Friday, 12 July 2013

Did Robert Louis Stevenson spend time in Tahiti?

I have been asked if Robert Louis Stevenson, author famed for ‘Treasure Island’ amongst many other novels and short stories, really lived on a Pacific island and was it Tahiti or some other island in the French Polynesia group. An answer comes from “Weir of Hermiston, Stevenson's very Scottish romance, was written when Stevenson was far away on the other side of the world. His decision to sail around the Pacific in 1888, living on various islands for short periods, then setting off again (all the time collecting material for an anthropological and historical work on the South Seas which was never fully completed), was another turning point in his life. In 1889 he and his extended family arrived at the port of Apia in the Samoan islands and they decided to build a house and settle. This choice brought him health, distance from the distractions of literary circles, and went towards the creation of his mature literary persona: the traveller, the exile, very aware of the harsh sides of life but also celebrating the joy in his own skill as a weaver of words and teller of tales. It also acted as a new stimulus to his imagination. He wrote about the Pacific islands in several of his later works.” By contrast, ‘Treasure Island’ was written because: “Another fortuitous turning-point in Stevenson’s life had occurred when on holiday in Scotland in the summer of 1881. The cold rainy weather forced the family to amuse themselves indoors, and one day Stevenson and his twelve-year-old stepson, Lloyd, drew, coloured and annotated the map of an imaginary "Treasure Island". The map stimulated Stevenson’s imagination and, "On a chill September morning, by the cheek of a brisk fire" he began to write a story based on it as an entertainment for the rest of the family. Treasure Island (published in book form in 1883) marks the beginning of his popularity and his career as a profitable writer, it was his first volume-length fictional narrative, and the first of his writings "for children"(or rather, the first of writings manipulating the genres associated with children).” But did Stevenson get to Tahiti. Yes he did and more. On June 27th 1888, in San Francisco, Stevenson joined the ship Casco which departed for a cruise of the Pacific islands, including the Marquesas, the Paumotus and Tahiti. The cruise lasted until 24 January 1889 when it finished in Honolulu. The year before he sailed, Stevenson had his portrait painted by Singer Sargent: Stevenson travelled with his wife Fanny. The following photo includes both with two islanders on Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas.

No comments: