Dates: November 13, 1850 - December 3, 1894
Hometown: Edinburgh, Scotland
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. He was born the only son to Thomas Stevenson, a civil engineer, and his wife Margaret Isabella Balfour. Throughout his childhood, Stevenson suffered chronic health problems that made schooling difficult, but he attended Edinburgh Academy and other schools before, at 17, entering Edinburgh University, where he was expected to prepare him self for the family profession of lighthouse engineering. Stevenson, however, had no desire to be an engineer.
He had shown a desire to write early in his life. In his youth, his strongest influence was that of his nurse, Allison Cunningham, who often read Pilgrim's Progress and The Old Testament to him. Once in his teens he had deliberately set out to learn the writer's craft by imitating a great variety of models in prose and verse. While ostensibly working towards a science degree, Stevenson spent much of his time studying French Literature, Scottish history, and the works of Darwin and Spencer. Eventually he came to an agreement with his father and studied for the Bar exam so that he would have a profession to fall back on.
In the fall of 1873, Stevenson fell ill, suffering from nervous exhaustion and a severe chest condition. His doctor ordered him to take an extended period of rest abroad. For 6 months, Stevenson spent his time in the South of France and worked on essays. When he returned to Edinburgh, he worked mostly on book reviews, articles, and experimenting with short stories. Eventually, Stevenson was able to make a name for himself in the world of journalism and his work began appearing in distinguished journals.
While establishing himself as a writer, Stevenson met and married an American woman who was ten years older than him, Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne. Osbourne had traveled to Europe while trying to escape the influence of her estranged husband. For three years, Stevenson, still suffering from illness, continued his relationship with her and eventually followed her to San Francisco, where she divorced her husband and married Stevenson in May of 1880.
On a visit back to Scotland, while drawing a treasure map with his 12-year-old stepson, Stevenson was inspired to write Treasure Island which was published in 1883 as his first novel. Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde came three years later, a best seller which made Stevenson’s reputation on both sides of the Atlantic. It was published in attempts to raise money to support the family. Stevenson said that “Brownies” brought him the story in a dream. He wrote the story in three days while in bed. When he at last read the story aloud to his eager household, Fanny insisted that he rewrite the story. She urged him to make the wicked Dr. Jekyll a good man who had difficulty controlling his evil instincts. She then suggested that Dr. Jekyll would depict the dual image of Victorian society: “prim and proper on the surface, unrestrained and lewd underneath.” At first Stevenson argued with her. Later he admitted he had missed the very essence of the story. After throwing the manuscript in the fire, he rewrote the novel in six days to become the story known throughout the entire English speaking world. His novel, Kidnapped came out that same year and Stevenson's career was established.
Stevenson and Fanny returned to Europe, but moved back to California in 1887 after the death of his father. In 1888, he and his family decided to sail around the Pacific islands, which marked a new epoch in his writing career and in his health. The climate was so good that they decided to stay, making their home on the island of Upolu in Samoa. Stevenson continued to write stories about the South Seas as well as travel stories. Having fought for good health all his life, he died of a brain hemorrage in December 1894.