ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON (1850 - 1894)
(Full name Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson) Scottish novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, and playwright.
An inventive prose stylist, Stevenson is the versatile author of classic works in several genres. Renowned for his adventure novels Treasure Island (1883) and Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751 (1886), and for his outstanding work of supernatural horror The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Stevenson is additionally remembered as a travel writer and author of children's verse. Just as his famous stories of piracy and horror have placed him at the forefront of writers of romances, his unusual life and personality have made him one of literature's most intriguing individuals, to the extent that his biography has often overshadowed his literary reputation. Nevertheless, critics credit his continued esteem to the enduring appeal of his fiction, which features fast-paced action, intricate plots, and well-drawn characters. Stevenson is also admired for his fecund imagination and affinity for the psychology of children, as displayed most notably in his early "boys' novels" and his poetry collection A Child's Garden of Verses (1885). Although his present critical standing does not equal that accorded him by his contemporaries, his mass popularity continues, and his novels and stories are still considered seminal to the late nineteenth-century development of adventure, romance, and Gothic literature.
Stevenson was born in Edinburgh. A sickly, fragile child, he suffered from severe respiratory ailments that frequently interrupted his schooling. Although he wanted to be a writer, his father insisted that Stevenson be trained in a more secure profession. Thus he attended Edinburgh University between 1866 and 1871, studying engineering, although the subject held little appeal for him. Later, in a compromise with his father, he took a law degree in 1875, but never practiced. Motivated by his love for adventure and his desire to seek out a climate agreeable to his health, Stevenson traveled extensively throughout his life. His journeys to France in the 1870s provided much of the material for his early travel books, An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). In 1876, while in France, Stevenson met Mrs. Fanny Osbourne, an American woman eleven years his senior. When Osbourne returned to California two years later to arrange a divorce, Stevenson followed. The newly married couple stayed in America for almost a year and then returned to Europe with Lloyd Osbourne, Fanny's son. During the 1880s, despite his con-tinuing poor health, Stevenson wrote many of his best-known works, including Treasure Island. Originally begun as a game for his stepson, the novel was published serially in a children's magazine under the title "The Sea-Cook" and became Stevenson's first popular and critical success. The works that followed, including A Child's Garden of Verses, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Kidnapped, strengthened his growing reputation. In 1887, the Stevensons returned to the United States. From California, they sailed to Samoa, where they settled, Stevenson finding the climate congenial to his respiratory condition. His life on the island consisted of dabbling in local politics, managing his plantation, and writing several works, including collaborations with Lloyd Osbourne. He died unexpectedly at the age of forty-four from a cerebral hemorrhage.
Stevenson's short stories and novels for adults include the works most often cited by modern critics as his best: The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables (1887), Island Nights' Entertainments (1893), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Master of Ballantrae (1889), and Weir of Hermiston (1896). Unlike his earlier works, these novels and stories examine moral dilemmas presented in an atmosphere imbued with mystery and horror. Modern commentators note certain...
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