“The air of Paris is alive with technical inspiration”
(RLS, “Fontainebleau”, in Across the Plains with Other Memories and Essays [London: Chatto and Windus, 1892], p. 117)
According to his stepson, “mentally [Stevenson] was half a Frenchman; in taste, habits, and prepossessions he was almost wholly French. Not only did he speak French admirably and read it like his mother-tongue, but he loved both country and people, and was really more at home in France than anywhere else”
(Lloyd Osbourne, “Introduction”, New Arabian Nights, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Tusitala edn, vol i [London: Heinemann, 1924], p. xx)
Paris itself held a particular fascination for RLS. Richard Ambrosini and Richard Dury described the draw that it had for both RLS and his cousin Bob:
“Edinburgh, late 1860s. Two young gentlemen, two cousins, their heads buzzing with ideas and artistic ambitions (one dreaming of becoming a painter, the other a writer), hang over North Bridge ‘watching the trains start southward and longing to start too’, the Walter Scott Monument a short way behind them, but their eyes fixed on the tracks leading South—not just to London, but also, and especially, to Paris”
(“Introduction”, European Stevenson, ed. by Richard Ambrosini and Richard Dury [Cambridge Scholars Publications, forthcoming December 2009].
Graham Balfour (RLS’s biographer and cousin) suggests that while places like Barbizon and Grez had a strong influence on RLS, “Paris provided more variety and more diversion. There Stevenson stayed, in all manner of lodgings, varying from Meurice’s Hotel (which was little to his liking) to students’ accommodation in the Quartier Latin, and scattered throughout a region extended from Montmartre on the north to Mont Parnasse on the south”
(Graham Balfour, The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson [London: Elibron Classics, 2005], p. 97).
A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1900 (1908) by Will H. Low (painter and close friend to RLS), will give you more information about RLS in Paris – the drinking, the flanerie, and the bohemian lifestyle that he cultivated there. RLS himself described Paris in his essay “Fontainebleau” (1884), later included in Across the Plains (1892).
Although Paris was an inspirational place for RLS, like London, it was also often a stopping-place en route to somewhere else.
On this page you will find more information about following in RLS’s footsteps in Paris. You will find a list of his fiction that was set in the city, as well as a listing of dates he was in the city and where he stayed.
Paris often figures in RLS’s fiction. In “The Story of a Lie” (1879), for example, Dick meets his lover’s father (a parasitic and false man) in Paris. In New Arabian Nights (1882) it is at a hotel in Paris where Silas Q Scuddamore finds a body in his room.
Paris is a site of temptation and ruin in “The Treasure of Franchard” (1883, later included in The Merry Men) for the unfortunate Desprez. In Catriona (1893), Catriona, David and Alan travel to Paris to consult with the chieftain about what to do with Catriona’s father.
In St Ives (1897) the eponymous hero is in Paris where he waits to hear from Flora (although this part of the story was supplied by Arthur Quiller-Couch rather than RLS himself).
Of all of these fictions, it is The Wrecker (1892) which gives the best indication of RLS’s own experiences of the city (and his visits to Fontainebleau and Barbizon). The novel describes the life of the student artist in Paris, and RLS even introduces himself and his cousin Bob into the story as the brothers Stennis.