Robert Louis Stevenson: Life, Works, Death

Robert Louis Stevenson Biography

Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His name wasn’t always that, though. By birth, he was Robert Lewis Stevenson. His middle name was later changed from “Lewis” to “Louis”. Stevenson came from a good family, but was somewhat rebellious and went against their religion, and many other things. These other things included his father’s dream for him to be an engineer. This was especially important to Stevenson’s father because he was one of the first people ever to design lighthouses.

Stevenson was supposed to learn about engineering when he enrolled in Edinburgh University, but instead chose to study law. While in college, Stevenson changed his mind a lot. Even though he got a degree in law, he never practiced because he decided what he wanted to do: he wanted to write.

After he was finished with college, Stevenson began to write more and more. At first, he only got a few essays published, and even those were with the help of his family.

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After writing many essays, Stevenson started to find more humor in people and things to write about. From 1876 to 1879, Stevenson had several of his works published in magazines. Although they did not receive much attention from critics, many other people admired them for the tone they were written in. Stevenson used a somewhat whimsy and ironic tone, modeled after Thomas Browne’s works, which Stevenson greatly admired. Gradually, Stevenson began to write about more important things, such as health, age, and marriage.

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His first full-length book, An Inland Voyage, was published in 1878. It was based on a journal he had kept from a canoe trip from Antwerp to Northern France. Many critics positively review this book, but it did not sell as many copies as Stevenson was hoping.

In 1879, Stevenson set off for the United States by boat. He was going to meet his future wife, Fanny Osbourne. He had met her on his canoe trip a few years ago, and wanted to travel to her home in California. The 11-day trip from Europe to the United States was very rough for Stevenson, who was already very apt to sicknesses. He arrived in New York in a horrible condition and with almost no money left. He then took a train to California in even worse conditions, and almost died there. While in California, Fanny got a divorce from her previous husband, and the two married. Their honeymoon was at an abandoned silver mine. Stevenson wrote a book recounting his experience and journey to the United States. It was titled The Amateur Emigrant, and published in 1883.

In the next years, Stevenson traveled quite a bit with his wife, but often became ill. He wrote some of his most famous novels confined to bed, because writing was one of the only things he could do during that time. He wrote part of Treasure Island while in Mexico, but again fell ill and had to continue the story from bed. Many of his stories were derived from personal experiences, or his life in general. After his father became ill, Stevenson became depressed and wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson himself had a tendency to become ill, too. Because he had more time to be at home while he was ill, Stevenson spent more time with his stepson. This inspired him to write stories with a youthful protagonist, and he wrote Kidnapped. With growing health problems in the end of the 1880’s, he wrote a lot more to friends across the sea. He expressed a desire to see his family again. Unfortunately, he never got to.

Robert Louis Stevenson died in 1894 from a stroke. He was 44 years old. Some say that he was at the height of his creative powers when he died. Some people might not know that Stevenson wrote a fair amount of poems, too, and he was buried as hinted at in one of them, on top of Mount Vaea. His poem “Requiem”, in relevant part, read, “Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie.”

Updated: Feb 16, 2024
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Robert Louis Stevenson: Life, Works, Death. (2024, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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