Monday, April 04, 2016

Daily Dose of Literature: Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson Knox Series.jpg
Robert Louis Stevenson
Who doesn't love pirates?

Okay, maybe ninjas don't love pirates, but it's largely because of Robert Louis Stevenson that most of us love pirates. Stevenson was responsible for some of the most classic adventure and Gothic Romance (read: early horror) stories of the late 19th century and certainly deserves notice as one of the grandfathers of what we would eventually come to know as the pulps.

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850 to a long line of lighthouse engineers, and his mother's family included gentry, physicians, preachers, and marine engineers. Young Robert was well educated both in formal schools and via private tutors, eventually entering the University of Edinburgh in 1867 to pursue engineering. This was a field he quickly discovered he had no interest in pursuing, eventually being attracted to the humanities: art, drama, and writing.

By 1873, Robert had surrounded himself with a circle of many important writers, including Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse, and Leslie Stephen.  These people became exceptionally important to Robert, both in terms of his writing and his career as a writer. He spent most of the rest of his life traveling the world, attempting to settle both in the UK and the United States but never finding satisfaction in one place. He did eventually marry a woman named Fanny, a divorcee with two children of her own, but it wasn't until 1890 at the very end of his life that he finally settled down on an estate in Samoa.

Stevenson struggled with health issues his entire life, with notable failings in 1873 and 1879. In 1894, he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage while trying to open a bottle of wine. His last words, spoken to his wife, were, "What's that? Does my face look strange?"

Stevenson left an important literary legacy. In addition to volumes of travelogues, letters and memoirs, he is probably best known for three novels: Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Treasure Island. The influence these works alone have had on popular literature cannot be understated--Treasure Island is the core influence for an entire genre of pirate stories that have arrived on the scene in the ensuing 150 years or so. Without it there would be no Errol Flynn and no Pirates of the Caribbean. Jekyll and Hyde, on the other hand, is the inspiration for a slew of works unto itself--where would the Incredible Hulk be without this tale?

In modern scholarship, Robert Louis Stevenson has been mentioned alongside such notable figures as H. Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, Henry James and Edgar Allen Poe.

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