Portrayals of RLS in Fiction, Film and Poetry

Portrayals in prose fiction

Barrie, J. M. (1925). In Masson, Rosaline (1925). I Can Remember Robert Louis Stevenson. 2nd Edition. Edinburgh/London: Chambers.
[imaginary meeting with RLS “one snowy afternoon” in Edinburgh]
Büssing, Sabine (1998). Leuchtturm im Dschungel. Roman über das Leben des Schriftstellers Robert Louis Stevenson. [Lighthouse in the Jungle. Novel about the life of Robert Louis Stevensoni.] Berlin: Verlag Frieling & Partner.
[“Robert Louis Stevenson, one of the most contradictory figures in literary history, is at the centre of this novel. Suffering from lung disease, he creates his own magic realm on Samoa, where he is honoured and loved as mage. With his wit, irony and inventive imagination he able to conquer the hearts of everyone. The situation alters dramatically when it turns out that the ruler of Vailima will remain a prisoner of his own kingdom for the rest of his life. Reality and literature gradually begin to merge as the creator of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde seems increasingly every day to assume the characteristics of his own creations.”]

Capus, Alex (2005). Reisen im Licht der Sterne. [Journeys by the Light of the Stars. A Conjecture] München: Knaus.
[A readable combination of biography, tangential stories and freewheeling “conjecture” centred on Stevenson”s life in Samoa. Of interest in showing how Stevenson”s life has become the basis of further narratives, biographical and fictional.]
Estleman, Loren D. (1979). Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes. New York: Doubleday.
[ Ch. 20 “Advice for Mr Stevenson”: some time after Holmes has solved the Hyde case, he is visited by Stevenson, who plans to write up the affair as a case history; Holmes persuades him to present it as “a thriller which will captivate the world”, to omit the names of Holmes and Watson, and to pretend that he dreamt the story]

Hesse, Hermann (1927). “A Journey with Stevenson”. Frankfurter Zeitung (11 Sept 1927). Repr. in The Living Age: A Weekly Magazine of Contemporary Literature and Thought (Nov. 1 1927): 812-4
[short story]

Kiausch, Usch (1998). “Eine Zeile von Stevenson” [A Line by Stevenson]. In Jeschke, Wolfgang (ed.) (1998). Die Vergangenheit der Zukunft [The Past of the Future; anthology of international science fiction stories]. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag.
[A series of people see a mysterious female figure, with a striking resemblance to princess Kaiulani of Hawaii, on the scene of troubling and uncanny events that seem linked to the Hawaiian movement for independence and autonomy. A parallel text in italics comments on the historical Kaiulani, her life, early death and brief acquaintance with Stevenson. The “line by Stevenson” is “Her islands here, in southern sun  / Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone” which appears as part of the epigraph and is also quoted inside the final section of italicized text, which closes with: “Tusitala, put me in a story with a happy ending. Who am I? The future of a memory. The memory of a memory. A line by Stevenson.”]

London, Jack (1911). “The Seed of McCoy” in South Sea Tales.
[A character says “The currents are always changing. There was a man who wrote books. I forget his name, in the yacht Casco. He missed Takaroa by thirty miles and fetched Tikei, all because of he shifting currents”.]
Manguel, Alberto (2000). Stevenson sob as Palmeiras. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras. English transl. Stevenson under the Palm Trees. A Novella. Toronto: Thomas Allen & Sons (2003).Also Edinburgh: Canongate (2004).
[ A short (98 pp.) imaginary biographical episode: Stevenson meets a newly arrived missionary called Baker, wearing a hat similar to his own; he subsequently attends a local feast where he admires a teenage girl, who is later found raped and murdered; a hat like Stevenson’s is found at the scene of the crime and he becomes a suspect in the murder and in a later case of arson, which results in further deaths. The reader is never sure whether Baker is the culprit or if Baker is a figment of Stevenson’s imagination or a manifestation of his personality. The text is also (as befits the author of A History of Reading) a meditation on life and art, somewhat in the manner of Antonio Skarmets” Il postino. “It is above all the story of an man who has lived well, who knows he is going to die and yet does not submit himself to his fate. A story told with great elegance and simplicity” (Réginald Martel, www.Cyberpresse.ca, 23 sept. 2001. “A superb tale which performs the marriage of Eros with Thanatos and with fiction understood as direct product of desire”]

Mari, Michele (1997). “Otto scrittori”. In Tu, sanguinosa infanzia. Milano: Mondadori.
[In this fictional autobiographical essay the young Mari, who originally thinks of Conrad, Defoe, London, Melville, Poe, Salgari, Stevenson and Verne as one writer, begins to suspect that one among them talks of sea adventures with a less authentic voice. The writers – sailing together with the writer – are abandoned one by one – the writers themselves taking part in the debate, as in Dante’s Commedia. First Verne is abandoned, then Defoe, Salgari, London, Poe, Conrad, then Stevenson, leaving Melville]

