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Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson Hardcover – November 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066209846
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066209845
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,458,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* There are many Stevenson biographies, recently including Philip Callow's Louis (2001), Frank McLynn's Robert Louis Stevenson (1994), and Ian Bell's Dreams of Exile (1993). Do we need another? In the view of the biographer of Sylvia Townsend Warner (1995) and Fanny Burney (2001), yes, for exiled Scot and quintessential storyteller Stevenson has been underappreciated. He was, she says, an influential thinker often wildly ahead of his time. So she offers a deeply nuanced portrait of an amazingly complex figure. As she notes, Stevenson was an iconoclast and one of the least "Victorian" of Victorian authors. His interest in psychology anticipated the psychology craze of the twentieth century. Moreover, the form of writing he preferred--the short story and the novella--gained in popularity only after he died. Much of what Harman writes about will be familiar to anyone knowledgeable about Stevenson's life and work, but she offers her own interpretations. She is especially interested in Stevenson's preoccupation with the "double," the collaboration of his conscious and unconscious selves. Meticulously researched and well written, Harman's book presents Stevenson as both artist and man: brilliant and quirky, frail and indestructible, likable and exasperating, forever the outcast. One suspects that RLS, a thoroughly modern figure caught in the time warp of the wrong century, would have flourished in our own day. Myself & the Other Fellow is a worthy addition to the Stevenson canon. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By o dubhthaigh VINE VOICE on July 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
RLS was born lucky, and inspite of his early demise, died lucky as well. That point comes through repeatedly in this well crafted and well researched account of an author who seemed more to happen upon his craft than cultivate it. You come away from this book that until the very last part of his life, what RLS was cultivating was a network of enablers who would molly coddle his feints of affliction. There's enough material here to keep a team of shrinks busy for decades, but essentially, through his father's generosity and vicarious desires to be something other than a member of the family firm, and his mother's indulgent mothering, RLS would have died quick had he not been heir to remarkable fortunes that kept him, if not always in high style, at least kept him going.

And yet, there was this other side of him that sought his own mark in the world, be it standing in as father to his wife's children, taking up the cause of indigenous peoples, exploring the vulnerability of psyches quite like his own. I found RLS to be an engaging character and an intriguing champion in the last 5 or 6 years of his life. He is credited in this book with arriving at the split personality crucible years before Freud copped on, at cultivating realism and post-modern fiction before even modernism had arrived, and yet he will be in the minds of most of us, always the author of Treasure Island. I must say that I have re-read KIDNAPPED with a very different interest after reading the analyses Harmon effects.

It's also clear that RLS was trapped by TI and even by the Hollywoodization of Jeckyll & Hyde - it isn't what Spencer Tracey would have you believe. RLS was also among the first celebrities who was victimized by the press and papparazzi, pirated by bootleggers (odd, eh?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Harrison Diamond on August 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When choosing a book to read this summer, I felt it would be a welcome change from the usual weighty novels I have chosen historically to select an intense nonfiction work. Perusing some recent acquisitions, I selected this book because I wished to learn more about Robert Louis Stevenson as a person. I set out to find out about the person behind the famous Treasure Island and the creator of the characters Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Claire Harman managed to craft an extremely comprehensive and dense biography of this complex man that not only tracked his life achievements and the basics of his youth, education, work experience, and so forth, but was able to delve into his family history and how it affected him. Harman makes very extensive use of primary source material, be it letters or Stevenson's own published writings. At times this is extensive almost to a fault- once or twice I wanted to see fewer quotations, supplemented by more of her writing. Apart from the occasional over-reliance on quotes, the only problem I had at first was her use of a number of different terms for RLS, in a family possessing several members with some components of his name for theirs.

The biographer analyzes how this writing reflects his personality and the events of his life, and speculates as to the inspirations for several of his characters. I was particularly interested when she highlighted some parallels between his own personal thoughts, fears, and dreams, and what later ended up in some of his more famous works.

She did not, however, simply spend time on his writings and letters, but was sure to dig into his personal relationships, friendships, and even loves and how they affected him.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stuart W. Mirsky on August 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I picked this one up because I was interested in Stevenson, the writer, yet I didn't find enough of that here. Claire Harman gives us a rather dry, albeit highly detailed, account of Stevenson's short life which fails to deliver a definitive picture of the man, his activities or his work. Over and over again I found myself wrestling with the text, worrying my way through her almost abstract speculations about the events and people of his career but never getting a sense of the man himself. Too often in her narrative, Harman theorizes on how things might have been without delivering a definitive picture and thereby leaves the reader high and dry amidst her almost abstract speculations. Nor is the Stevenson she gives us a particularly attractive fellow (though that, presumably, is no fault of hers). He comes across as spoiled, petulant and unfocused as he may well have been. But the most glaring gap here has to do with his works. We never get a feel for the man's writing, something which a biography of a writer ought to provide in abundance. In the end, Stevenson remains something of a shadow and his work almost disconnected from the life he lived. I wanted more and didn't find it here, though it has a good bit of information about some of the minutiae of the writer's life so it's not a total loss. But I couldn't help wishing for more when I finally put the book aside after the final page.

author of The King of Vinland's Saga
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More About the Author

Claire Harman is the award-winning author of three major literary biographies, Sylvia Townsend Warner (1989), Fanny Burney (2000), Robert Louis Stevenson (2005) and of Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Comquered the World (2009), a biographical study of Jane Austen's enduring appeal. She is the editor of Sylvia Townsend Warner's poems and diaries and of stories and essays by Robert Louis Stevenson, among other works. She writes regularly for the literary press on both sides of the Atlantic and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2006.