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What sort of man?

P.N. Furbank, 18 August 1994

The Letters of Robert LouisStevenson. Vol. I: 1854-April 1874 
edited by Bradford Booth and Ernest Mehew.
Yale, 525 pp., £29.95, July 1994, 0 300 05183 2
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The Letters of Robert LouisStevenson. Vol. II: April 1874-July 1879 
edited by Bradford Booth and Ernest Mehew.
Yale, 352 pp., £29.95, July 1994, 0 300 06021 1
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... According to Stevenson’s wishes, his letters were first presented to the public by his friend, the art historian Sidney Colvin. Colvin, described by Stevenson as a ‘difficult, shut up, noble fellow’, did the job reasonably conscientiously. He was, however, an arch-bowdleriser, using, as he said, ‘the editorial privilege of omission without scruple where I thought it desirable’ and painstakingly altering the novelist’s ‘bloody’ to ‘beastly’, his ‘constipation’ to ‘indigestion’ and his ‘God grant’ to ‘I only hope ...


Andrew O’Hagan: The Bournemouth Set, 21 May 2020

... RobertLouis Stevenson was always ill, that’s what people said, and in the late summer of 1884 he decided he wouldn’t return to the South of France, where he’d spent the past year and a half in a house called La Solitude. His wife, Fanny, sought the advice of his London doctors, who recommended Davos in the Swiss mountains as being cholera-free, but Stevenson fancied southern England ...

In His Hot Head

Andrew O’Hagan: Robert LouisStevenson, 17 February 2005

Robert LouisStevensonA Biography 
by Claire Harman.
HarperCollins, 503 pp., £25, February 2005, 0 00 711321 8
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... shipwreck, showmanship, early death – also bring to mind the life and career of Robert LouisStevenson, another Scottish writer who looked at human adventure as a brand of metaphysics. Nowadays, people with a heart for proper adventure (or ‘extreme sports’) like to load themselves with equipment ...

Two Poems

Gavin Ewart, 17 March 1988

... there is nothing Scottish about any of them. Percy Scholes, The Oxford Companion to Music Like Robert LouisStevenson living in Samoa, like George MacBeth living in Sheffield, like Ian Brady living in Greater Manchester, I am a Scotsman living in exile; my father was the first of the family to fly South – my ...


Andrew O’Hagan: Stevenson in Edinburgh, 4 January 2024

... Castle – a nightly feast in August as the military tattoo concludes its parade. In his boyhood, Robert LouisStevenson would sometimes be surprised while walking in the New Town to ‘see a perspective of a mile or more of falling street, and beyond that woods and villas, and a blue arm of sea, and the hills upon the ...


Robert Taubman, 5 August 1982

by John Barth.
Secker, 366 pp., £7.50, July 1982, 0 436 03675 4
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Distant Relations 
by Carlos Fuentes.
Secker, 225 pp., £7.95, July 1982, 0 436 16764 6
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Keepers of the House 
by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Cape, 183 pp., £6.95, July 1982, 0 224 02001 3
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An Old Song 
by Robert LouisStevenson.
Wilfion Books, 102 pp., £5.95, June 1982, 0 905075 12 9
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... that has become a ruling obsession, and turned into a lifelong game of Bezique. A change in R. L. Stevenson’s reputation has come about since such masters of modern fantasy as Borges and Calvino have acknowledged him as a forerunner. I find their high regard for him a bit strange, as if based, as in the notorious case of the French view of Edgar Allan ...

Kids Gone Rotten

Matthew Bevis: ‘Treasure Island’, 25 October 2012

Treasure Island 
by Robert LouisStevenson, edited by John Sutherland.
Broadview, 261 pp., £10.95, December 2011, 978 1 55111 409 5
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Silver: Return to Treasure Island 
by Andrew Motion.
Cape, 404 pp., £12.99, March 2012, 978 0 224 09119 0
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Treasure Island!!! 
by Sara Levine.
Tonga, 172 pp., £10.99, January 2012, 978 1 60945 061 8
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... John Singer Sargent’s ‘Robert LouisStevenson and His Wife’ (1885). The first return to Treasure Island was made by Robert LouisStevenson himself. Fourteen years after the novel was published, Longman’s Magazine published ‘The Persons of the Tale’, in which Captain Smollett and Long John Silver step out of the narrative after the 32nd chapter to have a chat ‘in an open place not far from the story ...


