"Fiction is to grown men what play is to the child," Robert Louis Stevenson once said in a statement that perfectly captures the magic of his own fiction. Immensely popular during his brief life - he died in 1894 at the age of forty-four - he has never lacked for readers since. In the century that followed his death, many biographies have been written, each with its own image of R.L.S.: the sickly, dreaming child; the Bohemian dandy outraging Victorian Edinburgh; the romantic wanderer leading his donkey through the wilds of the Cevennes; the ...
"Fiction is to grown men what play is to the child," Robert Louis Stevenson once said in a statement that perfectly captures the magic of his own fiction. Immensely popular during his brief life - he died in 1894 at the age of forty-four - he has never lacked for readers since. In the century that followed his death, many biographies have been written, each with its own image of R.L.S.: the sickly, dreaming child; the Bohemian dandy outraging Victorian Edinburgh; the romantic wanderer leading his donkey through the wilds of the Cevennes; the frail genius doomed to die young. For some, he is the man of action avid for experience, filled with wanderlust; for others, the writer of stories beloved by children and familiar from innumerable film and television dramas. Still others know him as the essayist whose skills matched William Hazlitt's and the novelist to whom even Henry James deferred. All of these are R.L.S., but none is the full Stevenson. Now, in this new and acclaimed biography, Ian Bell attempts to see Stevenson whole, to trace the line of descent from the son of Calvinist engineers to the man who ended his days as Tusitala among the Samoan islanders. Understanding that for Stevenson geography mattered, Bell sets out to discover the complete man through the places he lived and the people he lived among as well as through the books that poured from him during his all-too-short literary life. As such, Dreams of Exile is both literary biography and travel narrative. It follows Stevenson's development as an artist and as a man by following his often chaotic progress from continent to continent, in good health and in bad, in poverty and in wealth. Along the way, it reveals his often tortured relations with his family, his robust sexuality, and the mystery of his stormy marriage to a woman many years his senior. But perhaps Bell's most important contribution is to rescue R.L.S. from the many conflicting and often romanticized images that have continued to sur
Born in Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) early on rejected the family business of designing and building lighthouses in favor of a writing career. Bell, a Scottish journalist, has captured the short but varied life of this accomplished author in an entertaining and detailed study. Plagued by tuberculosis, the adult Stevenson fled Scotland's rainy climate, opting instead for the French Riviera and later for the United States, where he traveled in search of Fanny Osbourne, the married American he loved. They married in 1880, signalling the start of his most productive period, that of Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). The couple would later travel throughout the South Seas, eventually settling on the island of Samoa, where Stevenson spent his last years. Clearly a Stevenson devotee, Bell in his sympathetic portrait provides insight into his subject's eventful life and his equally eventful writing career. (Oct.)
Stevenson's own life reads like an adventure tale: a bad beginning as an only child, sickly and coddled; a bohemian youth spent in Edinburgh and France; a long struggle against tuberculosis; marriage to an American woman ten years his senior; and travels through America, Europe, and the South Seas. Although best known for his adventure tales ( Treasure Island , Kidnapped ), Stevenson is revealed as a serious writer of the Victorian era who dealt with moral choices and broke new ground with his conception of narrative style. In Stevenson's deep love of Scotland, Scottish journalist Bell finds the roots of Stevenson's sympathy with the people of the South Seas and their disappearing culture. In the Calvinism of Presbyterian Scotland, he finds the underlying obsession with evil, which led to the writing of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde . Bell has written a vivid and sensitive biography with a minimum of textual analysis. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-- Lesley Jorbin, Cleveland State Univ. Lib.
The year 1994 marks the centennial of the death of the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped, and Treasure Island. Bell rescues R.L.S. from the many conflicting and often romanticized images that surround him, and, in the process, makes a case for Stevenson's genius as a writer. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
There is a four-page list of works consulted at the end of this riveting new biography of Robert Louis Stevenson. Most of them are biographies, too, but it's highly unlikely that even a few are as exciting, as absorbing, as superlatively readable as this one. A journalist, not a literary scholar (although he expects you to already know who Ferguson and Rimbaud are and how Stevenson resembles them), Bell writes the oft-told life of the sickly Scotsman (who nevertheless became, besides a prolific writer, a famous adventurer and globe-trotter) with all the color and vivacity of a top-notch investigative reporter. Although he makes use of the Stevenson scholarship, Bell remembers that his first duty is to hold his readers' attention. So he limns not Stevenson's writings but his character and the characters of his family members, his American wife and stepchildren, and his most crucial friends and associates. He considers how these personalities meshed to create the atmosphere in which--and escaping from which--Stevenson traveled and wrote. But Bell is not carried away with psychologizing; rather, he responds in kind to his subject's great strength, which Stevenson said lay in the art of narrative rather than the art of fiction. Bell has written a genuine, thrilling, and resonant life story.