English Literature

(THIS PAGE INCLUDES A POETRY ACTIVITY!)

Robert Louis Stevenson

Scottish essayist, poet and author of fiction and travel books, known especially for his novels of adventure. Stevenson's novels make skillful use of horror and supernatural elements. Often his stories are set in colourful locations, where his characters can forget the restrictions of Victorian society.

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.  And from his childhood Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis. He spent much of his time in bed during his early years, composing stories before he could read. . As an adult there were times when Stevenson could not wear a jacket for fear of bringing on a haemorrhage of the lung. In 1867 he entered Edinburgh University to study engineering. Due to his ill health he had to abandon his plans to follow in his father's footsteps. Stevenson changed to law and in 1875 he was called to the Scottish bar. During these years his first texts were published in The Edinburgh University Magazine (1871) and The Portofolio (1873). In a attempt to improve his health, Stevenson travelled to warmer counries. These experiences provided much material for his literary work.

Instead of practicing law, Stevenson devoted himself to writing travel sketches, essays, and short stories for magazines. An account of his canoe tour of France and Belgium was published in 1878 as AN INLAND VOYAGE, and TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY IN THE CERVENNES appeared the following year. "I travel for travel's sake," Stevenson wrote. "The great affair is to move." While in France Stevenson met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, a married woman with two children. She returned to the United States to get a divorce. In 1879 Stevenson followed her to California where they married in 1880. After a brief stay at Calistoga, which was recorded in THE SILVERADO SQUATTERS (1883), they returned to Scotland, and then moved often in search of better climates.

Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.

(from Songs of Travel)

Stevenson  first gained fame with the romantic adventure story TREASURE ISLAND, which appeared in 1883. It also helped his financial situation. A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES (1885) was devoted to Alison Cunningham, who was his nurse in his childhood. The book was a success and its verses have become popular as songs. Among Stevenson's other works from the 1880s are KIDNAPPED (1886), the story of David Balfour, his distant ancestor, THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1886), based on a dream and written and printed in 10 weeks, THE BLACK ARROW (1888), set in the era of the War of the Roses, and MASTER OF BALLANTRAE (1889). 

From the late 1880s Stevenson lived with his family in the South Seas, in Samoa - his father died in 1887. Stevenson enjoyed a period of comparative good health. He had nearly 20 servants and was known as 'Tusitala' or 'Teller of the Tales'. The writer himself translated it 'Chief White Information.' Fanny was called 'Flying Cloud' - perhaps referring to her restlessness.

Stevenson died of a brain haemorrhage on December 3, 1894, in Vailima, Samoa. His last work, WEIR OF HERMISTON (1896), was left unfinished, but is considered his masterpiece.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) - the mystery of Jekyll and Hyde is gradually revealed through the narratives of Mr Enfield, Mr Utterson, Dr Lanyon and Jekyll's butler Poole. Utterson, Jekyll's lawyer, discovers that the nasty Mr. Hyde is the heir of Dr. Jekyll's fortune. Hyde is suspected of a murder. Utterson and Poole break into Jekyll's laboratory and found the lifeless Hyde. Two documents explain the mystery: Jekyll's old friend, the late Dr. Lanyon, tells that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. In his own account Jekyll tells that to separate the good and evil aspects of his nature, he invented a transforming drug. His evil self takes the form of the repulsive Mr Hyde. Jekyll's supplies of drugs run out and he finds himself slipping involuntarily into being Hyde. Jekyll kills himself, but the last words of the confession are written by Hyde: "Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Dr. Jekyll to an end." The story has been considered an criticism of Victorian double morality, but it can be read as a comment on Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species - Dr. Jekyll turns in his experiment the evolution backwards and reveals the primitive background of a cultured human being. - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has become an icon of popular culture and adapted among others into screen over 20 times.

Treasure Island (1883)The central character is Jim Hawkins, whose mother keeps an inn near the coast in the West of England. Jim meets an old pirate, Billy Bones, who has in his possession a map showing the location of Captain Flint's treasure. Bones dies after a second visit by his enemies. Jim, his mother, and a blind man named Pew open Bones's sea chest and find an oilskin packet, which contains the map. Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, Jim, and a small crew with Captain Smollett sail for Treasure Island. Jim discovers that the crew of the Hispaniola includes pirates, led by a one-legged man named Long John Silver, who is the cook of the ship.  . After several adventures the pirates are defeated, Jim befriends  Long John, and the treasure is found. Jim and his friends sail back to England. Long John Silver manages to escape, taking as much gold as he can carry.

Here's an example of his poetry:

'Fair Isle at Sea - thy lovely name'

Fairl Isle at sea - thy lovely name

Soft in my ear like music came.

That sea I loved, and once or twice

I touched at isles of Paradise.

 

Bed in Summer

Try and guess the missing words! Click the buttons to see the answers.

In I get up night
And dress yellow -light.
In , quite other way,
I have go to bed day.

I have to go bed and see
The still on the tree,
Or the grown-up people's feet
Still going me the street.

And it not seem hard you,
When all sky is clear and ,
And I should like much to ,
To to go to by day?

 

Selected bibliography: