Author(s): Claire Harman
The short life of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) was as adventurous as almost anything in his fiction: his travels, illness, struggles to become a writer, relationships with his volatile wife and step-family, friendships and quarrels have fascinated readers for over a century. In his time he was both engineer and aesthete, dutiful son and reckless lover, Scotsman and South Sea Islander, Covenanter and atheist. Stevenson's books, including Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Kidnapped, have achieved world fame; others The Master of Ballantrae, A Child's Garden of Verses, Travels with a Donkey remain all-time favourites. His unique gift for storytelling and dramatic characterisation has meant that that some of his characters live in the consciousness even of those who have never read his work: Long John Silver, with his wooden leg and his parrot, is more real to most people than any historical pirate, while 'Jekyll and Hyde' has become a universally recognised term for a split personality.
No biography has yet done justice to the complex, brilliant and troubled man who was responsible for so many remarkable creations. His interest in psychology, genetics, technology and feminism anticipated the concerns of the next century, while his experiments in narrative technique inspired post-modern innovators such as Borges and Nabokov. Stevenson's recently collected correspondence shows him to have been the least 'Victorian' of Victorian writers, a man of humour, resilience and strongly unconventional views. With access to this and much previously unpublished material, Claire Harman, the acclaimed biographer of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Fanny Burney, has written the most authoritative, comprehensive and perceptive portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson to date. First published 2005.
'Rich and colourful ... Harman's book is a delight from beginning to end' John Carey, Sunday Times 'Excellent...RLS has never been portrayed with such diligence and care...her portraits of Stevenson's nearest and dearest are also unsurpassed' Independent on Sunday 'Cool, ironic and often funny ... appreciative, extremely subtle ... lively accessible ... compelling' Financial Times 'A smoothly assembled and readable study which confirms Stevenson as a writer of the first importance' The Independent 'vivid and engaging ... Stevenson emerges from her pages as a vital, courageous, contrary and exhilarating figure' TLS 'A highly readable account that alters the usual perspective, setting Stevenson in a wider cultural environment' The Scotsman
Claire Harman's first book, a biography of the writer Sylvia Townsend Warner, won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 1990, and her second, Fanny Burney: A Biography was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award. She has edited Warner's poems and diaries, as well as works by Robert Louis Stevenson, and writes regularly for the literary press. Since 2003 she has been teaching a course in biography at Columbia University and lives in New York City and Oxford.