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Robert Louis Stevenson’s Life Experience in Novels Research Paper


The literary heritage of the Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson is comprised of dozens of novels and short stories. The writer is commonly known as the author of adventure books such as Treasure Island. However, Stevenson’s writing cannot be reduced to a single genre as his works covered multiple subjects and themes which were primarily based on the personal experience of the author. The characters of his novels, including Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, overcome many challenges and difficulties, adventurous and even mysterious ones.

Similarly to the characters of the novels, Stevenson encountered tragedies and luck, failures and success, conflicts, and love throughout his life span. And it is possible to say that the writer’s profound experience found its reflection in his works. Stevenson often covered the themes of self-identity and self-formation, morality, dark and bright side of human nature. Being a citizen of Scotland, he also paid attention to the issues of nationality, tradition, customs, and history which can be traced both in his novels and autobiographies.

The combination of Stevenson’s unique style, his well-developed skills of writing, sincere interest in adventures and traveling, and the unusual life experience drew significant attention from the readers and it continues to attract new admirers from day today. The themes revealed in the writer’s novels demonstrate an extensive range of his inner experiences which, complemented by a rich imagination and passion, helped Robert Stevenson to unfold his talent to its full power.

Childhood and Adolescence

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in the family of Scottish engineers, the famous builders of lighthouses. Since the very childhood, he had tuberculosis. There was no effective treatment for the disease amid the19th century, and the boy found his consolation in literature. The illness made Stevenson spend most of the time lying in the bed. The writer used to describe his childhood as a cheerless time “full of painful days and interminable nights” (Ransome and Findlay 59). In “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” Stevenson described those days with bitterness:

“In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle-light.

In summer, quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day” (“Bed in Summer” par. 1).

The first steps taken by the writer on the way towards the close acquaintance with literature were very simple – Stevenson read books with the pencil in his hand and wrote down the interesting phrases and words in the notebook. Then, he gradually started to write his compositions. However, his parents considered that writing is not a serious occupation and forced him to graduate the law school.

In youth, Louis dreamed of traveling but, during his life, he usually traveled not because of his propensity to explorations but rather due to the vital necessity. His first travel to France took place at the insistence of the doctors who suggested that the mild climate would recover the boy’s health. Later, affected by the misery of separation from his bride, Fanny Osbourne, whom he met in France, Stevenson traveled to California, and then – to Samoa Islands.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The plot of the novel set at the end of the 19th century when one of the main characters, Dr. Jekyll, discovered that human nature is dualistic, and each person is divided by evil and goodness. Dr. Jekyll believed that if these two human tendencies could be separated from each other, then the virtue and goodness could become significantly developed while the “dark side of man which civilization has striven to submerge” would be eliminated (Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 11). The doctor invents an elixir that helps Dr. Jekyll to transform his negative qualities into the tangible form and, as a result, Mr. Hyde appears – a person who knows no abutments of morality.

Duplicity is the major theme revealed in the novel, and it has some associations with the life of the writer. Stevenson applies the concept of duplicity not merely in the system of characters but at the level of the plot and the genre as well. The introduced contrasts represent a particular model of society and each particular individual. Jekyll and Hyde are both associated with intelligence and are skillful in blurring the mind of another part of the personality.

While Hyde represents the qualities of immorality, vice, and brutal egoism, Jekyll is characterized by the qualities restraining the expression of negativity, anger, and violence. The confrontation between the main characters is the metaphor of the inner struggle that takes place within each human being. It is possible to say that, in the novel, Stevenson attempted to vent his anxieties and feelings accumulated throughout life experience.

As a child, Robert Stevenson was raised by his nanny, Alison Cunningham, who was a very religious person (“Robert Louis Stevenson” par. 1). She attempted to educate the boy according to the principles of piety. However, the nanny’s attempts didn’t achieve good results. As the writer claimed, he had an exaggerated interest in the worldly temptations (Memories and Portraits 5). And it is possible to say, that the controversy developed through the collision of religious education and the natural propensities became the source of the psychological split in Stevenson. In this way, the constant inner dialogue between the different sides of the writer’s personality started in early childhood and lasted throughout his life.

