Robert Louis Stevenson: 10 Things You Didn’t Know

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Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the most celebrated authors of the 19th century, having penned such classics as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island and Kidnapped. But there is more to this writer than his literary achievements. Here are 10 interesting facts about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson

Facts about Robert Louis Stevenson

1. Robert Louis Stevenson was plagued by illness throughout his life

Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He contracted tuberculosis at a young age, and his chronic respiratory issues were exacerbated by his many travels to exotic locales. He also suffered from pneumonia, bronchitis, malaria, typhus, and cholera.

2. He wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde while he was sick

Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in just three days while he was ill with a fever. The novel was initially received with mixed reviews but went on to become a literary classic and is still widely read today.

2. He studied to be a lawyer, but pursued a career in writing.

Stevenson studied law at the University of Edinburgh but never practised as a lawyer. Instead, he pursued a career as a writer.

Stevenson was a prolific writer, producing a large body of work that includes essays, poetry, and travel writing in addition to his fiction. He was a friend of other notable writers of his time, including Henry James and Rudyard Kipling.

3. Stevenson battled to win the hand of his love interest

Despite his illness, Stevenson travelled 6,000 miles to win the heart of his love interest, Frances Osbourne. Frances was a married American woman living in Paris when she met Stevenson.

Although the two became quite friendly, Fanny eventually left France and Stevenson behind. Stevenson later pursued her to California and the two were eventually married.

4. His parents disapproved of his lifestyle

Stevenson’s parents were deeply concerned by his behaviour, which they considered godless and self-destructive. Stevenson was also at odds with his parents over his professional life and his profligate ways.

5. He wrote about his travels

Much of Stevenson’s work was based on his travels. He wrote about central France, his trek across France with a pack animal named Modestine and his journey across America by train.

6. Treasure Island was his first major success

Stevenson’s map of a make-believe island inspired him to write Treasure Island, an adventure novel about a young boy who joins a group of pirates in a hunt for buried treasure. The story was initially serialised in a literary journal for boys before being published in book form.

7. Stevenson was politically active

Stevenson was vocal in his support of the Samoan natives when the European colonial powers attempted to subjugate Samoa. Despite his aid, the island was eventually annexed to Germany.

8. Robert Louis Stevenson was an atheist

Stevenson’s atheism caused tension between him and his parents, who were devout Christians.

Despite his father’s dramatic response to his rejection of the Christian faith, Stevenson’s attitudes toward religion remained constant throughout his life.

8. He died in the South Pacific aged 44 years old.

Robert Louis Stevenson died on 3 December 1894, aged 44, in Samoa, where he had moved with his family for health reasons. He is buried on the island of Upolu.

His epitaph reads:

“Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I laid me down with a will

This be the verse you grave for me.
Here he lies where he longed to be
Home is the sailor, home from the sea.
And the hunter home from the hill”

10. He is more famous than ever

Robert Louis Stevenson was a celebrity in his life.

And although his reputation has fluctuated since his death, in 2018 he was ranked, just behind Charles Dickens, as the 26th-most-translated author in the world.

What’s your favourite Robert Louis Stevenson story? Tell us in the comments section below!

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