Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850–94, Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist, b. Edinburgh. Handicapped from youth by delicate health, he struggled all his life against tuberculosis. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1875, but he never practiced. At an early age he had begun to write, and gradually he devoted himself to literature. The essays that were later published as Virginibus Puerisque (1881) and Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882) began to appear in the Cornhill Magazine in 1876; he was soon contributing to periodicals such famous stories as "A Lodging for the Night" and "The Sire de Malétroit's Door" and the tales later published as New Arabian Nights (1882). An Inland Voyage (1878), an account of a canoe trip in Belgium and France, was his first published book.

In 1880 Stevenson married Frances Osbourne, an American divorcée ten years his senior. With W. E. Henley he wrote four plays, only moderately successful. His first popular books were Treasure Island (1883), a swashbuckling adventure story of a search for Captain Kidd's buried treasure, and the fantasy Prince Otto (1885). A Child's Garden of Verses appeared in 1885, followed in 1886 by two of his best-known works: Kidnapped, an adventure tale noted for its Scottish setting, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a science-fiction thriller with moral overtones.

Constantly in search of climates favorable to his health, Stevenson went in 1887 to Saranac Lake in New York, where he began The Master of Ballantrae (1889). In 1889 he and his family set out for the South Seas, settling on the island of Upolu in what is now Samoa. There Stevenson gained the affection of the natives, who knew him as Tusitala (teller of tales). At his estate there ( "Vailima" ) he collaborated with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, on the novels The Wrong Box (1889), The Wrecker (1892), and The Ebb Tide (1894), and wrote and planned numerous tales and essays. He died in Samoa and, by his own request, was buried high on Mt. Vaea "under the wide and starry sky," which he described in his famous poem "Requiem."

Among Stevenson's other published works are Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879); The Merry Men (1887); The Black Arrow (1888), a novel; A Footnote to History (1893), a defense of Father Damien; and a novel, The Weir of Hermiston (1896), which, although uncompleted, contains some of Stevenson's finest writing. Stevenson's reputation suffered severely after his death—he was considered an overly mannered writer of children's stories. However, by the mid-20th cent. he was again regarded as a writer of power and originality with a strong moral vision.


See The Complete Short Stories: The Centenary Edition (1994), ed. by I. Bell; The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (2 vol., 1994), ed. by B. A. Booth and E. Mehew; biographies by G. Balfour (2 vol., 1901; repr. 1968), R. O. Masson (1914, repr. 1973), D. Daiches (1947), J. C. Furnas (1952), J. Calder (1980), F. McLynn (1993), I. Bell (1994), P. Callow (2001), and C. Harman (2005); studies by J. Calder (1981), P. Maixner (1981), and N. Rankin (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Selected full-text books and articles

The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Louis Stevenson
Penny Fielding.
Edinburgh University Press, 2010
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson; Barry Moser.
University of Nebraska Press, 1998
Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson; Frank Godwin.
John C. Winston, 1924
Last Witness for Robert Louis Stevenson
Elsie Noble Caldwell.
University of Oklahoma Press, 1960
Critical Reconstructions: The Relationship of Fiction and Life
Roger B. Henkle; Robert M. Polhemus.
Stanford University, 1994
Librarian’s tip: "James and Stevenson: The Mixed Current of Realism and Romance" begins on p. 127
Leaders of the Victorian Revolution
John W. Cunliffe.
D. Appleton-Century, 1934
Librarian’s tip: "Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)" begins on p. 284
Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson: A Record of Friendship and Criticism
Janet Adam Smith.
R. Hart-Davis, 1948
FREE! Stevenson's Attitude to Life: With Readings from His Essays and Letters
John Franklin Genung.
T.Y. Crowell and Company, 1901
FREE! Life of Robert Louis Stevenson
Graham Balfour.
C. Scribner's Sons, vol.1, 1901
FREE! The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson
Graham Balfour.
Charles Scribner's Sons, vol.2, 1901
FREE! Robert Louis Stevenson
Walter Raleigh.
E. Arnold, 1895
FREE! More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter
Robert Louis Stevenson; Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908
FREE! Prince Otto
Robert Louis Stevenson.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910
FREE! The Wrecker
Robert Louis Stevenson; Lloyd Osbourne.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905
FREE! The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale
Robert Louis Stevenson.
Current Literature Publishing Co., 1911
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