Stevenson had many conflicts with his parents, especially with the father who wanted his son to become an engineer and maintain family affairs. While Robert perceived writing as a purpose of life, his father regarded literature as something childish. However, influenced by the family, Stevenson graduated from law school but continued to pursue his dreams after graduation. In adult life, the writer gradually commenced rejecting the values inculcated to him by the parents. He renounces Christianity and leads a licentious lifestyle visiting pubs and brothels (James 64). The changes in Stevenson’s personality become the reason of constant conflicts with the parents. Later, he wrote in one of his letters:

“What a damned curse I am to my parents! As my father said, “You have rendered my whole life a failure.” As my mother said, “This is the heaviest affliction that has ever befallen me.” O Lord, what a pleasant thing it is to have damned the happiness of (probably) the only two people who care a damn about you in the world” (James 68).

In this way, the lifelong fight with the illness, conflicts with the family, and strong determination to write regardless diffidence and high level of self-criticism provided Stevenson with the ground for reflection and became the source of inspiration for the creation of a great composition.

Kidnapped

The famous adventure was first published in 1886. The main character of the book, David Balfour, lived in a small village with his father who was a priest for seventeen years. The priest he taught his son to respect the King and Church. But although David grew a well-educated person, after his father’s death he still didn’t know much about life and reality. As a result, the young man got into difficult situations caused by the intrigues of his uncle Ebenezer, who arranged David’s kidnapping. When kidnapped by the pirates, Mr. Balfour acquires new experience in a great number of unfamiliar and strange places inhabited with the semi-wild highlanders who don’t know the English language, or Jacobite conspirators and royal spies.

In the novel, David Balfour travels across Scotland, Robert Stevenson’s homeland. The author represents the image of a Scotchman in the period after the Jacobite uprising in 1745 as a contradictory person who can one day be involved in the robbery and another day can surprise a reader with the expression of nobility and sacrifice. The familiarity with the landscapes, customs, and the character of the land helped the author to create a realistic picture of people, history, and the nation as a whole. As Stevenson mentioned in his autobiography, “the vanity and curiosity of the Scot seem uneasy, vulgar, and immodest” (Memories and Portraits 1). And the given perception of Scots can be traced and felt in “Kidnapped” as well.

It is possible to find the correlations between the character of David and Stevenson’s life as well. Throughout the challenging journey, David strives to survive without renouncing his moral principles, to grow from an immature boy into an adult and experienced man whose friendship would be appreciated and respected even by such a desperate person as Alan Breck Stewart. Similarly, Robert Stevenson attempts to overcome the difficulties laid on the way to his becoming a writer. The conflicts with the parents, first professional failures, lack of confidence in their abilities were defeated under the onslaught of passion for literature. The strong determination helped Stevenson to overcome life challenges, attract millions of admirers, and receive the deserved respect.

The Premises of Success

Robert Stevenson was interested in literature since early childhood and did not doubt about in the choice of his occupation. For long years, the writer worked tirelessly and published a large number of novels, and short stories. Even when he was confined to bed after another issue of blood caused by tuberculosis, half-blind, and with a malfunctioning hand, he never left literature (James 75). Despite the critical health condition, Stevenson’s compositions always remained bright, full of optimism, and had a great success among the readers.

The life of the writer overgrew with legends when he was still alive. In his later life, Stevenson moved to the South, close to the equator where his health improved. Till the end of life, the writer lived among the Samoan indigenous people who were very friendly and honored him. In this way, Stevenson created an atmosphere of adventure around him, and his journeys, in which he sometimes was on the verge of life and death, only strengthen the impressions provoked by the books. Thus, it is possible to say that the unusual life experience comprised of risks, challenges, and traveling, contributed to the success of the writer, emphasized, and revealed his talents.

Works Cited

James, Henry. “The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson.” The North American Review 170.518 (1900): 61–77. Web.

Ransome, Arthur, and Kirsty Findlay. Arthur Ransome’s Long-lost Study of Robert Louis Stevenson. Woodbridge, 2011. Print.

2012. Web.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. . n.d. Web.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Memories & Portraits. London: Chatto and Windus, 1887. Print. The University of Adelaide Library. Web.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Tales of Terror. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

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