For all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s achievements in fiction, many of his contemporaries thought of him primarily as an essayist. His essays, known for their intellectual substance, emotional force, and stylistic vitality, were widely considered the best of their time. Despite the importance of Stevenson’s nonfiction, his personal essays—70 in total—have never been printed together in a single volume until now.
Stevenson’s essays explore a range of topics from illness and evolution to marriage and dreams, and from literal and literary travel to the behavior of children and the character of dogs. Grappling with many of the cultural, ethical, and existential questions of his age, he resists dogma to draw fresh conclusions. Stevenson examines beggars and university students, immigrants and engineers, invalids and nurses, outlining his own colorful life story and unique approach to "the art of living" along the way.
Whereas the most common and widely available versions of these texts were modified after Stevenson’s death, this volume gathers his personal essays, many of which have never appeared in any modern edition, in their authorized versions. These essays are still considered classic models of the form, and in this volume, the Editor presents them alongside an introduction and notes to assist in a rereading and reappreciation that is long overdue.
Table of Contents
A Note on the Text and Annotations
From Virginibus Puerisque and Other Papers
From Memories and Portraits
From Across the Plains with other Memories and Essays
Uncollected Published Essays
Unpublished and Early Essays
Trenton B. Olsen is Associate Professor of English at Brigham Young University–Idaho, USA. He is the author of Wordsworth and Evolution in Victorian Literature: Entangled Influence (2019).
"What a joy to get this complete edition of Stevenson's personal essays! In addition to the great ones all aficionados of the form know and love, there are many treats which show the freedom and flow of this master essayist's prose, as well as the capaciousness of his interests. Thanks to the intrepid digging and skillful assemblage of editor Trenton Olsen, lovers of belles lettres are enriched by this long-overdue and much appreciated collection."
—Phillip Lopate, Editor of The Art of the Personal Essay and The Contemporary American Essay
"What Stevenson said of Montaigne, that he ‘retained, after death, the art of making friends,’ applies equally to himself in these personal essays. As we read them, we find ourselves in the presence of a person of charm: playful, intelligent, and a masterful weaver of words. In his world view, ethical choices are always important, yet his non-dogmatic tolerance and ironic detachment give his essays the ‘lightness’ that was praised by Italo Calvino. The present important collection gathers together all his personal essays published in three lifetime volumes together with uncollected essays in texts newly transcribed. Read them: they will contemporaneously stimulate thought and give pleasure."
—Richard Dury, General Editor of The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson
"For decades I’ve wanted this book to exist: all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s essays in one place, with helpful notes to round out my understanding, and Trenton B. Olsen has graciously done the gathering and noting, including nearly three dozen previously uncollected or unpublished works. In reading Stevenson’s essays we resurrect a noble friend who teaches and inspires, opening us to ideas and experiences we hadn’t considered, showing us goodness and light and a generous eternal spirit."
—Patrick Madden, Editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction and After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays
"It only takes a reading of the essay "On Falling in Love" to fall in love with the essayist. Robert Louis Stevenson is still alive and offering up his wry insights in these pages. It is a cause for celebration that we have all of his personal essays gathered together in this volume."
—Nancy Horan, Author of Under the Wide and Starry Sky