The short life of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) was as adventurous as almost anything in his fiction: his travels, illness, struggles to become a writer, relationships with his volatile wife and step-family, friendships and quarrels have fascinated readers for over a century. In his time he was both engineer and aesthete, dutiful son and reckless lover, Scotsman and South Sea Islander, Covenanter and atheist. Stevenson's books, including 'Treasure Island', 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' and 'Kidnapped', have achieved world fame; others – The Master of Ballantrae, A Child's Garden of Verses, Travels with a Donkey – remain all-time favourites. His unique gift for storytelling and dramatic characterisation has meant that that some of his characters live in the consciousness even of those who have never read his work: Long John Silver, with his wooden leg and his parrot, is more real to most people than any historical pirate, while 'Jekyll and Hyde' has become a universally recognised term for a split personality.
No biography has yet done justice to the complex, brilliant and troubled man who was responsible for so many remarkable creations. His interest in psychology, genetics, technology and feminism anticipated the concerns of the next century, while his experiments in narrative technique inspired post-modern innovators such as Borges and Nabokov. Stevenson's recently collected correspondence shows him to have been the least 'Victorian' of Victorian writers, a man of humour, resilience and strongly unconventional views. With access to this and much previously unpublished material, Claire Harman, the acclaimed biographer of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Fanny Burney, has written the most authoritative, comprehensive and perceptive portrait of 'RLS' to date.