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Kidnapped | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson | Biography


Early Life

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was a lighthouse engineer who expected that his son would adopt the family business and study engineering. Entering Edinburgh University at age 17, Stevenson defied his father's wishes. Instead of engineering, Stevenson chose to study law and then to forego law for a career as a writer.

Travels and Literary Career

Stevenson showed an interest in writing at a young age and his first published work came out when he was just 16. In his late teens Stevenson traveled extensively to improve his health, as he suffered from serious illnesses of the lungs. He sought out climates hailed as healthier for his lungs, like France and the Swiss Alps. In his twenties he produced a noteworthy series of essays and memoirs, many based on his travels abroad.

In 1879 Stevenson traveled to California, where he married an American, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, in 1880. The couple sailed back to Scotland with Lloyd Osbourne, Fanny's 12-year-old son. In Scotland Stevenson's health deteriorated, and his family began to travel to offset his tuberculosis, an infection of the lungs that was often fatal. The family split their time between Scotland, the mountains of Switzerland, and the south of France. In the early 1880s Stevenson wrote a series of short stories inspired by a drawing he made for his stepson. In 1883 these stories were repackaged and published in book form to become Stevenson's first novel, Treasure Island. Several other works followed, including Kidnapped (1886), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and The Master of Ballante (1889).

Stevenson and his family left Europe in 1887. They traveled across America, staying in the Adirondack Mountains in New York before heading to San Francisco, California. From there, they departed aboard a yacht for the Marquesas Islands: French Polynesian islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. The threesome explored a variety of islands before Stevenson decided to purchase a villa on the island of Samoa. On Samoa, the climate improved Stevenson's lungs. His improved health led to an increase in productivity that lasted until December 3, 1894, when he died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage. Stevenson was laid to rest in Samoa, with his final novel—The Weir of Hermiston—left unfinished.


Stevenson's work has received significant critical acclaim for more than a century. In particular The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has enjoyed success for generations, staged in a variety of theater productions and motion pictures. His stories were well-received in the first half of the 20th century, but his work fell out of favor with literary critics during the rise of modernism (the period of the 1910s to the 1950s when literature turned against traditions and prioritized internal complexity). Still, he is credited with initiating the short story tradition in Britain because he was the first to write consistently in this genre.

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