Delving into soul of Robert Louis Stevenson, the real-life Dr Jekyll

ROBERT Louis Stevenson's secret life frequenting the brothels of Victorian Edinburgh is to be laid bare in a new biography being serialised on the internet.

• Robert Louis Stevenson Picture: TSPL

Lamplit, Vicious Fairy Land is named after a description of Edinburgh by the Scottish writer and will be published a few chapters a month on a university website.

The website, run by Napier University's Centre for Literature and Writing, is the world's most comprehensive online resource on the novelist.

Each month, sections of the book will be published on detailing the double life of the Scottish author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The book, by Jeremy Hodges, describes Stevenson's Edinburgh as a city whose obsession with religion and respectability was matched only by the drink and prostitution lurking beneath its surface.

Early chapters reveal the brothels and drinking dens where Stevenson spent much of his time, while his parents believed he was attending university lectures.

Mr Hodges, a writer who has been working with the university for a decade researching the book, said: "The girls whose company he enjoyed were the same 'fallen women' his father, a respected engineer, was trying to save at the Edinburgh Magdalene Asylum.

"His uncle David, meanwhile, supported the Scottish National Association for the Suppression of Licentiousness in its campaign against vice, including the banning of nude models at the city's School of Art."

The book tells how, despite proposing marriage to at least two young ladies, both of whom rejected him, Stevenson remained uneasy with the middle-class girls invited to his parents' dinner parties. Mr Hodges added: "He felt more at home with the girls in the bars and brothels, yet marrying one of them was out of the question.

"It was only after escaping from Edinburgh to France that he found love among the artists in the Forest of Fontainebleau, where he met the American woman who would divorce her faithless husband to marry him."

Stevenson's own books were initially serialised in magazines, building interest as a prelude to full publication.

Mr Hodges hopes he can follow in the footsteps of his subject and secure a book deal by serialising his own work online, chapter by chapter, over the next year.

He said: "The golden rule for a successful serial, as Charles Dickens once put it, is 'Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry . . . make 'em wait'. In Stevenson's life there was much laughter and quite a few tears, bearing in mind his numerous brushes with death before his untimely demise at 44. And that's what I've done my best to bring alive for the reader."The Stevenson website was developed by a team of Napier academics in collaboration with colleagues at Edinburgh and Stirling Universities, and has become an internationally renowned resource since its launch last year.

Professor Linda Dryden, creator and owner of the Stevenson website, said Mr Hodges would benefit from the thousands of hits the site receives every month.

"We are delighted to be publishing Jeremy's book," she said. "It is an engaging and moving account of Stevenson's life in Edinburgh and it is a real coup for us to have this opportunity."

Stevenson spent much of his formative life in Edinburgh, with Heriot Row being well known as the childhood home the author, and wrote much about the city.

Back to the top of the page