John Sutherland, 3 December 1992

Robert LouisStevensonDreams of Exile 
by Ian Bell.
Mainstream, 295 pp., £14.99, November 1992, 1 85158 457 9
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... Ian Bell protests his disqualifications as a biographer rather too much: ‘I have approached Stevenson in the most unscholarly way. I am a journalist, and do not pretend to be anything else.’ But Bell, as he is at pains to point out, is a Scottish journalist and it is through the privilege of shared race and place of origin that he claims a blood-intimacy denied scholars ...


Robert Macfarlane: The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher, 4 April 2002

The Mulberry Empire 
by Philip Hensher.
Flamingo, 560 pp., £17.99, April 2002, 0 00 711226 2
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... pleasure: narcotic, sexual, fiscal – it has not been a particularly auspicious one either. For Robert LouisStevenson, literary impersonation wasn’t only an essential tutelary tool but also a way for mature authors to widen their range. Out of imitation, Stevenson felt, could ...

Blessed, Beastly Place

Douglas Dunn, 5 March 1981

Precipitous City 
by Trevor Royle.
Mainstream, 210 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 906391 09 1
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RLS: A Life Study 
by Jenni Calder.
Hamish Hamilton, 362 pp., £9.95, June 1980, 0 241 10374 6
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by J. MacDougall Hay.
Canongate, 450 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 903937 79 4
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Scottish Satirical Verse 
edited by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 236 pp., £6.95, June 1980, 0 85635 183 0
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Collected Poems 
by Robert Garioch.
Carcanet, 208 pp., £3.95, July 1980, 0 85635 316 7
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... still rich in hints of the life savoured by its great authors, from Dunbar to Norman MacCaig and Robert Garioch. The heyday of its literary, cultural and philosophic life lasted for a hundred years to the death of Scott and left its mark on Europe and America. An ancient city, a capital, with authors of all kinds, from Gavin Douglas to James Boswell to Annie ...

By an Unknown Writer

Patrick Parrinder, 25 January 1996

Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories 
by Italo Calvino, translated by Tim Parks.
Cape, 276 pp., £15.99, November 1995, 0 224 03732 3
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... reminder of primitive and innocent reading experiences. Something very similar was aimed at by Robert LouisStevenson, and in Our Ancestors Calvino has a beautiful description of the Stevensonian romance: ‘To him, writing meant translating an invisible text containing the quintessential fascination of all ...

In a Tuft of Thistle

Robert Crawford: Borges is Coming, 16 December 2021

Borges and Me: An Encounter 
by Jay Parini.
Canongate, 299 pp., £14.99, August, 978 1 83885 022 7
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... is the story of a woman who travels to Norway with thirty sex-starved sailors and a man called Stevenson – who may be based on Borges, who admired Robert LouisStevenson. Williamson presents Borges’s visit to St Andrews as a coming to terms with his early lost love.The New ...

Sex Sex Sex

Mark Kishlansky: Charles II, 27 May 2010

A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 580 pp., £25, October 2009, 978 0 571 21733 5
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... by the Brontës, Dickens and Thackeray and nearly everything that he could find associated with Robert LouisStevenson. He also had a number of trophy items like Shakespeare’s First Folio (though copies of the Folio were not so hard to find: his contemporary Henry Folger collected 79). In 1912 the Wideners visited ...

Dialect with Army and Navy

David Wheatley: Douglas Dunn and Politovsky, 21 June 2001

The Donkey’s Ears: Politovsky’s Letters Home 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 176 pp., £7.99, May 2000, 0 571 20426 0
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The Year's Afternoon 
by Douglas Dunn.
Faber, 81 pp., £7.99, October 2000, 0 571 20427 9
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... from The Year’s Afternoon, presents an altogether more benevolent vision of life at sea, as Robert LouisStevenson launches Dunn on the ‘Seven Seas’ pollutionless stretches that wander for miles and miles’. The ending is unblushingly nostalgic: ‘Ah, Stevenson, your ...

On the Shelf

Tom Crewe, 13 April 2023

... finds his father again in strange circumstances. The scene was once famous, at that high noon when Robert LouisStevenson thought Meredith second only to Shakespeare. Roy has become a sort of court jester for a German margravine and – to cut a long story short – has agreed to pose as a newly erected equestrian ...

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