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Robert Louis Stevenson

author of short stories, essays, novels

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Lewis (later changed to Louis) Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850. He was the only child of Thomas Stevenson, who was from a family of engineers famous for building deep-sea lighthouses around the coast of Scotland, and Margaret Isabella Balfour, whose family consisted of lawyers and church ministers. A sickly child, Robert was doted on by his parents, and by a private nurse/nanny named Alison Cunningham. Stories told to him by his parents, along with strict religious teachings provided by his nanny, fueled the young boy's fertile imagination, and by his teens he had become interested in writing.

Stevenson entered Edinburgh University at age 17 to study engineering, but gave up that field in favor of law. He was admitted to the Scottish Bar in 1875, but having already begun a writing career by this time he never actively practiced the profession.

Stevenson began his writing career with short stories and essays published in magazines. His first major work was An Inland Voyage (1878), which was based on a journey he made by canoe from Antwerp to northern France in 1876. In Travels with a Donkey in the CÚvennes (1879), he described a walking tour he made through part of France. These were but two of a long line of short stories and books to be based on Stevenson's many travels.

In 1876, Stevenson met Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, a married American woman who was studying art in Paris. Although she was 11 years older than Stevenson and had a son and a daughter, Stevenson fell in love with her. When she returned to her husband in California in 1878, a heartbroken Stevenson decided to follow her. Arriving in New York City sick and nearly penniless on August 18, 1879, he then undertook the grueling cross-country train journey to California. Unfortunately for him, Fanny was still married when he met her in Monterey. Refusing to give up, he spent two nights camping in the Santa Lucia mountains before having to be rescued from near death by frontiersmen. He eventually made his way to San Francisco, but by that time was destitute and very ill. When his parents heard of his plight they wired him enough money to survive, allowing Stevenson to once again pursue Fanny. She finally divorced her husband, and the two were married in San Francisco in 1880. Stevenson described his experiences in The Amateur Emigrant (written 1879-80, published in part in 1883 and in full in 1895). The couple's honeymoon at a silver mining camp near St. Helena, California, became the basis of The Silverado Squatters (1880).

Stevenson and his new family returned to Scotland on August 17,1880. They spent much of the next seven years moving through Europe from one resort town to another in hopes that Stevenson would regain his health. Both of Stevenson's most famous novels were written during this period -- Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). In 1887 the family moved to the United States so he could enter a sanitarium at Saranac Lake, New York. The following year he set sail from San Francisco in a yacht, along with his wife, widowed mother, and stepson. The family spent the next six years traveling throughout the South Pacific. In the South Seas (published posthumously in 1896) was the literary result of those travels. The Stevensons finally settled in Apia, Samoa, about 1893. He died of a stroke there on December 3, 1894, and was buried on top of Mount Vaea near his home.

Principal Books

The Pentland Rising (1866)
An Appeal to the Clergy
An Inland Voyage
Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes, with Etchings (1879)
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879)
Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers
Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882)
New Arabian Nights (2 volumes, 1882) compilation of short stories
The Silverado Squatters (1883) account of honeymoon at abandoned silver mine in California
Treasure Island
A Child's Garden of Verses (1885)
More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter (1885)
Macaire (1885)
Prince Otto: A Romance (1885)
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Kidnapped (1886)
Some College Memories (1886)
The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables (1887) compilation of short stories
Underwoods (1887)
Memories and Portraits (1887)
Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin (1887)
The Misadventures of John Nicholson: A Christmas Story (1887)
The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (1888)
The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale (1889)
The Wrong Box (1889)
Ballads (1890)
Father Damien: An Open Letter to the Reverend Dr. Hyde of Honolulu (1890)
Across the Plains, With Other Memories and Essays (1892)
A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa (1892)
Three Plays: Deacon Brodie, Beau Austin, Admiral Guinea (1892)
The Wrecker (1892)
Island Nights' Entertainments: Consisting of the Beach of Fales, The Bottle Imp, The Isle of Voices (1893) compilation of short stories
Catriona: A Sequel to Kidnapped (1893)
The Ebb-Tide: A Trio and a Quartette (1894)
The Body-Snatcher (1895)
The Amateur Emigrant from the Clyde to Sandy Hook (1895)
In the South Seas (1896)
Weir of Hermiston: An Unfinished Romance (1896)
A Mountain Town in France: A Fragment (1896)

Site of Interest

The Robert Louis Stevenson Website

See Also

Edinburgh, Scotland

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This page was last updated on 02/10/2019.