Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

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Island 2: Travel Writing


An Inland Voyage
London, C. Kegan Paul, 1878.

Stevenson's first regularly-published book is a graceful account of a canoe-trip he had made in 1876 in Belgium and Northern France with Sir Walter Grindlay Simpson (the "Cigarette" to Stevenson's "Arethusa"). The relative proportions of Pan and the canoers he is watching, in the engraved frontispiece by Walter Crane, indicate the self-consciously artful tone of the narrative that follows. TheVanity Fair reviewer commented, "the making of bricks without straw is weariness of the flesh...he may yet prove a brickmaker."

Fanny Osbourne

Just prior to leaving on his canoe trip, Stevenson met a married American woman and mother of three, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Though ten years apart in age, the two became friends and, eventually, more. By 1877 the two had become romantically involved, though knowledge of this was limited to a close circle of friends. Marriage was discussed, but her existing marriage and his parents' tacit disapproval made for a difficult situation. This photograph, believed to have been taken in 1876, shows Fanny as she looked around the time she first met Stevenson.

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
London, C. Kegan Paul, 1879.

Stevenson's second travel narrative (and third book) was a 227-page memoir of his 12-day walking tour with his long-suffering donkey, Modestine, through the Cévennes of France's Massif Central in 1878. The journey occured immediately after Fanny returned to the United States, and Stevenson's hopes for marriage seemed over. The frontispiece, again by Walter Crane, shows Stevenson smoking in his specially-made sheepskin open-air sleeping bag. "What a thing it is to be young," commented Fraser's Magazine, "to be super-refined, to load a donkey with all one's belongings...this is the last whim of exquisite youth."

The Amateur Emigrant, with Some First Impressions of America
Edited by Roger G. Swearingen
Ashland, Lewis Osborne, 1976.

In August 1879, Stevenson sailed from Greenock, Scotland, for America in hopes of persuading Fanny Osbourne to marry him. Though he considered the voyage a romantic adventure, Stevenson's friends were opposed to it on the grounds that it would affect his fragile health and further alienate him from his parents (who thought him in London). He travelled in second class, better than steerage but still uncomfortable enough. Part of Stevenson's account of the voyage was set in type in 1880 but withdrawn at his father's suggestion. An abridged version of his Atlantic crossing appeared as part of the posthumoustly published Edinburgh Edition.

Across the Plains, with Other Memories and Essays
London, Chatto & Windus, 1892.

Having arrived in New York, Stevenson found himself in a miserable crush of emigrants forced to wait days for an overcrowded train heading west. Once aboard, sleep was all but impossible, and, by the time he reached Wyoming, Stevenson's health was starting to break down. Part of this impressionistic account of his journey was published inLongman's Magazine in 1883, but it did not appear as a separate volume until 1892, by which time Stevenson's literary reputation was sufficient to make any book with his name on the cover profitable.

The Silverado Squatters
London, Chatto & Windus, 1883.

Fanny's divorce was finalized in December 1879, and on May 19 of the next year she and Stevenson married in San Francisco. Soon thereafter they took up residence at an abandoned mine called Silverado, on the slopes of Mt. St. Helena, well away from the damp fogs of the city, remaining there till the end of June. This rewritten journal-account first appeared in two installments in theCentury Illustrated Monthly Magazine (November-December 1883). The image here, which was the frontispiece of the first edition, shows Fanny and Louis in the bunks of their Silverado cabin. The woodcut was designed by Joe Strong, Fanny's son-in-law.


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