Treasure Island eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has with stood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in November 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was an engineer, and his mother was from a family of lawyers and ministers. Stevenson was a good student and enrolled in Edinburgh University's engineering department. He had, however, no real desire to join his father's engineering firm. Eventually, father and son reached a compromise, and it was decided that Stevenson would study the law. He did eventually pass the bar exam, but he never practiced.

Stevenson's dissatisfaction with his father's uninspired aspirations was a sign of his disillusionment with the ideals of Victorian society. While the entire nation seemed to consider hard work its highest virtue, the young Stevenson dreamed of escape from engineering and law, from Scotland, and from Victorian responsibility in general. Such a desire to escape is evident in works like Treasure Island.

This desire for escape found expression in Stevenson's life as well. In 1876, on one of his visits to France, Stevenson met an American woman named Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. She was more than ten years older than Stevenson, married, and had two small children. Stevenson fell deeply in love with Osbourne and followed her to California where she divorced her husband, freeing herself to marry Stevenson.

Stevenson got along well with Osbourne's children. It was while drawing a map with her son Lloyd that Stevenson came up with the idea of writing Treasure Island. He himself finally had the opportunity to travel to exotic lands when his doctors advised him to seek a better climate for his health. In 1888, Stevenson and his family set sail for the South Seas. When he died in 1894, Stevenson was buried on top of Mount Vaea on the island of Samoa. Such an unconventional burial site indicates the spirit of nonconformity and independent thought that he strove to convey in his works.