McLaughlin, Donal (2008). “Not Just for Exercise” and “Louis & Fanny”. Journal of Stevenson Studies 5: 78-87 and 88-97.
[McLaughlin”s two months in Grez as Stevenson Award-winner with impressions of life lived, and things seen and shared in this artists” colony. “My last ten minutes are spent down by the river… Grez has been very special.” Followed by “Louis & Fanny” a poetic fictionalized evocation of the day in Grez when RLS and Fanny became lovers, centred on the river (RLS gazes at it: “the images, inverted, intrigue him”).]
Meredith, George (1895). The Amazing Marriage. London: Constable.
[in the early chapters Gower Woodseer is modelled on the youthful RLS]

Nakajima Atsushi (1942). Hikari-to-Kaze-to-Yume. Transl. Akira Miwa: Light, Wind, and Dreams; An Interpretation of the Life and Mind of Robert Louis Stevenson. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press (1962, rev. ed. 1965).
[novel based on the life of Stevenson on Samoa; the author sees Stevenson as having a similar ethical stance to himself. See Ochner, Nobuko Miyama (1989). “Robert Louis Stevenson through a Japanese Eye: Image in Light, Wind, and Dreams.” In Cornelia Moore and Raymond A. Moody (eds.). Comparative Literature East and West: Traditions and Trends. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989. xv, 58-64]

Reouvain, René (1982). Elémentaire, mon cher Holmes. Paris: Denoël (Sueurs Froides).
[originally published under the pseudonym of “Albert Davidson”; the “Prologue (1885)” (14 pp) tells the story of the writing of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as a fictional narrative with dialogues; the rest of the novel is an ingenious Holmsian pastiche of embedded narratives linking together historical characters (famous murderers, Conan Doyle, Doyle”s secretary, Dr Joseph Bell) by means of a transmitted text: the terrible first version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which we learn was not burnt after all. We also learn that Jack the Ripper was…]

Schädlich, Hans Joachim (2007). Vorbei. Drei Erzählungen. [Gone. Three stories] München: Knaus. Berlin: Rowohlt.
[mixes fact and fiction in three tales of the death of artists narrated in a laconic yet fascinating documentary style: “Tusitala”, “Torniamo a Roma” and “Concert spirituel”. “Torniamo a Roma” deals with the murder of Johann Joachim Winckelmann in Triest (1768), “Concert spirituel” with the composer Antonio Rosetti”s death at Ludwigslust (1792). In “Tusitala” (the first and longest of the three) Dr Andrew Clark in 1893 decides to charter a ship to visit RLS in Samoa along with P.G. Hammerton (editor of the Portfolio), Bob Stevenson, Charles Baxter and Cummy. (Clark would have liked to bring Mr Utterson along too, who we learn “had previously (due to Louis) been involved in an unpleasant story”). The narrative is mainly of the long voyage and the interactions and frustrations of the passengers, especially the strong-minded Cummy. Like us, the characters are possibly partly-aware of a fantastic dimension to events, because the chartered ship is none other than the Arend from Roggeveen”s 1721 exploratory voyage into the South Seas and under the same Captain Koster and one other member of the crew… After a long voyage, they eventually reach Samoa, to find (on the last page) that RLS has just died. The book was awarded Germany’s most important literary prize in 2007]

Steinbeck, John (1941). “How Edith McGillcuddy Met R.L.S.”. Harpers Magazine (Aug.) : 252-258. Also How Edith McGillcuddy Met R.L.S. San Francisco: Rowfant Club (1941); also (ed. Kiyoshi Nakayama). Uncollected Stories. Tokyo: Nan’un-do (1986).
[Edith McGillcuddy, aged 12, skipped Sunday School and went on a train from Salinas to Monterey to attend a “Free Funeral”. She wandered around Monterey, and met Robert Louis Stevenson. She sold him a basket of huckleberries and joined him for a cup of tea. Written 1933/4 and based on an anecdote that Steinbeck knew from his childhood, told by a family friend, Edith Wagner (née Gilfilan)]

Stern, G. B. (1948). No Son of Mine. New York: Macmillan.

[a somewhat disreputable young man believes–or wishes to profit by persuading others to believe–that he is the illegitimate son of Robert Louis Stevenson. By the end of the novel neither the reader nor the main character is certain of the truth. Stevenson does not actually appear in the novel, except by reference; there are lengthy quotations from his published letters and other sources, and a portrait appears as the frontispiece and another part of the way through the text]

Tabucchi Antonio (1992). “Il Sogno di Robert Louis Stevenson, scrittore e viaggiatore”. In Sogni di sogni. Palermo: Sellerio. Eng. transl. In Dreams of Dreams: And, the Last Three Days of Fernando Pessoa. City Lights Books (2000).
[Stevenson dreams of sailing through the air to a South Sea island where, in a cavern, he finds a book with his name on it which he takes to the top of the mountain to read]

Welsh, Louise (2004). “Robert Louis Stevenson” (The Dead Interview). Zembla magazine (spring/summer 2004): 58-64.
[from a series of imaginary interviews with writers briefly returning to life. RLS back from the grave steers his way around questions from novelist Louise Welsh.]


