Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Strange Case of Mr. Stevenson

[[W O R D S]] * Had he not long ago perished of a cerebral hemorrhage in Samoa, at age 44, today would mark the 155th birthday of author Robert Louis Stevenson, the man who gave the book-loving world Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and other literary classics. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850, Stevenson trained originally to become an engineer, like his father, but soon switched to the law, due to his poor health. (He’d contracted tuberculosis as a boy and remained sickly for life.) It was only in his 30s that he saw success as a writer, eventually publishing not only novels, but poetry, essays, and travelogues as well.

In honor of Stevenson’s birthday, I would like to refer you to a piece I wrote a few years back for the now late and much lamented Historic Traveler magazine. “Dare Everything,” as it’s titled, recalls Stevenson’s rashly romantic travels from Scotland to California in 1879, in order to see the love of his life, Fanny Osbourne, whom he would marry (after her divorce) in 1880. That trip not only brought him the satisfaction of diving back into Fanny’s arms, but also myriad adventures along the way and, eventually, the inspiration for his first major success, Treasure Island. For the next 14 years, the wordsmith and Fanny would remain together, eventually taking up residence in the South Pacific, where he died on December 3, 1894, leaving behind an unfinished novel called Weir of Hermiston.

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