The Life And Works Of Robert Louis

Balfour Stevens Essay, Research Paper

Plaisance 1 The Life and Works of Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson Robert Louis Stevenson lived a life full of adventure and excitement. He was born on November 13, 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland as the only son of Thomas Stevenson, a wealthy engineer and his wife Martha Balfour. He was a sickly child at birth but despite his many illnesses he attended Edinburgh Academy and later the Edinburgh University where he began to study engineering. (Menikoff 1) He had chosen this field of study to please his father and because of his lack of interest in it, he dropped the study of engineering and began to prepare to study law. It was in this stage of his education that his first published work, The Pentland Rising, was printed. (Britannica 2) While he attended college, Stevenson began to rebel against his parents way of life and their religion and suffered from a severe lung disease. He went for a period of convalescence with some relatives where he met Mrs. Fanny Sitwell who would be a huge influence in his life. Because of his respiratory illness, he went to the French Riviera where he stayed for two years until returning home. It was during these travels that he wrote An Inland Voyage, and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, which led him towards his career of a professional writer.(Stern 384) In 1876 Stevenson met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne in a riverside village named Grez in the South of France. Falling desperately in love, they created quite a scandal because she was a married woman. Stevenson’s family was outraged but they were later calmed by her move to California in 1878. News of her illness in 1879, however, renewed their anger because Robert set out for California without any money with him to see her. (World Book) After many trials and tribulations on the journey to San Francisco, he made it to Fanny and in 1880 they were married. (She had divorced her first husband.) It was at this time that his father finally relented from his angry stance Plaisance 2and sent him some much-needed money that enabled Robert and Fanny to move back to Scotland and reunite with his family. Soon after arriving home, he once again set out around the globe, this time with family in tow. It was during this period of travel and illness in which Stevenson started his most famous work Treasure Island. (Menikoff 3) In 1882 Robert and his wife moved to the South of France in a chalet in Hyeres where he said “I’ve only been happy once, at Hyeres.” (Stern 388) It was while he was living here that he had a dangerous hemorrhage that brought him to the point of near-death and kept him bed-ridden and nearly paralyzed for almost three years. Despite this handicap, he continued to write and it was then that he wrote the major part of his popular children’s’ book A Child’s Garden of Verses. He needed to continue to write in order to pay his medical bills and it was in this time that he penned The Strange Case Of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, a book that was an immediate success both critically and financially. The publication of The Strange Case Of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde in America led to him being considered a celebrity and resulted in his moving to the U.S.A. In June of 1888 he set sail from San Francisco on the pleasure yacht Casco, on what was intended to be a journey to restore his health. What was meant to be a vacation, however, ended in his staying in the South Seas for the rest of his life. Once he was at sea, there was a marked change in his health and activities. People that knew him as an invalid on land were shocked to see the vital, energetic man onboard the yacht. (Stern 390) After traveling through Hawaii and many of the islands in the Pacific he made port in Samoa where he began construction of a new home that he called Valilima. The people of Samoa loved him and called him Tusitala which translates as “teller of tales.” (World Book) He became active in the governing of the island and was well respected for his educated views in their councils. He continued his new-found existence of active life and writing until 1894 when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Stevenson, beloved of the islanders, was carried in state by sixty Samoans to the top of Mount Vaea, a mountain that overlooked his home where Plaisance 3he was buried, appropriately, under a stone that bore a verse the he wrote from the poem Requiem: “Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me die.” Stevenson’s works of poetry and novels are both numerous and varied in subject matter. He wrote at a time when the traditional Victorian style of writing was coming to an end and he wrote just about every type of literature; plays, poems, essays, literary criticism, literary theory, biography, travelogues, news reports, romances, boys’ adventure stories, fantasies, fables and short stories. (Britannica) They range from the children’s collection of stories A Child’s Garden of Verses to the dark story of Scottish life Kidnapped. They all share the same quality of his clear and direct style and his extraordinary power as a storyteller. No matter what he wrote, he always remembered to keep the interest of his readers foremost in his mind. It is some of his lesser-known works, however, that contain his best writing. The Weir of Hermiston; Kidnapped; and The Master of Ballantrae are prime examples of his impressive style. It in these works that Stevenson truly shines, they are masterpieces of the English language and are too often

