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Victorian British Literature

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Focus on Robert Louis Stevenson

Click image to see full sizeThe son of an engineer, he intended to take up the same profession, for which he showed early talent, but bad health prevented this. Partly because of his health and partly for love of travel, he spent much of his life abroad and some of his best writing is in essays of travel, eg An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879).

His most famous works, however, are the fantasy, so often used as an emblem of divided personality, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and his adventure story Treasure Island (1883). Still well known are his Scottish historical romances, in the tradition of Walter Scott (1771-1832): Kidnapped (1886), The Master of Ballantrae (1889), and Catriona (1893); it has been said that Weir of Hermiston, also in this style but left unfinished, would have been his masterpiece. Other works of fiction: New Arabian Nights (1882); Prime Otto (1885); The Black Arrow (1888); The Wrong Box (1889); The Wrecker (1892); Island Nights Entertainments (1893); The Ebb Tide (1894); St Ives, also left unfinished at his death. Essays: Virginibus Puerisque (1881); Familiar Studies of Men and Books (1882); Vailima Letters (1895). His A Child's Garden of Verses (1885) was for long considered a minor children's classic (see Children's literature), and he published other poetry in Underwoods (1887).

Stevenson was strongly influenced by French ideas of literary style and to a lesser extent by aestheticism. He has had a wide popular readership which has perhaps denied him critical attention: critics have detected a darker side to his writing beneath the swashbuckling, and dualism is a theme in evidence.

From CREDO Stevenson, Robert Louis in The Bloomsbury Dictionary of English Literature
Image: Robert Louis Stevenson

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