Robert Louis Stevenson Biography

Robert Louis Stevenson, one of the masters of the Victorian adventure story, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 13, 1850. He was often sick as a child, and respiratory troubles plagued him throughout his life. He enrolled at Edinburgh University at the age of seventeen with the intention to study engineering, but ended up studying law instead. He became a qualified lawyer but did not pursue the profession, choosing instead to become a full-time writer. As a young man, he traveled through Europe, leading a bohemian lifestyle and penning his first two books, both travel narratives. Stevenson felt constrained by the strict social norms of the Victorian era during which he lived, and many of his works demonstrate a sharp tension between upstanding duty and reckless abandon.

In 1876, he met Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, and fell in love with her. At thirty-six, she was more than ten years older than he, and, furthermore, she had also been previously married and had two small children. Stevenson fell deeply in love with Osbourne. Two years later, he followed her as she returned to California to finalize her divorce, a journey he described in The Amateur Emigrant (1879). Stevenson and Osbourne married in California and spent their honeymoon at an abandoned silver mine.

Stevenson returned to London with his bride and wrote prolifically over the next decade, in spite of his poor health. Stevenson published many short stories and books over the early part of his life, but his first taste of real success came in 1883 with the publication of Treasure Island, a pirate-themed adventure novel originally published serially in Young Folks magazine. The magazine also published Kidnapped in 1886, the year that also saw the publication of Stevenson's most famous novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It sold 40,000 copies in six months, and ensured Stevenson’s fame as a writer.

By the late 1880s, Stevenson had become one of the leading lights of English literature. But even after garnering fame, he led a somewhat troubled life. He traveled often, seeking to find a climate more amenable to the tuberculosis that haunted his later days. In 1888, a doctor advised Stevenson to move to a warmer climate for his health. Stevenson and his family set sail for the South Seas, arriving in Samoa and taking up residence there in 1889. There, he died suddenly in 1894, at the age of forty-four.

Robert Louis Stevenson Study Guides

Robert Louis Stevenson Quotes

Travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

A friend is a gift you give yourself.

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.

No man is useless while he has a friend.

Robert Louis Stevenson Novels

Treasure Island

Published 1883

Prince Otto

Published 1885

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Published 1886


Published 1886

The Black Arro A Tale of Two Roses

Published 1888

The Master of Ballantrae

Published 1889


Published 1893

Robert Louis Stevenson Short Stories

New Arabian Nights

Published 1882

More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter

Published 1885

The Merry Men and Other Fables

Published 1887

Island Nights’ Entertainments

Published 1893


Published 1896