Robert Louis Stevenson

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Stevenson, Robert Louis

Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850–94, Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist, b. Edinburgh. Handicapped from youth by delicate health, he struggled all his life against tuberculosis. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1875, but he never practiced. At an early age he had begun to write, and gradually he devoted himself to literature. The essays that were later published as Virginibus Puerisque (1881) and Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882) began to appear in the Cornhill Magazine in 1876; he was soon contributing to periodicals such famous stories as “A Lodging for the Night” and “The Sire de Malétroit's Door” and the tales later published as New Arabian Nights (1882). An Inland Voyage (1878), an account of a canoe trip in Belgium and France, was his first published book.

In 1880 Stevenson married Frances Osbourne, an American divorcée ten years his senior. With W. E. Henley he wrote four plays, only moderately successful. His first popular books were Treasure Island (1883), a swashbuckling adventure story of a search for Captain Kidd's buried treasure, and the fantasy Prince Otto (1885). A Child's Garden of Verses appeared in 1885, followed in 1886 by two of his best-known works: Kidnapped, an adventure tale noted for its Scottish setting, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a science-fiction thriller with moral overtones.

Constantly in search of climates favorable to his health, Stevenson went in 1887 to Saranac Lake in New York, where he began The Master of Ballantrae (1889). In 1889 he and his family set out for the South Seas, settling on the island of Upolu in what is now Samoa. There Stevenson gained the affection of the natives, who knew him as Tusitala (teller of tales). At his estate there (“Vailima”) he collaborated with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, on the novels The Wrong Box (1889), The Wrecker (1892), and The Ebb Tide (1894), and wrote and planned numerous tales and essays. He died in Samoa and, by his own request, was buried high on Mt. Vaea “under the wide and starry sky,” which he described in his famous poem “Requiem.”

Among Stevenson's other published works are Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879); The Merry Men (1887); The Black Arrow (1888), a novel; A Footnote to History (1893), a defense of Father Damien; and a novel, The Weir of Hermiston (1896), which, although uncompleted, contains some of Stevenson's finest writing. Stevenson's reputation suffered severely after his death—he was considered an overly mannered writer of children's stories. However, by the mid-20th cent. he was again regarded as a writer of power and originality with a strong moral vision.


See The Complete Short Stories: The Centenary Edition (1994), ed. by I. Bell; The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (2 vol., 1994), ed. by B. A. Booth and E. Mehew; biographies by G. Balfour (2 vol., 1901; repr. 1968), R. O. Masson (1914, repr. 1973), D. Daiches (1947), J. C. Furnas (1952), J. Calder (1980), F. McLynn (1993), I. Bell (1994), P. Callow (2001), and C. Harman (2005); studies by J. Calder (1981), P. Maixner (1981), and N. Rankin (1988).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Stevenson, Robert Louis


Born Nov. 13, 1850, in Edinburgh; died Dec. 3, 1894, on the island of Upolu, Samoa. British writer.

A Scot by origin, Stevenson was the son of an engineer. He graduated from the faculty of law of the University of Edinburgh in 1875. He traveled a great deal. Suffering from a serious form of tuberculosis, he settled in the Samoan Islands in 1890.

Stevenson’s first printed work was The Pentland Rising (1866). His classic adventure story Treasure Island (1883; Russian translation, 1886) brought him world renown. In the strongly plotted novels Kidnapped (1886; Russian translation, 1901), The Master of Ballantrae (1889; Russian translation, 1890), The Wrecker (1892; Russian translation, 1896), and Catriona (1893; Russian translation, 1901) the world of profiteering and greed is counter-posed to pure aspirations and high morality. The historical novels Prince Otto (1885; Russian translation, 1886) and The Black Arrow (1888; Russian translation, 1889) combine the romance of adventure with a precise re-creation of local color and historical circumstances.

Stevenson’s psychological novella The Strange Case of Dr. Je-kyll and Mr. Hyde (1886; Russian translation, 1888) is a classic working out of the theme of the “split personality” in English literature.

In Russia, Stevenson’s works were translated by K. Bal’mont, V. Briusov, I. Kashkin, and K. Chukovskii. Several screen versions of Treasure Island have been made in the USSR. The contemporary British writer R. Delderfield offers an original in-terpetation of Treasure Island in his novel The Adventures of Ben Gunn (1956; Russian translation, 1973).


Collected Works, vols. 1–35. London, 1923–24.
In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. romanov, povestei i rasskazov, vols. 1–20. St. Petersburg, 1913–14.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–5. Moscow, 1967.


Kashkin, I. “R. L. Stivenson.” In his book Dlia chitateliasovremennika. Moscow, 1968.
Urnov, M. V. Na rubezhe vekov. Moscow, 1970.
Oldington, R. Stivenson. Moscow, 1973.
Balfour, G. The Life of R. L. Stevenson, vols. 1–2. New York, 1901.
Eigner, E. M. R. L. Stevenson and Romantic Tradition. Princeton, N.J.,1966.
Kiely, R. R. L. Stevenson .... Cambridge, Mass., 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Author Robert Louis Stevenson once said that the inspiration for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to him in a dream. (Library of Congress).

Stevenson, Robert Louis


The author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) suffered from recurrent nightmares throughout his life. Beginning in his early childhood, serious nightmares plagued him incessantly up through adulthood. He remained an uneasy sleeper until his untimely death from a brain hemorrhage.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of Stevenson’s most famous nightmare-based novels. It describes the story of a man suffering from a chemically induced, dual-personality disorder. Stevenson claimed that the inspiration for the plotline originated in a dream. The author was hard pressed for money, and for two days he brainstormed ideas for a book. He briefly considered the idea of a “double being” as the central character for a novel, but he discarded the concept. He then had a dream of Dr. Jekyll ingesting a powder before the astonished eyes of his pursuers and turning into Hyde. Stevenson claimed that this was only the first in a series of sequential dreams he experienced that went into his story.

Stevenson felt the impact of his dreams on his writing so clearly that he eventually wrote a book devoted to this theme: Across the Plains. He made many references to the “nocturnal theater” in his head and attributed the “little people” who ran it as being more responsible for his stories than he was.

The more I think of it, the more I am moved to press upon the world my question: Who are the Little People? They are near connections of the dreamer’s beyond doubt…. They have plainly learned like him to build the scheme of a considerable story in progressive order; only I think they have more talent; and one thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him a story piece by piece, like a serial and keep him all the while in ignorance of where they aim. Who are they, then? And who is the dreamer?

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Virginibus Puerisque ("Of Maidens and Youths") Collection of essays by Stevenson, Robert Louis (Balfour), published in 1881, most of which were first published in The Cornhill Magazine.
Weir of Hermiston (in full Weir of Hermiston: An Unfinished Romance) Fragment of an uncompleted novel by Stevenson, Robert Louis (Balfour), published posthumously in 1896.