Biography of Robert Louis Stevenson
Biography of Robert L. Stevenson (1850-1894)
It's a long way from Edinburgh to Samoa. Robert Louis Stevenson made his life's journey in 44 short years, and as is true for everyone, some choices were based on necessity and some on conviction.
Growing up an only child, Stevenson's early choices were dictated by his father's wishes and by his own poor health (he was a life-long "consumptive" as they said in those days). The family business was designing and building lighthouses, but young Stevenson couldn't bear the thought and initially compromised with his father by studying law instead.
While in school, he spent his summers in France (for his health and pleasure). Having realized that he was meant to be a writer, he began with travel essays and books. After finishing school, he moved to the continent, abandoning any thought of practicing law. Due to his health and other overriding interests, he never lived in Scotland again. But his abiding love for his country, for Scottish history and culture, never died and his fictional works pay tribute to the land of his birth.
At the age of 30, Stevenson married Fanny Osbourne - American, divorced, mother of two, and eleven years his senior. They had met in France, lived in sin, and later he followed her to California. There they lived in literary splendor on very limited material means. He continued writing travel books, including one on his journey to California and one entitled The Silverado Squatters about their honeymoon at an abandoned silver mine.
The idea for Treasure Island came on a visit to Scotland, while drawing a treasure map with his 12-year-old stepson. Published in 1883, this was Stevenson's first novel, written for young people but popular with adults as well. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published three years later, became a best-seller. Kidnapped came out the same year and his career was established.
He and Fanny had returned to Europe, living there for several years, but returned to California in 1887 after his father's death. In 1888, he and his family decided to sail around the Pacific islands, which marked a new epoch in his writing career and in his health. The climate was so good that they decided to stay, making their home on the island of Upolu in Samoa. RLS wrote many fascinating stories about the South Seas, as well as nonfictional travel stories. Having fought for good health all his life, he died of a sudden stroke in December 1894.
Robert Louis Stevenson was the kind of person who would change his name (from Lewis to Louis), buck against his father's ambitions, marry an older woman (divorced!), travel around the world, and never, never let his health dictate his enjoyment of life or keep him from his work. At the same time, he never broke the bonds of family (his mother lived with him after his father's death), loved children, and held a deep regard for Scotland's traditions and history.
This duality is the hallmark of Stevenson's body of work - most blatantly expressed in Jekyll and Hyde, but present also in Kidnapped and The Master of Ballantrae (along with other works). Stevenson understood that both people and cultures have a dual nature, battling between good and evil, the pull of the past and the push to the future, a complexity that plays out in our lives on many levels. In Kidnapped, the two protagonists are a lowland Scot and a swashbuckling Highlander and the interplay of their characters is the focal point of the story - a clash between the "two Scotlands". In The Master of Ballantrae, the two brothers, good and evil, are yet but two sides of the same coin struggling for supremacy. Set during the Jacobite risings, this story also contrasts the dual nature of Scotland's heritage.
Today, we tend to avoid the harshness of dualism - finding the good in "the dark side of the force," transforming evil from a reality to a perception - we call this "integration". To this extent, we recognize the duality of our inner natures, but we're left with a blandness, a lack of joy and verve. We accept ourselves, but in so doing cease to overcome. For Stevenson, life was a struggle - for health, for accomplishment, for appreciating good and for overcoming evil - a struggle he felt worthwhile. If any man ever lived his life to the full, it was Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Celestial Surgeon
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