James, Henry (1889). “The Liar”.
[a caricature of Fanny Stevenson]

Portrayals of in films

1948 Adventures in Silverado
Director: Phil Karlson Production: Columbia Cast: Adgar Barrier (Stevenson)
[includes Stevenson as a character in a Western story “suggested by a few paragraphs in chapter two”, N]

[c.1970 Heather on Fire (BBC Scotland) (N); dramatization in which S appears as a character; more information required]

See also Biographical documentary films which often contain representations of Stevenson voiced or portrayed on-screen by an actor.

Portrayals, praise and references in poetry

H = Hammerton, J.A. (1910). Stevensoniana. Edinburgh: Grant.
Davidson, John (1894). “Softly the Stars shall Shower Their Dewy Brilliances”
[on Stevenson’s death]
Gentry, Parma (1897). “Robert Louis Stevenson”. In Overland Monthly [San Francisco] 30, 180 (Dec. 1897): 652.
Gosse, Edmund. “R.L.S.: An Early Portrait”. In The Island of the Blest (1885). London: Heinemann.
[Begins “But one there was, the stripling of our crew”; Quoted in Colvin, Sidney (1924). Robert Louis Stevenson: His Work And Personality. London: Hodder & Stoughton, pp. 51-2]
Gosse, Edmund. “To Tusitala in Vailima”. In Russet and Silver (1894).
[Begins “Now the skies are pure above you, Tusitala”; sent to Stevenson in a letter, arriving three days before his death; read at his funeral by Lloyd Osbourne; H 92-4]
Henley, W.E.. “Apparition”. A Book of Verses (1888).
[H 132]
Howard, David (2014). The Speak House. A Poem in Fifty-Seven Pentastichs on the Final Hours in the Life of Robert Louis Stevenson. Lyttelton, NZ: Cold Hub Press.
[‘impressions that might have occurred in the final two hours of Robert Louis Stevenson’s life, either just before or just after he lost consciousness’]
Hubbard, Tom. “Leith Walk Variation on R.L.S.” (1992). Cyphers [Dublin] 36 (Summer 1992). Repr. Scottish Faust (Newtyle, Co Angus, Scotland: Kettillonia, 2004): 22.
[The poem grows out of David Balfour”s encounter with the spae-wife sitting by the gibbet in Catriona, and sessions in the pub nearest the site, one of my watering holes in the early 90s” (Tom Hubbard). The last line alludes to a line from chapter 3 of Catriona: “and there”s the shadow of the wuddy [gallows], joe, that lies braid across your path”.]
Johnson, Lionel. “To R.L.S.”.
[Probably written 1895 in Johnson’s copy of Vailima Letters (now in the Lasner Collection, Delaware Univ.) – where it has the title “Imagined”; later printed in various editions of Johnson’s poems]
Lang, Andrew (1894). “To Robert Louis Stevenson, with Kirk”s “Secret Commonwealth”, and “Ballant o” Ballantrae–To Robert Louis Stevenson”. In Ban and Arriere Ban–A Rally of Fugitive Rhymes. London: Longmans.
Le Gallienne, Richard (1895). “Robert Louis Stevenson”. In Robert Louis Stevenson : an Elegy, and Other Poems Mainly Personal. London: John Lane; Boston: Copeland & Day.
Nicholl, William Robertson. “Home from the Hill”. Blackwood’s Magazine (Feb. 1895). Repr. in Chesterton, G.K. and William Robertson Nicoll (1902). Robert Louis Stevenson. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Riley, James Whitcomb. “On a Youthful Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson”.
[H 275]
Robertson, James (2001). “Kidnapped” in Stirling Sonnets. Kingskettle, Fife.
[Seventeen sonnets plus notes, one about Stevenson and Stirling (“Kidnapped”) and one with a Stevenson epigraph (“I shall never forget some of the days at the Bridge of Allan. They were one golden dream”)]
Scobie, Stephen (2009). RLS: At the World’s End. Victoria (BC, Canada): Ekstasis Editions. 978-1-897430-32-3.
[A poem-sequence by Scobie, award-winning Canadian poet “which charts an imagined course through Stevenson’s writings and travels. Scobie, himself a Scot living abroad, presents an extended dialogue between his own, contemporary voice and a poetic image of RLS: forever seeking a treasure island, forever longing to return home, living and dying at the world’s end” (publisher’s presentation). Jenni Calder writes: “The poems catch an authentic RLS voice, and explore with sensitivity and some humour some of the tensions and contradictions of Stevenson’s life, while also entering the life of some of his characters”. ]
Smith, Frederic. “A Paraphrase”, “To R.L.S.”, “R.L.S: On Reading ‘Travels with a Donkey'”.
[Appendix II in Jens Christian Bay (1920). Echoes of Robert Louis Stevenson. Chicago Walter M. Hills.]
V.V. “To Prospero in Samoa”. The Bookman May 1892.
[H 274-5]
Watson, William. “Written in a Copy of Mr. Stevenson’s “Catriona””. Odes and Other Poems (1894).
[H 276]
Wilson, Robert Burns. “To Robert Louis Stevenson”. The Critic (New York) Sept. 17 1887.
[H 274]