Thursday, June 27, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson, A World Soul

I've been thinking lately about Robert Louis Stevenson, or, as he is often referred to, RLS. Born in Scotland (a land he never stopped loving), he transcended culture and geography: He loved France; in the USA, California boasts tourists sites where he and his wife lived; and he ended his days in Samoa.

 As a child, I loved his poetry collection for children,  A Child's Garden of Verses, and for many years I thought his poetry was mainly for children. But his poetry for adults was appreciated, too. Familiar lines shine in anthologies:

" Home is the sailor, home from sea,/ And the hunter home from the hill."

"Gather ye roses while ye may . . ."

Religious as a child, a rebel as an adult, always deeply philosophical, he was a writer with an unusually wide range in the Victorian Era in which he lived: poetry, short stories, essays, novels, adventure tales—he wrote whatever he wished, and couldn't be pigeon-holed. You can see the independence in his face, the determination to think things out for himself and then perservere until an idea, a plot, a book, is carried out to its conclusion.

For a man with serious ill health all his life, he managed to have more adventures than many healthier people could ever dream of. He traveled. He was married the woman of his dreams (Fanny Osbourne), a divorced woman with grown children. (He collaborated on several books with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne.) He traveled to the continent and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America, traveled overland by stage coach to California, and ended up in a South Sea paradise, revered by the locals.
Fanny Osbourne, who
also looks like she had
a mind of her own.
Note: Both these photos are in the public domain in the U.S. 

This morning I finished reading for a second time, Treasure Island, an absolutely brilliant book. It's no more bloodthirsty than the slew of popular YAs published today, and it's a fast-paced read from beginning to end. I won't be a spoiler here and give away the ending for those who haven't read it, but, trust me: the ending was perfect. Stevenson's wife, Fanny, may not have liked the book, but 130 years ago this man knew how to begin a tale and end it with no let-up of suspense. I have to think that pirate ships were the original dystopian universes—worlds in disarray peopled with complex characters, all with their own backstories, offering great opportunities for heroism and malfeasance.

I've read that Stevenson achieved more and more mastery over his writing and that his surprising death caught him mid-sentence while writing the novel that would have become his greatest book, Weir of Hermiston (an event that sounds like every writer's nightmare). But the world is far richer for all the books he wrote on the way to his unfinished masterpiece.

You can read a full biography here and a great resource site can be found here . There is also a rather dated, but good, children's biography of Stevenson, by Forbes Macgregor, ISBN 0-7117-0320-5, put out in 1989 by Jarrold Colour Publications in Great Britain.

How about you? Have you read any of RSL's books? If so, which one is your favorite?