overlooked by those who only notice the “popular” novels of this underrated writer. (Stern 391) An example of some of his mastery comes from Kidnapped: ” The sword in his hand flashed like quicksilver into the huddle of our fleeing enemies…” And O, man,” he cried in a kind of ecstasy, “am I no a bonny fighter?” (Stern 387)In many of Stevenson’s novels, the reader can sense an obsession with evil. In The Ebb Tide, for instance, all of the people are horrible examples of the human race. Many of his most famous characters, Long John Silver, James Durie, and Mr. Hyde are despicable creatures who make the reader cringe with horror at the mention of their dastardly deeds. In The Master of Ballantrae, a tale of two brothers named James and Henry who represent opposite sides of the moral spectrum. Henry is gentle and kind and James is a Plaisance 4wicked incarnation of evil. Just as in The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the evil side wins as we see James grow more and more evil as Henry is constantly worn down by his relentless counterpart. Many people dismiss the works of Stevenson as just “no more than a handful of stories for boys” (Stern 385) but as one begins to look through the titles of his works and read them this belief is easily seen as a fallacy. Apart from Treasure Island and Kidnapped, many of his works like The Ebb Tide, The Wrecker, and Father Damien, could not, by the most liberal of adults, be considered suitable literature for young people. It is these adult works that make him stand out as an author of merit. While many of his contemporaries would focus on just one genre, Stevenson could write children’s books as well as adult drama and in both he included his consummate skill of clear and concise writing that made his works so easily understood and enjoyed by his readers. Like his works, Stevenson’s reputation also varied widely. He is one of the most fascinating personalities in British literature because of his courage and diligence that enabled him to continue his literary pursuits even in the face of extreme hardship and sickness. (World Book) Soon after his death, he was regarded as only a skilled writer of children’s books but by the 1950’s he was considered to be a writer of originality and power. (Menikoff 4) His essays, at their best, are perceptive reasonings of the human condition; his novels are either brilliant adventure stories with subtle moral lessons or impressive presentations of human action in terms of history and psychology; and his short stories produce a cunning relationship between romance and irony or combine horror and suspense with a moral issue. (Britanicca) G. K. Chesterson said this about Stevenson: The real defect of Stevenson as a writer, so far from being a sort of silken trifling and superficial or superfluous embroidery, was that he simplified so much that he lost some of the complexity of real life. He treated everything with an economy of Plaisance 5 detail and a suppression of irrelevance which had at last something about it stark and unnatural. He is to be commended among authors for sticking to the point; but real people do not stick quite so stubbornly to the point as that… Though he may seem to describe his subject in detail, he describes it to be done with it; and he does not return to the subject. He never says anything needlessly; above all, he never says anything twice.(Stern 390)While the literary critics may have criticisms for his sometimes simple style the regular people, the very ones Stevenson wrote for, loved his work. This excerpt from the Reader’s Digest, shows the love of his novels by the common people. One day when I went into the shop to select a new Nick Carter, Mr. McIllwrath spoke to me in a lowered voice. “You like to read exciting stories, don’t you?” he said, and his eyes narrowed behind their smeared spectacles. “Why, yes, sir,” I said. “All right, I’m going to tell you something I wouldn’t tell just anybody. Back in the store here, I’ve got the most exciting dime novel you ever read.” He led me to the rear of the store. “This book will cost you five times as much as a Buffalo Bill, but there’s five times as much reading in it and it’s about five times as exciting. Pirates, murder, hidden treasure- everything.” He took from the shelf a cheap red, clothbound book and slapped it affectionately. I read the title- Treasure Island. (Davis 163)Stevenson was a good man and a great writer, he led a life filled with sickness, bad fortune and a litany of hard times but he managed to rise above these and produce some of the most exciting, dramatic, and thoughtful works of his time. He was an accomplished writer of both the juvenile adventure story and the romantic symbolic poetry that was written by many of his contemporaries. His works carry with them a quality that enables them to last from generation to generation and continues to keep his readers happy. I believe that this Plaisance 6ability to interest readers for years to come is perhaps the thing that Stevenson most wanted in his life and finally achieved after his death. Plaisance 7

Davis, Clyde Brion. “The age of Indiscretion.” Reader’s Digest Aug.1950: 162-164 Menikoff, Paul. “Robert Louis Stevenson- The Life and Works Outline.” Internet address 1998Stern, G.B. “Robert Louis Stevenson.” British Writers. Ed. B. Johnson New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983. 383-396″Stevenson, Robert Louis (Balfour).” Britannica Online 1998 ed.”Stevenson, Robert Louis Balfour.” The World Book Encyclopedia 1959 ed.


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