'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 8 October 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson: The Life Behind The Tales

I love discovering a new story about the life of a beloved author.

Robert Louis Stevenson: author of classics such as Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, prolific poet of the nineteenth century. Scottish gentleman, husband and step-father, a man of the community.

But did you know he spent his last years in the South Pacific?

Stevenson moved from his native Scotland to Samoa in 1890 in the search for a warmer climate. His health demanded such a move, as the freezing temperatures of his homeland were a nightmare to his weak lungs.

On a recent trip to Samoa, I was fortunate enough to visit Stevenson’s home on the island of Upolu. We took a guided tour around the well-maintained building now run as a museum and remembrance to Stevenson’s contribution to Samoa, and wandered through the huge gardens filled with colourful plants and flowers.

The Australian-designed house was well worth a visit. Taking years to build, and added onto with the arrival of more and more family members, it was filled with furniture shipped from Britain and America, much of which did not last due to Samoa’s humidity.

The most amusing aspect of the interior was the fireplace – perhaps the only one in Samoa! – built to make Stevenson feel at home. It was, of course, never used.

Stevenson spent just four years in Samoa, dying in 1894 in this house. But the influence he had over the people is clear to all.

In his time there, he became involved in the local politics and was a man well respected by the local communities, nicknamed ‘Tusitala’ (Samoan for ‘Teller of Tales’).

His writing room – where he wrote thirteen books in those four years – overlooked both the water and the nearby mountain, Mt Vaea, at the top of which he was buried. Stevenson was an extraordinary figure in history, still inspiring others.