Robert Louis Stevenson

One of Edinburgh’s most famous literary sons, Robert Lewis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850. He was a poorly child, and ill-health plagued him throughout his life. Stevenson came from a line of famous engineers – both his father and grandfather were successful lighthouse engineers [c.f. Belle Bathurst’s The Lighthouse Stevensons].

At eighteen, he shortened his name, and changed the spelling of Lewis. Stevenson studied engineering at university, but switched to law. Then, at twenty-one, he declared his intention to become a writer. Both his father Thomas and his Nanny Alison Cunningham [‘Cummy’] read to him frequently, particularly religious stories from the Bible and from the Covenanters. His knowledge of Scottish history influenced novels such as Kidnapped (chosen by Edinburgh City of Literature as their first One City, One Book title) and The Master of Ballantrae. RLS married American divorcee Fanny Osbourne (a controversial choice) in 1880.

Believing the the healing powers of a better climate than that of Scotland, Stevenson and his family travelled widely, living in Switzerland, France and Hawaii. It was during his time that he had some of his biggest successes. Treasure Island is an exciting tale of adventure, piracy and travel (themes he would return to often), while The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a haunting psychological tale. He also wrote travel books, such as Travels with a donkey in the Cévennes and In the South Seas.

Stevenson finally settled in Samoa in 1892, where the local tribe named him Tusitala – ‘storyteller’ – but died in 1884 of a brain haemorrhage.

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