Timothy L Carens
Until Robert Louis Stevenson was twenty-five, he lived in his parents' home in Edinburgh, Scotland. Suffering from chronic bronchial infections, he was often too ill as a child and adolescent to leave his bed. As an adult, however, he traveled and lived in many different locations in Europe, the United States, and the South Pacific. Indeed, he died on Upolu, the principal island of Samoa, halfway round the world from his birthplace. While his travels were often prompted by ill health, they also indicate his espousal of an artistic and personal identity unrestricted by regional and national borders. Stevenson chose the vantage point of the exile, a perspective from which he could view his native land from a distance and explore new cultural contexts as well.
He entered Edinburgh University in 1867, but found his course of study, designed to prepare him for a career in the family engineering firm, to be uninspiring. He preferred to spend his time conversing with friends in taverns and developing his writing style. In 1875, having sparked a painful rift with his parents by confessing his religious doubts, he began to visit an artist cousin at various artist colonies in France, the bohemian atmosphere of which struck a welcome contrast to his parents' respectable home. On one such trip he met Fanny Osbourne, an American woman whom he eventually married.
Stevenson's professional writing career began with works that reflect the emergence of a wide-ranging intellect and a multicultural sensibility. His first two books are, significantly, narratives of travel in foreign countries. An Inland Voyage (1878) describes a canoe trip taken with a friend through Belgium and France. In Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), he narrates a solitary walking tour in the French mountains. Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882) includes essays on writers as diverse as Victor Hugo, Charles of Orléans,