It’s Friday, and guest author day. If you remember, a couple of weeks ago when writing about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, there was a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson and I took note I should invite him too. And here he is.

As fascinating as his writing is, the man is no less interesting. I will not try and give you a detailed account of his life (although I include links to a number of well-informed sites) but just a few notes. And of course, I’ll give you links to some of his works, now free to download (although I would be surprised if you haven’t read or have copies of many of them).


I liked his description of himself in a letter to J.M. Barrie (yes, he keeps appearing and is on the list too):

“Exceedingly lean, dark, rather ruddy-black eyes (drawing-book eyes, Amanuensis) crow’s footed, beginning to be grizzled, general appearance of a blasted boy or blighted youth or to borrow Carlyle on De Quincey ‘child that has been in hell'” (2/3 April 1893)

Robert Lewis (later Louis) Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh on 13th November 1850. His father was an engineer (he built many of the deep-sea lighthouses in Scotland). His mother came from a family of church ministers and lawyers.

At 17 he enrolled at EdinburghUniversity, initially to study engineering but he abandoned this and as a compromise he studied law, completing his studies in 1875, although he never worked as a lawyer as he already knew he wanted to be a writer. During summer holidays he travelled to France to be with other young artists. He had essays and travel books published (An Inland Voyage and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes).


He met his future wife in September 1876 at Grez (south-east of Paris). He was 25, she was 36 and independent American woman, separated from her husband and with two children. Two years later she went back to California and he followed in August 1879. This was the subject of his next work: The Amateur Emigrant (that some consider one of his best works). After Fanny obtained the divorce they married in 1880.

Stevenson initiated the British tradition of short story writing (“A Lodging for the Night” 1877, was later collected with 3 others in a book New Arabian Nights in 1882). He continued to write short stories all his life and they were collected in some volumes: The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables and Island Nights’ Entertainments.

In 1881 on a rainy summer day he created a map of an imaginary Treasure Island with his stepson. From this he wrote the novel that was published in 1883 and marked the beginning of his popularity. He wrote other works that would fit in within the category of children’s stories: A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885), The Black Arrow (1883), Kidnapped (1886 the same year when he wrote Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) and its continuation Catriona (1893).

He wrote a number of books that would fit in within the description of novels and romances: Prince Otto (1885), The Master of Ballantree (set in historical Scotland, exploring the issue of doubles, here as two brothers, considered by Calvino and Brecht the best of his works), Weir of Hermiston that he was working on when he died (published incomplete and posthumously in 1896).

In 1888 he decided to sail the South Seas with his family, stopping here and there and collecting material for a work on the South Seas. In 1889 they stopped in the SamoanIslands (port of Apia) and decided to build a house there. He wrote essays (In the South Seas) and stories set there (The Wrecker, 1892, and The Ebb-Tide, 1894).


He died in December 1894 and was buried near his house on Samoa.

He wrote nearly everything apart from the typical long Victorian novel: plays, essays, poems, biography, romances, short stories… He also wrote a number of musical compositions. He was careful with his style but at the same time interested in popular genres. Due in part to that popularity he fell in disregard with critics and was mostly ignored by Modernists and later scholars. Critical interest has increased somewhat but is still very modest compared to other writers of the period. Maybe it’s true that you can be popular or be a critical success, but be both is really difficult. I suspect given a choice, like most of us, he’d rather have people read him than people write about him. He is still the 26th most translated author in the world. 


Biography and information:

Robert Louis Stevenson website. Fabulous resource with detailed information, photographs…:



The Literature Network:

Author page in Goodreads:

Edinburgh celebrates Robert Louis Stevenson with a series of events.

Books and other writings:

Collection of poems free online:

The Black Arrow. A Tale of the Two Roses:

Merry Men

Weir of Hermiston

Island Nights’ Entertainment



Treasure Island is not available free in Amazon but here is the link in Project Gutenberg in a variety of formats:

Also in project Gutenberg, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde:

Kidnapped (also in Project Gutenber):

Here is the link to the author in Project Gutenberg, where you can check other works and versions (including audios):

Movie and TV versions (I recently saw a musical version of Jekyll and Hyde so…)

In IMDB he is given writing credits for 245 movies and TV series…

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