead, he began to write in earnest, publishing several short stories, essays, and travel sketches, which were only modestly successful and did not provide him with enough money to pay all his bills. So his father continued to support him well through his twenties.
Stevenson’s travel sketches were the byproduct of his hopes of finding a climate that would prove more beneficial for his health. While he was...
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IntroductionRobert Louis Stevenson is best known today for a single work: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This story of a scientist who developed a potion splitting his identity so that he could indulge his darker cravings spoke to the Victorian reading public. And though we cannot know what Stevenson's heart was like, the book does address the kind of fundamental divisions that defined his life. On one hand, he was raised to be a lighthouse engineer; on the other, he loved stories and travel. On one hand, his health was terrible; on the other, he loved adventure. Such divisions run throughout Stevenson's short life and through the critical history of his work.
- Stevenson’s mother kept him inside through the damp Scottish winters because of his tuberculosis. Stevenson’s nurse read to him from the Bible and the history of Scotland while he watched other boys playing in the streets of Edinburgh and made up stories about them.
- His father had planned for Stevenson to become a lighthouse engineer like himself and so sent him to Edinburgh Academy, where he enjoyed reading books that had nothing at all do with engineering, such as The Arabian Nights.
- Stevenson was good friends with David Kalākaua, King of Hawaii.
- In 1890, Stevenson bought 400 acres on the Samoan island of Upolu, where he established an estate named Vailima.
- Stevenson wrote the first draft of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days. After he let his wife read it, he burned the manuscript—and then wrote the whole thing again from scratch!
All Resources by Category
Critical Survey of Short Fiction
Magill's Choice: 100 Masters of Mystery and Detective Fiction
Magill's Choice: Notable British Novelists
Robert Louis Stevenson Critical Survey of Poetry
Treasure Island Criticism
Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland. A semi-invalid as a child, he suffered from tuberculosis for much of his life. He rebelled against his puritanical Scottish Calvinist upbringing, becoming an agnostic and adapting a bohemian way of life as a young man. After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1875 but never practiced the profession. Instead, he turned to literature, publishing essays noted for their polished style and personal charm in Cornhill Magazine and other periodicals. Despite his precarious health, or perhaps in defiance of it, he led an adventurous life, hiking, canoeing, and wandering around France and Belgium. He recounted these adventures in two travel books, An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), that revealed his romantic temperament and an interest in picturesque history, people, and places.
In love with Frances Osbourne, a divorced American woman, Stevenson followed her to California, where he lived briefly in Monterey and in a mountain mining camp. He later recorded this adventure in The Silverado Squatters (1893). In 1880 Stevenson married Osbourne, who was ten years older than he, and became a stepfather to her son, Lloyd, with whom he later collaborated on several books. He returned to Europe, where tuberculosis drove him to seek treatment in various sanitariums.
He collected his early essays in two volumes,...
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