Robert Louis Stevenson (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
It may come as a surprise to the casual reader to discover that a collected edition of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson runs to thirty-two volumes, for that same casual reader probably knows of Stevenson as an author of no more than three or four adventure novels, mainly for children, a slim volume of children’s verse, and perhaps a few essays. The casual reader is almost sure to have some remembrance of Stevenson as a gallant young man who struggled cheerfully against a life-long illness and roamed and died in the most romantic circumstances. The lack of awareness of the thirty-two volumes is probably accounted for by the over-awareness of the romantic life.
The life is the main subject of Jenni Calder’s book, although she claims it is not a biography but a life study—an attempt to explore and explain a man and a writer. The main thrust is made clear early in the work, where Calder asserts that the most important thing to emerge from a study of Stevenson’s life is that “his genius lay in who and what he was, rather than in the products of his pen.” This may seem to be a startling admission to be found in the life of a literary figure, but in the case of Stevenson it is clearly correct. Virtually every page gives testimony to the attractiveness of Stevenson’s personality. The reactions of his English literary friends to the news of his death were almost entirely in terms of the loss of a beloved, generous, and vivid personality, rather...
(The entire section is 2134 words.)
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