Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850. He was in poor health most of his life, mostly from respiratory troubles, and sicknesses during his childhood interfered with his schooling. However, he read a lot and developed a passion for literature.
From an early age, Stevenson yearned to be an author. He clung to this aspiration in spite of opposition from his parents, who wanted him to become an engineer. He entered Edinburgh University, studied engineering for three years, and then took up law, qualifying for the bar in 1875. But he was not really interested in either of these professions. His first and last love was literature, and while still in college, he began to contribute essays to the Cornhill Magazine and other periodicals.
In Stevenson's day, those with health problems were encouraged to travel to encounter better climates, and Stevenson, who was restless anyway, spent several years doing just that. His first two books, An Inland Voyage (1878) and Travels With a Donkey (1879), were based on his travels in Europe. In addition to travel books, Stevenson also wrote short stories, novels, and poems, and, despite his poor health, he was a prolific writer. New Arabian Nights appeared in 1882, followed by Treasure Island, the work that made him famous, in 1883. A Child's Garden of Verses, a still- popular collection of children's poems, appeared in 1885, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886. Many of his major works of fiction, such as Kidnapped (1886) and The Master of Ballantrae (1889) show clearly how much he enjoyed adventure and the physical pleasures of new places and new faces.
In 1876 in France, he met Fanny Osbourne, an American woman separated from her husband, and he moved to San Francisco to be with her in 1879. They married in 1880 and soon returned to Scotland. After spending several more years traveling, they eventually settled in Samoa, an island in the South Pacific, where he spent the last four years of his life. A Footnote to History (1892) and In the South Seas (1896) are based on his travels in the South Pacific. Stevenson was deeply enamored of and sympathetic to the islanders and won their love and respect. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on December 3, 1894.
LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION
Stevenson claimed that his works originated in or came to him almost wholly in dreams, as gifts from the "brownies," or fairies, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appears to be no exception. Said Stevenson of the genesis of the work:
"I had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man's double being which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature.... Then came one of those financial fluctuations to which (with an elegant modesty) I have hitherto referred in the third person. For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers. All the rest was made awake, and consciously, although I think I can trace in much of it the manner of my Brownies."
Over a period of three days, not wanting to lose the story, he reputedly wrote almost thirty thousand words without pausing.
The idea of a double life or personality had long haunted Stevenson. Eight years earlier, in collaboration with W. E. Henley, Stevenson had written the play, Deacon Brodie. It was a dramatization of the life of a man who, by day, was a respectable and eminent citizen of Edinburgh. But at night, dressed in an appropriate costume, he was a clever and audacious burglar. Other inspirations for the idea of the double life have, of course been suggested. C.H.E. Brookfield gives the reader the following version of the origin of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:
I was in [Stevenson's] company at the moment that he conceived the germ of the idea of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was inveighing against a man with whom he had done business and with whose methods he was dissatisfied. The man's name was Samuel Creggan, or something like it. "He receives you with Samuel's smile on his face, with the gesture of Samuel he invites you into a chair, with Samuel's eyes cast down in self depreciation he tells you how well-satisfied his clients have always been with his dealings; but every now and again you catch a glimpse of Creggan peeping out like a white ferret. Creggan is the real man. Samuel is only superficial."