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Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life in Stories

By John Sloan

Publication date: 1 February, 2018 ISBN: 9781999860509 Format: Paperback 256pp, 8pp illustrations RRP: £12.99 Order now>>

About Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life in Stories


Biography presents us with conflicting images of Robert Louis Stevenson: romantic bohemian and rebel; heroic invalid; abnormal personality whose clandestine double-life mirrored that of his Jekyll-and-Hyde creation.

John Sloan's new biography explores the relationship between the writer's life and his work to reveal how he came to be master of both the swashbuckling adventure story and the chilling literary thriller.

A literary celebrity in his own lifetime, Stevenson's colourful personal life and character have remained the subject of intrigue and speculation, some of it fuelled by the writer himself. Rumours that he had secret mistresses and fathered an illegitimate child have fed a popular belief that the creator of Jekyll and Hyde must himself have lived an extraordinary double life.

Making extensive use of new and unpublished material, this book pieces together the life and character of the writer - his childhood, student years, writing habits, restless travelling, close friendships and turbulent marriage.

Stevenson was an experimental and remarkably versatile writer, skilled in travel writing, essays and poetry as well as novels, and Sloan finds his personal story stamped across his work.

Born into a family of well-respected lighthouse engineers, Stevenson’s early childhood was spent in a middle-class Edinburgh household steeped in hellfire religion and plagued by illness and death. The book follows Stevenson’s touching but often troubled relationship with his parents into adulthood.

Drawing on letters and journals as well as Stevenson’s own student notebooks and book annotations, this biography depicts his time as a law student at Edinburgh University, forming close friendships, skipping lectures, regularly falling in love and visiting prostitutes. 

Surviving letters highlight the important role played by Stevenson’s close friends in his rise to literary success, particularly the poet William Ernest Henley, the literary critic Sidney Colvin and the American author Henry James.

Stevenson's wife Fanny Osbourne, an American 10 years his senior, is shown to have played a central role in his writing career. Fanny was not popular with Stevenson’s friends but the writer made it clear to them that he would choose her ‘over all else’. Despite the couple’s differences and dramas, the marriage endured until Stevenson’s death in Samoa on 3 December, 1894, aged 44.

Tensions between Stevenson’s wife and his friends outlived the author in a dispute over who should write his biography. Sloan's sensitive and illuminating new biography paints a detailed and distinctive picture of Stevenson which should settle the argument. 

Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life in Stories is published on 1 February, 2018, by Vesalius.


About the author

John Sloan was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and received his doctorate from the University of Oxford. He was Fellow and tutor in English at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, where he is now an Emeritus Fellow. His previous books include Oscar Wilde ('Authors in Context'); John Davidson: First of the Moderns, a Literary Biography; and Oscar Wilde, The Complete Short Stories (editor).

Book cover illustration by Sheila Boyle Sheila Boyle is an artist based in Central Scotland, tutoring art and design since graduating in 2009 (BA Design) from Forth Valley College. Boyle’s practice explores methods in drawing, printmaking and sculpture. The artwork for ‘A Life in Stories’ reflects elements of her most recent work, using line and shape: to create bold and colourful narratives evoking a sense of familiarity. The artwork for ‘A Life in Stories’ reflects elements of her most recent work, using line and shape: to create bold and colourful narratives evoking a sense of familiarity. www.sheilaboyle.com