Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson was a well known Scottish essayist, poet and author of fiction and travel books, known especially for his novels of adventure. Characteristic for Stevenson's novels is power of invention, psychological depth, and skillful use of horror and supernatural elements. Arguing against realism, Stevenson underlined the "nameless longings of the reader", the desire for experience.

Stevenson was born in Edinburgh as the son of Thomas Stevenson, joint-engineer to the Board of Northern Lighthouses. Since his childhood Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis and as an adult there were times when he could not wear a jacket for fear of bringing on a haemorrhage of the lung. In 1867 he entered Edinburgh University to study engineering, but changed to law and in 1875 he was called to the Scottish bar. During these years his first texts were published in The Edinburgh University Magazine (1871) and The Portofolio (1873).

Among Stevenson's own early favorite books, which influenced his imagination and thinking, were Shakespeare's Hamlet, Dumas's adventure tale of the elderly D'Artagan, Vicomte de Bragelone, and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Also Montaigne's Essais and the Gospel according to St. Matthew were very important for him.

Instead of practicing law, Stevenson devoted himself into writing travel sketches, essays, and short stories for magazines. An account of his canoe tour of France and Belgium was published in 1878 as AN INLAND VOYAGE, and TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY IN THE CERVENNES appeared next year. In 1879 Stevenson moved to California with Fanny Osbourne, whom he had met in France. They married in 1880, and after a brief stay at Calistoga, which was recorded in THE SILVERADO SQUATTERS (1883), they returned to Scotland, and then moved often in search of better climates.

Stevenson gained first fame with the romantic adventure story TREASURE ISLAND, which appeared in 1883. Among his other popular works are KIDNAPPED (1886), THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1886), and MASTER OF BALLANTRAE (1889). He also contributed to various periodicals, including The Cornhill Magazine and Longman's Magazine, where his best-known article 'A Humble Remonstrance' was published in 1884. It was a replay to Henry James's 'The Art of Fiction' and started a lifelong friendship between the two authors. Stevenson saw that the novel is a selection of and reorganization of certain aspects of life - "life is monstrous, infinite, illogical, abrupt and poignant; a work of art, in comparison, is neat, finite, self-contained, rational, flowing and emasculate."

From the late 1880s Stevenson lived with his family in the South Seas, in Samoa. He enjoyed a period of comparative good health and literary productivity and was known as 'Tusitala' or 'Teller of the Tales'. Fascinated by the Polynesian culture, Stevenson wrote several letters to The Times on the islanders' behalf and published novels THE BEACH OF FALESÁ (1893) and THE EBB-TIDE (1894), which condemned the European colonial exploitation.

Stevenson died on December 3, 1894, in Vailima, Samoa. His last work, WEIR OF HERMISTON (1896), was left unfinished. However, the story about intergenerational power clashes is considered his masterpiece. Stevenson's best-known work of horror, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has since his death inspired several sequels by other hands, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes by Loren D. Estelman (1979), Jekyll, Alias Hyde: A Variation by Donald Thomas (1988), The Jekyll Legacy by Robert Bloch and Andre Norton (1990) and Mary Reilly by Valrie Matin (1990).

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