cover image Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson

Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson

Claire Harman, . . HarperCollins, $29.95 (503pp) ISBN 978-0-06-620984-5

Harman, the skillful biographer of Fanny Burney and editor of Stevenson's poems, stories and essays, writes, "some things become less knowable about a subject the more data accrues around them." Stevenson's short life (1850–1894), plagued by ill health, took him from Edinburgh to California and finally to the South Seas, creating a romanticized reputation along the way. Celebrated as the accomplished essayist of Virginibus Puerisque and the bestselling author of Treasure Island and A Child's Garden of Verses , Stevenson frustrated his literary friends W.E. Henley and Sidney Colvin with a creative output that never produced their expected masterpiece. He also estranged them with his uxorious marriage to a strong-willed older American divorcée, Fanny Osbourne, whom Harman portrays sympathetically enough (especially the possibility of a failed pregnancy early in their relationship). Harman doesn't delve too deeply into the psychology of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 's author. In interpreting Stevenson the writer, she emphasizes his restless, multigenre dilettantism, which resulted in many false starts and incomplete plays, stories and novels. Stevenson's popularity as an author may always outstrip the biographical record, but this readable narrative of his kaleidoscopically colorful life helps narrow the gap. (Nov.)