Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (Edinburgh, Scotland, November 13, 1850-Vailima, near Apia, Samoa, December 3, 1894) was a Scottish novelist, poet and essayist. His legacy is a vast work that includes travel chronicles, adventure and historical novels, as well as lyrics and essays. He is best known for being the author of some of the most classic fantasy and adventure stories in juvenile literature, such as Treasure Island, the historical novel The Black Arrow and the popular horror novel The Odd Case of Dr. Jekyll and the Mr. Hyde, dedicated to the subject of the phenomena of the split personality and which can be classified as a psychological horror novel. Several of his novels continue to be very famous and some of them have been taken several times to the cinema of the 20th century, partly adapted for children. It was also important his essay work, brief but decisive in regard to the structure of the modern novel of adventures. It was very appreciated in his time and remained so after his death. It had continuity in authors like Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, G. K. Chesterton and H. G. Wells and in the Argentines Adolfo Bioy Casares and Jorge Luis Borges.

Robert_Louis_Stevenson’s Biography


Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Scotland, in a house, located at number 8, Howard Place. He was the only son of lighthouse lawyer and builder Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Isabella Balfour (1830-1897). Originally he was named Robert Lawes Balfour, but when he was twenty years old, his father changed the name Lawes to the French version of Louis to avoid associations with a radical politician of the same name: his grandfather, Robert Stevenson, his uncles Alan Stevenson and David Stevenson, his cousins, David Alan Stevenson and Charles Alexander Stevenson as well as Alan Stevenson (1891-1971), a second-degree relative of consanguinity, were all engineers and builders of lighthouses. His mother’s family owed his surname to Alexander Balfour, who owned land in the Fife region in the fifteenth century. Margarette’s father, Lewis Balfour (1777-1860), had been pastor of the Church of Scotland in the nearby town of Colinton, where Stevenson used to spend his vacations in childhood.The writer Graham Greene was, in the maternal line, a nephew of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Stevenson’s parents were also Presbyterians. His mother’s health was constitutionally weakened and he suffered from respiratory diseases, a weakness that Stevenson also suffered throughout his life. The Scottish climate of cool summers and rainy and cloudy winters was very inconvenient for both the mother and the son, who on the advice of the family doctor spent many mornings in bed. To relieve the mother, the family hired in 1852 the nanny Alison Cunningham (1822-1910), called “Cummy”, who impressed little Louis with his austere Calvinism and his gruesome nocturnal stories that caused the boy to start having nightmares. at night. The family moved in 1853 to a house at number 1 in Inverleith Terrace but the location of this house was even more inconvenient so in 1857 they moved again, this time to number 17 Heriot Row.

Daguerreotype of Robert Louis Stevenson in his early childhood.

When he was barely two years old, his family was already taking little Louis to church. There he listened to the preaching with stories, for example, about Cain and Abel, the Book of Daniel or about the universal flood. Added to these stimuli were Cummy’s gruesome tales about the dark history of the Scottish church, which frightened the child but, at the same time, produced great fascination. His work was strongly influenced by early childhood experiences. Cummy cared for him in a moving way when he lay sick in bed and read passages of some works like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible. His work A Child’s Garden of Verses, which appeared in 1885 and still remains a favorite in Britain, has a dedication to his nanny Cummy, a reminder of Stevenson’s age at thirty-five.

To his first favorite occupation of “playing church” (with a pulpit built with chairs and tables, from where he recited and sang as a pastor) was followed by a love for rhyming and inventing stories. According to his mother’s slogan in a newspaper about him, Stevenson wrote the first quintet in September 1855, when he was about to turn five. Margaret Stevenson kept a diary about the life of her son, whom she called familiarly “Lou” or “Smout” (in Scottish: “one-year-old salmon”), until she turned thirty-nine, so the early years of Stevenson are well documented.

School and university time

Photograph of Robert Louis Stevenson at seven years of age.

As of September 1857, Stevenson attended Mr Henderson’s School, although for health reasons he could only participate in classes for two hours a day. After a few weeks, a bronchitis ended with his regular attendance at school and he began to receive private lessons. After four years he entered the Edinburgh Academy, a high school that in turn abandoned at the age of thirteen. After a brief stay at the boarding school in Spring Grove near London, he returned to attend from 1864 a private school in his hometown.

During his childhood he wrote essays and stories constantly. His father understood him well since he himself had written in his free time until his own father had told him to stop that foolishness and devote himself to business. Stevenson’s first historical book, Pentland Rising, which he wrote in the tradition of the novels of Sir Walter Scott, appeared in 1866, edited in Edinburgh by Andrew Elliot. For the editors, there was no risk, since his father had to commit himself to buying the copies that until a certain date had not been sold, a practice that was frequent at that time. And that was the case. The novel was of little literary value. Twenty years later, however, when the author was already famous, the work reached fantasy prices.

In 1867 Thomas Stevenson acquired a country house as a summer residence, the Swanston Cottage, near Edinburgh. Over the years this house, located at the foot of the mountainous area of ​​Pentland Hills, became the frequent refuge of the future writer between the months of March and October.

In the years of his adolescence Robert accompanied his father on his frequent trips, which inspired some of his works recently embodied in books.

He entered the University of Edinburgh as a Nautical Engineering student. However, the choice of the race was more by the influence of his father, who was an engineer, than by his own pleasure. This led to the abandonment of engineering in pursuit of law study. In 1875 he began practicing law. Neither did he have a brilliant career in this field, since his interest was focused on the study of the language.

Immediately the first symptoms of tuberculosis appeared in him and he began a series of trips across the continent. In 1876, at twenty-six, in Grez (France), he met Fanny Osbourne, an American woman who was separated. Stevenson and Fanny fell in love. He published his first book in 1878. She left for California, to process her divorce, and Stevenson followed her, a year later. He married Fanny in 1880, at thirty. The couple lived for a time in Calistoga, in the Far West. He wrote stories of travel, adventure and romance. His work is very versatile: fiction and essay, among others.

After that year, Stevenson’s health began to worsen. The couple moved to Edinburgh, then to Davos, Switzerland, and finally settled on a farm that Stevenson’s father gave them, in the spa of Bournemouth. Three years later they left for New York, where Stevenson made friends with Mark Twain, author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. After a brief stay in San Francisco, they decided to take a trip to the islands of the South Pacific, where they finally settled with Fanny’s children, Belle’s daughter, Belle, and Mrs. Stevenson (the novelist’s father had died by then) . Stevenson’s relationship with the aborigines – who baptized him as Tusitala (“the one who tells stories”) – was cordial. Stevenson, on the other hand, was involved in local politics: in fact, the writer took sides with one of the local chiefs against the German domination of the archipelago and wrote in the British press about the plight of the Samoan. He also wrote a well-known open letter, the Defense of Father Damien in Sydney, Australia, on February 25, 1890, against the Rev. Dr. C. M. Hyde, of Honolulu, in Hawaii.

He died in 1894 of a cerebral hemorrhage. A year earlier he had related in a letter: “For fourteen years I have not known a single effective day of health. I have written with hemorrhages, I have written sick, between rattling coughs, I have written with my head stumbling. ” His love for alcohol was known, which had led to various health problems. His body was buried on the same island, on Mount Vaea.

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