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MonkeyNotes Study Guide for Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson-Book Notes
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850, to a well-to-do family. Both his father and grandfather were distinguished lighthouse engineers.

As a child, he fell frequently ill and was confined to bed most of the time. This resulted in his developing an interest in reading; he especially enjoyed the old legends of Scotland, history books, and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. At the age of fifteen, he privately printed his first book, a small one dealing with a seventeenth-century episode in Scottish history. At the age of seventeen, Stevenson entered Edinburgh University to train as a civil engineer, like his father and grandfather. As part of his education, he visited many lighthouses in remote parts of Scotland, and this experience "fed his appetite for the kind of scenery that calls out for appropriate action". It also gave him an intimate knowledge of Scotland. He portrays these personal experiences and familiar scenes in the novel, Kidnapped. David lands on the Island of Erraid after his fall into the sea; during his university years, Stevenson had spent three months on this island.

Stevenson abandoned engineering to study law. Although he was not interested in the pursuit of a legal career, he managed to obtain a law degree in 1875 and was called to the Scottish Bar. His real interest, however, was in writing, and he began publishing his stories and essays after completing law school. His first book, An Inland Voyage, was published in 1878 and tells about a canoe trip that he took through France and Belgium. His devout parents were distressed by their son's bohemian life style, his animosity towards bourgeois hypocrisy, his views on religion, and his rebellious attitude.


In order to nurse his ongoing respiratory illness, Stevenson spent an increasing amount of time on the continent. During his travels in 1976, he met Mrs. Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, a married woman several years his senior. He fell in love with her and courted her for two years. In 1880, despite his poor health and limited resources, he married her. His father, who was at first against the relationship, became reconciled to the situation and offered them financial support. The couple then sailed home to Scotland.

Stevenson made a number of literary friends both in Edinburgh and London. With W.E. Henley, the poet, writer and editor, he collaborated on several plays. Most of his first literary efforts, however, were non-fiction prose in the form of essays and travelogs. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879) describes his walking tour through France, and The Silverado Squatters (1883) tells of his stay in a miner's shack in the mountains with Fanny.

Treasure Island, which was published in 1883, was written by Stevenson for his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne. Two years later he wrote A Child's Garden of Verses, based on his visit to Bournemouth. In 1886, two important novels were published. Kidnapped was an exciting "escape and pursuit" novel, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde developed "his life long preoccupation with the co-existence of good and evil in the human personality."

In spite of a recuperative stay in Switzerland, Stevenson's health deteriorated steadily. When he returned home to the Scottish Highlands, he fell ill with a lung hemorrhage; as a result, the Stevensons moved to England. In 1887, after the death of his father, he sailed for America with his family. During their stay in the Adirondack Mountains, Stevenson started writing The Master of Ballantrae, which he completed during a long voyage to the South Seas. The book was published in 1889.

The Stevensons eventually settled in Samoa, where the author could relax and recuperate. The family bought an estate named Valima, and Stevenson devoted himself to writing. His long short story, The Beach at Falesa, and his novel, Catriona, (1893) were published during this time. His last novel, Weir of Hermiston, remained incomplete because of his sudden death on December 13, 1894. In the midst of a conversation with his wife, he fell unconscious and died that same evening. Honoring his previous request, Stevenson was buried on a hilltop overlooking his home and the sea, the backdrop of many of his novels.

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