Robert Louis Stevenson

Presented by Sue Carscallen on November 8, 2016

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13, 1850.

Financial support from his family enabled him to pursue his love of writing from an early age in many European and North American locations. Ill health from tuberculosis dogged him all his life causing a constant seeking of warmer, drier climates.

His initial successfully published works were two charming travelogues set in France detailing the social history of the time; An Inland Journey and Travels with A Donkey. The later is still read widely and loved. Early successes were Treasure Island, New Arabian Nights, the Silverado Squatters, and A Child’s Garden of Verses. The first breakthrough work which brought fame and fortune was the serialized version of Strange Tale Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.

Early and continued success can be attributed to a large network of influential friends comprised of literary critics, writers, artists and publishers.

Stevenson met his future wife Fanny Osborne while living a Bohemian lifestyle in Paris. The affair and subsequent marriage of Fanny and Louis was scandalous at the time however the relationship created stability and enabled him to write prolifically.

It is difficult to summarize Stevenson’s early work particularly since it tends toward excessive plot and Victorian style verbosity. However one can see glimpses of the truly great writer he was to become in his rich characterizations, vivid descriptions, sense of humour, and scholarly attention to detail.

The Stevensons moved permanently to Samoa where Louis finally found the perfect place for his health and where he did his best writing. The Beach Of Falesa and other South Sea tales written in the vernacular were departures from his earlier Victorian style. In these stories he depicted strong women and championed the cause of the indigenous Polynesians.

Stevenson died in Samoa in 1894 at the age of 44 not of tuberculosis but of a brain hemorrhage. He left an enormous body of diverse work from fiction to non-fiction, from poetry to plays.

On his grave is his famous quote.

Under the wide and starry sky

Dig the grave and let me lie

Glad did I live and glad did I die

And I laid me down with a will

This be the verse you grave for me

Here he lies where he longs to be

Home is the sailor, home from the sea

And the hunter home from the hill.