Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson, a Scotsman, was born in Edinburgh on November 13, 1850 into the family of engineers specializing in building lighthouses. When he was three years old the boy had a serious cold and later during all his short life the writer suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis.

All the relatives thought that Robert would follow the dynasty of engineers. In 1871 after graduating from school he entered the University of Edinburgh where he received a silver medal in the competition at the Academy of Scotland for his work “The New Type of Flashing Light for the Lighthouses”. Unexpectedly for everyone Stevenson transferred to the Department of Law and graduated in 1875; although he never used his right for the practice of law. He was too interested in literature; already in 1866 at his father’s expense he published 100 copies of his first brochure dedicated to the events of the 1666 uprising in Scotland. At first Stevenson wrote historical sketches. Whereas in 1877 the first fiction book by the young writer – short novel “A Lodging for the Night: a Story of Francis Villon” – was published. He then wrote a few short novels that were published in the magazines, and later were published as a separate book titled “New Arabian Nights”. In 1873-1979 Stevenson lived mostly in France, he enjoyed visiting the village of Barbizon where he became friends with French artists and met his love – Frances Matilda Osbourne. She separated with her husband and was living in Europe with her two children. As soon as Frances received the divorce, she married Stevenson on May 10, 1880 in San Francisco and devoted her whole life to her unhealthy husband. Her children loved Stevenson very much. Later Stevenson’s step son Lloyd Osbourne became co-author of his three books: “The Wrong Box”, “The Ebb-Tide” and “The Wrecker”; and his stepdaughter Isobel Osbourne wrote down Stevenson’s literary works after him.

Finally in 1883 a novel that made its author famous all over the world – “Treasure Island” – came out. The book became a classic example of an adventure novel. In Russia the first edition of the novel saw the light in 1886 and was read both by children and grown-ups. The most bitter of all the novellas – “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” – that was written on the bank of the English Channel – was published the same year.

In search for the climate that would be beneficial for his lungs Stevenson visited Switzerland, Southern France, England and New York State. Then together with his wife, mother and stepson he sailed off to the South Pacific. They visited many islands and bought land in Samoa. He called his estate Vailima (five rivers). The writer cared deeply about the life of the locals and wrote for the local newspapers disclosing the deeds of the colonial administration. His novel “A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa” was written during that period.

The island’s climate was beneficial for the writer: in his spacious house in Vailima he wrote more short stories, finished his novel “Kidnapped”, wrote a new novel – “Catriona” and started his last novel that was never finished – “Weir of Hermiston” that the author believed to become his best work. It was in that same house that on December 3, 1894 he died suddenly from a stroke. The Samoans buried him under the British flag on top of the nearby Mount Vaea. The words from his famous “Requiem” (“Under the wide and starry sky…”) are engraved on his tombstone.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote an interesting afterword for his lecture on Stevenson: “I would like to say a few words about the last minutes of life of Stevenson. As you already know, I am not one of those who search for details of the author’s biography that would interest the public when one talks about the books. As Vronsky liked to say, such details are not for me. But as a Latin saying goes, books have their own destiny, and oftentimes the destiny of a writer repeats that of his characters. This happened to Tolstoy who in 1910 left his family and his home and died in the office of the station master hearing the rumble of the train that killed Anna Karenina. Similarly there is something in Stevenson’s death on Samoa in 1894 that in a strange way echoes with the idea of wine and the idea of transformation in this fantastical novella. He went down to the cellar to get a bottle of his favorite Burgundy wine, opened it in the kitchen and suddenly screamed to his wife: “What’s happening to me? What is this strange feeling? My face changed?” – and fell down. Brain stroke. In two hours he died.”

Stevenson is known in the world literature as a writer who revived adventure and historical novels and novellas, many of which are recognized as classics of the genre. The most popular among them are: “Treasure Island”, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Kidnapped”, “ The Master of Ballantrae”, ”Catriona”, “The Black Arrow”…

Many famous Russian writers, such as Konstantin Balmont, Valery Bryusov, Vladislav Khodasevich, Korney Chukovsky, translated the works of Stevenson into Russian. 

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