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Robert Louis Stevenson is best known as the author of the children’s classic Treasure Island, and the adult horror story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is known for his method of rendering ambiguous, enigmatic personalities and standards for complex characterization which were adopted by later writers.
See the fact file below for more information on the Robert Louis Stevenson or alternatively, you can download our 28-page Robert Louis Stevenson worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
Early Life and Education
- Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13, 1850, Robert Louis Stevenson was the only child of Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Balfour.
- He spent a difficult childhood suffering chronic health problems due to which he was mostly confined to bed. Not all of his childhood was spent in the sickroom, though. During the summer he lived in the country at Colinton Manse where he played outdoors with his many cousins.
- He had attended school since he was seven, but his attendance was irregular because of poor health and because his father doubted the value of formal education.
- To follow his father’s footsteps, Stevenson was then sent to study science at Edinburgh University to become a civil engineer. Stevenson on the other hand was not 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.
- Instead of applying himself to his studies, he became known for his outrageous dress and behavior. 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.
- His spirit of adventure truly began to appear at this stage, and during his summer vacations he traveled to France to be around young artists, both writers and painters. He emerged from law school in 1875, but did not practice, as, by this point, he felt that his calling was to be a writer.
The Writer Emerges
- While at the university, Stevenson had trained himself to be a writer by imitating the styles of authors William Hazlitt and Daniel Defoe, among others. Before and after receiving his law degree, Stevenson’s essays were published in several periodicals.
- A constant traveler for most of his adult life, he based his first two books, An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), on his excursions in France. Many of his journeys were searches for climates which would ease his poor health, but he also had an innate wanderlust.
- Also from this period are the humorous essays of Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers (1881), which were originally published from 1876 to 1879 in various magazines, and Stevenson’s first book of short fiction, New Arabian Nights (1882).
- The stories marked the United Kingdom’s emergence into the realm of the short story, which had previously been dominated by Russians, Americans, and the French. These stories also marked the beginning of Stevenson’s adventure fiction, which would come to be his calling card.
- A turning point in Stevenson’s personal life came during this period, when he met the woman who would become his wife, Fanny Osbourne, in September 1876.
- She was an American who was married and had two children. In 1878, she divorced her husband, and Stevenson set out to meet her in California. The couple began to see each other romantically while she remained in France, married in 1880, and remained together until Stevenson’s death in 1894.
- After they were married, the Stevensons took a three-week honeymoon at an abandoned silver mine in Napa Valley, California, and it was from this trip that The Silverado Squatters (1883) emerged. Also appearing in the early 1880s were Stevenson’s short stories Thrawn Janet (1881), The Treasure of Franchard (1883), and Markheim (1885).
- The 1880s were notable for both Stevenson’s declining health and his prodigious literary output. He suffered from hemorrhaging lungs, and writing was one of the few activities he could do while confined to bed.
- While in this bedridden state, he wrote some of his most popular fiction, most notably Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and The Black Arrow (1888).
- The idea for Treasure Island was ignited by a map that Stevenson had drawn for his 12-year-old stepson. Stevenson had conjured a pirate adventure story to accompany the drawing, and it was serialized in the boys’ magazine Young Folks from October 1881 to January 1882.
- When Treasure Island was published in book form in 1883, Stevenson got his first real taste of widespread popularity, and his career as a profitable writer had finally begun.
- The book was Stevenson’s first volume-length fictional work, as well as the first of his writings that would be dubbed “for children.” By the end of the 1880s, it was one of the period’s most popular and widely read books.
- The year 1886 saw the publication of what would be another enduring work, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which was an immediate success and helped cement Stevenson’s reputation.
- This novel was sparked by a dream Stevenson had at Bournemouth in which he visualized a man changing into a monster by means of a concoction made with white powder.
- It is about a London lawyer who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde. It has become a part of the modern language, with the very phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.
- Stevenson was screaming in his sleep when Fanny woke him. He scolded her for interrupting the nightmare: “I was dreaming a fine bogey tale,” he said. He started writing furiously in bed the next morning. In three days he had a completed draft of almost 40,000 words.
- Although he would later claim that it was the worst thing he ever wrote, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sold forty thousand copies in Britain during the first six months, and brought Stevenson more attention than he had previously ever known.
- The work is decidedly of the “adult” classification, as it presents a jarring and horrific exploration of various conflicting traits lurking within a single person. The book went on to international acclaim, inspiring countless stage productions and more than 100 motion pictures.
- In June 1888, Stevenson and his family set sail from San Francisco, California, to travel the islands of the Pacific Ocean, stopping for stays at the Hawaiian Islands, where he became good friends with King Kalākaua.
- In 1889, they arrived in the Samoan islands, where Stevenson bought a 300-acre estate, Vailima, in the hills of Apia, where he lived for the rest of his life.
- The island setting stimulated Stevenson’s imagination, and subsequently influenced his writing during this time: Several of his later works are about the Pacific isles, including The Wrecker (1892), Island Nights’ Entertainments (1893), The Ebb-Tide (1894), and In the South Seas (1896).
- Toward the end of his life, Stevenson’s South Seas writing included more of the everyday world, and both his nonfiction and fiction became more powerful than his earlier works. These more mature works not only brought Stevenson lasting fame, they helped to enhance his status with the literary establishment when his work was re-evaluated in the late 20th century, and his abilities were embraced by critics as much as his storytelling had always been by readers.
- Robert Louis Stevenson died of a stroke on December 3, 1894, at his home in Vailima, Samoa. He was buried at the top of Mount Vaea, overlooking the sea.
Robert Louis Stevenson Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Robert Louis Stevenson across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Robert Louis Stevenson worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Robert Louis Stevenson who is best known as the author of the children’s classic Treasure Island, and the adult horror story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is known for his method of rendering ambiguous, enigmatic personalities and standards for complex characterization which were adopted by later writers.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Authors Online
- Library Hunt
- Robert’s Rhymes
- Map It Out
- Treasure Hunt
- The Amazing Maze
- Meeting Long John
- Two-Faced Me
- Tell Me A Story
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