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Dreams of Exile: Robert Louis Stevenson : A Biography Hardcover – Sep 1993


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Well-Rounded Portrait 9 Feb. 2007
By John R. Lindermuth - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
There have been many biographies of Robert Louis Stevenson. But, Ian Bell offers insight on aspects of the man and the writer missed or ignored by his contemporaries and those who chose to examine only one area of his life.

RLS is variously seen as a writer of adventure stories for the young, a skilled essayist, a poet, a frail genius fated to die young, to name a few. He was all of these and more. Bell provides in less than 300 pages a well-rounded portrait of the man, his life, his influences and his legacy.

One of the more interesting aspects explored is the variety of influences on Stevenson's writing and how they expanded under his imagination. As Bell points out early on in the book "Had he not been born in Edinburgh, he might have enjoyed better health; had he been healthier, he might not have traveled so much; had he not traveled, he would not have written as he did."

Born into a family that had risen from the soil to prosper as lighthouse engineers, he was much influenced by the environment in which he was raised and the principles held by his ancestors, including a dour Calvinism which provided the obsession with evil so evident in works like "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Many of his tales can be traced back to youthful fantasies stemming from ghost stories he heard from his nurse, Alison "Cummy" Cunningham.

Bell also explores the influence of his preference for older women which led to his marriage to the American divorcee Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne and his subsequent adoption of her family, which was often detrimental to his own best interests.

Lastly, there is the South Pacific where he found himself sympathizing with the native peoples and seeing similarities between their treatment by the so-called civilized nations and the way in which his native Scotland was treated by England.

Stevenson was only 44 when he died and, as Bell points out, barely into his maturity as an artist. What he might yet have achieved had he lived can only be surmised. But, this biography offers much reason to return once more to those books we read mainly for entertainment in our youth.
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