Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

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Island 6: Sensation and Collaboration


Robert Louis Stevenson, 1887

John Singer Sargent's third portrait of Stevenson (and the second to survive) was commissioned by the Boston banker Charles Fairchild as a present for his wife. As with the previous two, this portrait shows Stevenson in the Skerryvore parlor, this time alone. Sargent's claim, made in a letter to Henry James in 1885, that Stevenson "seemed to me the most intense creature I had ever met," is evident in the author's luminous eyes and attenuated hands.

This portrait currently hangs in Cincinnati's Taft Museum.

The Body Snatcher
London, Pall Mall, 1884.

This short crime story first appeared in the Pall Mall's special Christmas "Extra" issue. The cover treatment is representative of the "shocker" market that stimulated Stevenson's imagination and his success in the mid-1880s.

More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter
London, Longmans, Green, 1885.

The stories in this volume originated as a series of tales Fanny told Louis during his illness in Hyères early in 1884. The thread connecting them exploited the contemporary fear of Irish Fenian terrorism. Though not originally intended for publication, the summer of 1884 saw the Stevensons in need of money, and The Dynamiter, which could be worked up quickly and with little strain upon Louis's fragile health, became the pot-boiler of the moment.

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
London, Longmans, Green, 1886.

Originally planned for serialization in Longman's Magazine, and written in less than ten weeks from first conception, this story was instead published separately and earned Stevenson a substantial royalty of one-sixth of the retail price on all copies sold, with an immediate advance for the first 10,000, and half of all proceeds from foreign sales; it won a rave review in The Times ("every connoisseur...must certainly read it twice...he works out the essential power of Evil") and sold 40,000 copies in the first six months. It touched a raw nerve in the late-Victorian imagination. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote to a friend, "You are certainly wrong about Hyde being overdrawn; my Hyde is worse." Vladimir Nabokov asserted in his Cornell lecture "that it was a fable belonging to the same order of art as...Madame Bovary."

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
New York, George Munro, Seaside Library Pocket Edition, 1886.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
New York, John W. Lovell Company, Lovell's Library, 1886.

These two paper-covered "dime novels" show the immediate popularity of Stevenson's novella on both sides of the Atlantic. The first American edition of Jekyll & Hyde was published by Scribner's three days before the first British edition was published by Longmans, and therefore should have enjoyed copyright. The pirates, though, enjoyed considerable profits with little risk.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
New York, Random House, 1929.

This 1929 edition includes a facsimile of the first page of Stevenson's autograph manuscript of the final chapter, Henry Jekyll's full statement of the case.

Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
London, The Folio Society, 1948.

The potential inherent in Stevenson's Jekyll & Hydehas attracted the attention of many distinguished illustrators. The illustrations of 1948 Folio Society edition are the work of Mervyn Peake (1911-1968). Peake, who illustrated Treasure Island in the following year, was a leading book-illustrator of the 1940's. In the following decade he was engrossed in the composition of the Titus trilogy (the novels Titus Groan, Ghormenmghast, and Titus alone), which may broadly, though inadequately, be termed "fantasy" novels. His career as an illustrator was effectively ended by the progress of Parkinson's disease. The sense of the macabre that permeates Peake's fiction is equally evident in his graphic art.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
New York, Limited Editions Club, 1952.

A mid-century Jekyll & Hyde published in quarto format, this edition's lithographs by John Mason Brown are a splendid example of the Victorian gothic revival of the 1950's.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, [1990].

This commercial edition of Jekyll & Hyde, introduced by Joyce Carol Oates, was illustrated and designed by Barry Moser, proprietor of the Pennyroyal Press, widely regarded as the leading modern American private press. Moser is a highly talented wood-engraver, with a fine eye for contrast and detail excellently suited to the illustrating of Stevenson's novella.

The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables
London, Chatto & Windus, 1887.

This collection of short fiction not only shows Stevenson's developing interest in the sensational but also features the first book-form publication of his powerful Scottish story "Thrawn Janet" (originally in theCornhill magazine, October 1881) and his Dostoevsky-like murder story, "Markheim" (originally in a Christmas anthology, The Broken Shaft, ed. Henry Norman, London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1886).

Prince Otto, a Romance
London, Chatto & Windus, 1885.

This fantasy-romance, set in an imaginary middle-European principality, involves the reconciliation of Otto and his estranged wife Princess Seraphina; it is dedicated to Fanny, who also helped with the book's revision, and its picture of court intrigue casts an interesting sidelight on the Stevensons' relations with their myriad acquaintances, relatives and hangers-on, as well as on Stevenson's relationship to Fanny herself.

The Wrong Box
London, Longmans, Green, 1889.

This collaborative novel was drafted by Lloyd Osbourne, Stevenson's stepson, and then revised by Stevenson. Its farcical plot, hinging on the inheritance of a "tontine" by the last survivor of twenty heirs, was the basis of the successful Peter Cook-Dudley Moore film in 1966.

The Wrecker
London, Cassell & Company, 1892.

This novel, written collaboratively, was originally serialized in Scribner's Magazine, August-July 1892, and then published in Britain from Scribner's sheets. It originated in the mysterious disappearance of the shipThe Wandering Minstrel in the South Seas in 1889. Following discussion, Lloyd Osbourne drafted each chapter and Stevenson rewrote it. Stevenson was much annoyed when The Wreckersold better than The Master of Ballantrae. The image, from the first edition's frontispiece, shows Carthew and Wicks just as Wicks is about to have his "accident." Stevenson was not happy with Willard Leroy Metcalf's illustrations:



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