Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)


• Family→ middle class Scottish family, clashes with his father.
• Religion→ Presbyterian-Calvinistic doctrine. His childhood is remembered for his strict, religious upbringing: terrors, nightmares, fears of death, sense of guilty.
• Study→ He was in part tutored at home, then he began to study natural sciences but abandoned them and studied law. Then started to devote himself to literature.
• Journeys→ France, Italy, Germany, USA, a cruise to the South Sea (Samoa): in search of a warm climate.
• Health→ He soon began to suffer respiratory illness (tuberculosis and continuous Haemorrhages).
• Love→ He married Fanny Osbourne, and American lady separated by her husband : his parents didn’t accept this marriage.

Features and Themes

• Novel as evasion from everyday life into adventure.
• He was a bohemian writer rejecting his parents’ religion and bourgeois respectability.
• He was a detailed writer.
• He was against realism and naturalism. He considered aesthetic awareness (the goal of the artist)
• The conflict between Good and Evil: The double.
• Psychological narrative→ he wrote psychological novels rejecting fears and doubts of his age in an endlessly open allegory.
• He was influenced by the Gothic Novel.
• Exoticism→ he used the fashion of exoticism (Treasure Land)
• His masterpiece had an oniric origin.
• The passage from adolescence to manhood.
• He inherited the Scottish Presbyterian believe in predestination.
• Narrator on 1st person→ One character spearing in 1st person, no omniscient narrator.
• Interaction between setting and characters.
• He wrote thrillers in the fashion of the time. He was influenced by the Detective stories of Conan Doyle (“Sherlock Holmes”)
• He was influenced by the Darwin’s studies.
• Calvinistic oppression with sin.


• Treasure Island.
• The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde→ Dr Jekyll is a respected London physician. He studies on the theory according to which a man has 2 physical beings corresponding to the 2 personalities. He starts experimenting with drugs and he finds a dose that transforms him in a repulsive and violent person called Hyde and another dose that allows him to return to his previous condition. As Hyde he shows the evil side of his personality and he kills Sir Danvers Carew, as Jekyll he live his normal life, horrified by Hyde’s actions. One day he becomes Hyde without the use of drug, when he realized that he had no control over the dark side of his personality, he poisons himself. Only in the end the truth is revealed with 2 letters: one written by Dr. Lanyon, Jekyll’s rival scientist, one written by Jekyll himself and found by Utterson, his friend.
- Influenced by Flaubert.
- Genesis: one night he had a nightmare in which he saw a man, in a laboratory, who, after had swallowed a drug, turns himself into a different being. When he awoke, he tried to write down this dream and he created a “Terror story”. But after his wife suggested to him to write a story with an ethical message so he re-wrote it completely.
- Critic to the Victorian male-oriented society.
- Symbolism:
• Names→ Stevenson studied the name of his protagonists. Jekyll came from the Anglo-Saxon word “Je kill”, Hyde suggests something secret.
• Door→ Jekyll’s house has 2 doors: a front door opening on a respectable square and a back door full of cracks which is a connection with the unconscious and hell.
• House→ the front is typically Victorian and respectable, the back is sinister and without windows, symbolized the duality of the protagonist.
• Weather→ fog, cloudy sky and night conveyed a sense on real and symbolical darkness.
• Mirror→ symbol of dualism.
- Themes:
• Ethical theme→ it’s dangerous to indulge in sin as it may master may.
• Double→ Stevenson was obsessed with the fear of losing his own personality and he analyzed the problem of men’s double nature in his works, interpreted sometimes by 2 characters (a good one opposed to a bad one) or by only 1 character. The Doppelganger literature developed only in 19th cent because the Enlightenment stated that all that was “non-reason” (folly, irrationality..) was outside ourselves, while only with the Romanticism was discovered that the “non-reason” was within ourselves.
• Evil→ connected to the theme of the double.
• Kidnapped.
• The Black Arrow.
• The master of Ballantrae.

Respectable façade.
Beautiful aspect
Possibility to follow bad instinct and to evil without spoiling reputation (because it’s Hyde who acts).
Irregular, shameful and criminal habits do not alter physical appearance (because it’s the portrait that changes)
Mirror where Jekyll discovers the aspect of Hyde→ his evil soul.
Picture reflects Dorian’s evil soul.
Likes his other self but feels remorse for the murder.
He is fashinated by his own image but feels disgust contemplating the image of his evil soul.