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Robert Louis Stevenson

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The Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer, Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is best known for his evergreen works Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Born to respectable middle class parents, Stevenson was an only child. He spent a difficult childhood suffering chronic health problems due to which he was mostly confined to bed. Entering into youth, Stevenson was highly influenced by Allison Cunningham, his nurse who would often read the Pilgrim’s Progress and The Old Testament to him.

To follow his father’s footsteps, Stevenson was sent to study science at Edinburgh University to become a civil engineer. Stevenson on the other hand was not much interested in studying science; instead he spent ample time studying French Literature, Scottish history, and the works of Darwin and Spencer. His love for literature forced him to tell his father about his growing interests in literature and that he wanted to pursue a career and studies in the field of writing. The news severely upset his father who finally advised Robert to prepare for the Bar exam so that he would have a respectable profession to fall back on if his literary ambitions failed.

Stevenson’s writings and life were both heavily influenced by his city, Edinburgh. He experienced two faces of the city. One was the religious, respectable and conventional town while the other face of Edinburgh was that of more bohemian town with brothels, shady characters and underhanded dealings. Through these observations Stevenson learned a great deal about the duality of human nature which later became the base for his novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

In 1873, Stevenson suffered from a severe chest condition and nervous exhaustion due to which he was advised by his doctor to go abroad and rest for an extended period of time. Stevenson spent 6 months in South France during which he worked on numerous essays. He continued with the flow of writing after his return to Edinburgh writing articles, book reviews and short stories. Slowly, Stevenson’s name started appearing in significant publications such as The Fortnightly Review. During this time, Stevenson met Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne, an American woman who was 10 years older than him. Osbourne was visiting Europe to escape from the estranged relationship with her husband. Despite this, Stevenson resumed his relationship with Osbourne and eventually went after her to San Francisco where the two married in 1880 after her divorce.

Stevenson achieved great literary success beginning in the late 1870s. In 1878 he published An Inland Voyage followed by Treasure Island in 1883. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped were both published in 1886.

In 1889, Stevenson bought a 300-acre estate, Vailima, in the hills of Apia, Samoa where he lived for the rest of his life. Many of his most significant works have been written in Vailima. Some of these include The Beach of Falesa, The Ebb Tide, The Wrecker and Catriona, The Bottle Imp, The Isle of Voices and The Waif Woman. Robert Louis Stevenson died at the age of 44 a few hours after suffering a brain hemorrhage on December 3, 1894.

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