Robert Louis Stevenson was a 19th century Scottish writer, best known for his adventure novel Treasure Island and horror tale The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson used his vivid imagination to explore the coexistence of good and evil in his characters.
Robert Louis Stevenson was a 19th century Scottish writer, best known for his adventure novel Treasure Island and horror tale The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850, Stevenson was a sickly child who took delight in reading and writing from a very young age. His literary efforts as a young child helped sow the seeds of creativity that would make him famous later in life.
Although he had been an agreeable child, once given the freedom of university, Stevenson broke from his parents’ influence. Though he studied law to appease them, he never practiced. Instead, he trained himself to write by copying the styles of authors he admired. Stevenson rejected family expectations and Victorian morality, preferring to live a bohemian lifestyle fulfilled in travel, romance, and writing. In 1880, Stevenson married Fanny Osbourne, a divorced American ten years his senior. In their fourteen years together, the couple moved from the American west to Scotland, and eventually, to the Samoan islands. Stevenson’s sense of adventure and wild flights of fancy are evident in his literature, notably in the 1883 children’s novel Treasure Island. The novel was revolutionary since it was pure entertainment and made no attempt to teach children a moral lesson. Treasure Island was Stevenson’s first popular success, and his reputation was solidified with the 1886 publication of Jekyll and Hyde.
Stevenson’s extensive travel exposed him to a variety of unique and bizarre individuals, many of whom found their way into his novels. Though Stevenson’s style varies throughout his novels, they all share a common strength in character development. As Jekyll and Hyde makes clear, Stevenson was fascinated by the intersection of good and evil in every human. This inspired complex characters who, like Long John Silver, revealed sympathetic character traits even in the midst of their villainy.
Stevenson’s writing has faced controversy over the years for the differing opinions surrounding its literary merit. Though celebrated for his style during his lifetime, he was lambasted for it in the decades that followed his 1894 death. Part of the criticism stems from Stevenson’s lack of literary training. Having taught himself to write by imitating 18th and 19th century writing, he did not develop his own distinct style and tended to write using older constructions in a time when the most progressive writers were experimenting with a sparer more concise syntax. In The Black Arrow, for example, he uses historical dialect not only in the characters’ dialogue, but also in the narration. For some, this leaves Stevenson’s style feeling outdated and grandiloquent.
His works were struck from reading lists for much of the 20th century, and have only recently been revisited and credited with major literary significance. Today, Stevenson is considered one of the most notable Scottish writers of the 19th century.
“All who have meant good work with their whole hearts, have done good work, although they may die before they have the time to sign it. Every heart that has beat strong and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind.”
“And the true realism were that of the poets, to climb up after him like a squirrel, and catch some glimpse of the heaven for which he lives. And, the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies the sense of any action.”
“So long as we love we serve; so long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.”