Biography Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

photo of Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Time Period1850 - 1894
  • PlaceEdinburgh
  • CountryScotland

Poet Biography

Robert Louis Stevenson was born November 13, 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the only son of respectable middle-class parents. Throughout his childhood, he suffered chronic health problems that confined him to bed. The strongest influence during his childhood was that of his nurse, Allison Cunnigham, who often read aloud Pilgrim's Progress and The Old Testament, his most direct literary influences during this time. In 1867, he entered Edinburgh University as a science student, where it was tacitly understood that he would follow his father's footsteps and become a civil engineer. Robert, however, had much more of a romantic nature at heart and while obstentiously working for a science degree, he spent much of his time studying French Literature, Scottish history, and the works of Darwin and Spencer. When he confided to his father that he did not want to become an engineer and instead wished to pursue writing, his father was naturally upset. They settled on a compromise ? Robert would study for the Bar and if is literary ambitions failed, he would have a respectable profession to fall back on.

In order to fully understand the world in which Stevenson was raised, it is necessary to understand that there were two Edinburghs, both which played a part in molding his personality and outlook. On one hand was New Town, respectable, conventional, deeply religious, and polite. On the other was a much more bohemian Edinburgh, symbolized by brothels and shadiness. The juxtaposition of the two aspects in contrast to each other made a deep impression and strengthened his fascination with the duality of human nature, later providing the theme for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

In the autumn of 1873, Stevenson was taken ill with nervous exhaustion and a severe chest condition, consequently, his doctor ordered him to take an extended rest abroad. For the next six months, he convalesced in the South of France, working on essays. On his return to Edinburgh, he spent much of his time writing book reviews and articles and experimenting with short stories. Slowly but surely, he earned a name for himself in journalism and his pieces began appearing in distinguished journals such as The Fortnightly Review. At this time, he met an American married woman, Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne, ten years his senior, whom was in Europe trying to escape her estranged husband's influence. For three years, Stevenson (still in ill health) continued his relationship with her and eventually followed her to San Francisco, where she obtained a divorce from her husband and married Stevenson in May 1880.

During this time, he published his first book, An Inland Voyage in 1878, an engaging account of a canoeing holiday in Belgium. In August 1880, the Stevensons returned to England. The story of Stevenson life from this point forward is a story centered on a search of a climate where he could live without the fears of his failing health. He and his wife wintered in the South of France and lived in England from 1880-1887, and this time was marked by an active period of literary achievement. His first novel, Treasure Island, was published in 1883, followed by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and Kidnapped (1886). For the first time in his life, Stevenson had became a popular author.

Upon the death of his father in 1887, Robert Louis Stevenson decided to leave England and sailed for America, where he stayed for a year. In May 1888, accompanied by his wife, his step-son, and his mother, he set sails for the South Seas. Eventually, Stevenson was so enchanted by the life of the South Seas that in December 1889 he bought an estate in Apia, Samoa, convinced that he could never endure the harsh winters of his native Scotland or England. Apia was a perfect location because the climate was tropical but not wild, the people were friendly and hard working, and it possessed a good postal service. He lived at his 300 acre estate, Vailima, in the hills of Apia until his death five years later. The list of his writings for 1890-94 reveals an impressive range of activities. During this time, he completed two of his finest novellas, ?The Beach of Falesa' and The Ebb Tide, two novels, The Wrecker and Catriona, the short stories ?The Bottle Imp,' ?The Isle of voices' and ?the Waif Woman,' and the short pieces collected under the title of Fables. He also worked on a number of novels that he did not live to complete, including St. Ives, The Young Chevalier and Heathercat. He worked with enthusiasm on Weir of Hermiston until the day of his death, December 3, 1894. On that day, he dictated another installment of the novel, seemed in excellent spirits, and was talking to his wife in the evening when he felt a violent pain in his head and almost immediately lost consciousness. He died of a cerebral hemmorauge a few hours later at the age of forty-four.