IT WILL be Scotland’s answer to Bloomsday, the date in June when Dubliners take to the streets to commemorate James Joyce’s most famous novel Ulysses.
Now fans of Robert Louis Stevenson are being invited to set aside their own day to celebrate one of the country’s best-known literary sons.
RLS Day, as it has been dubbed, will take place on 13 November, Stevenson’s birthday. Organisers of the event are urging supporters to dress up as their hero, complete with velvet jacket and moustache, tour landmarks associated with the writer and attend readings of his work.
The initiative is part of a drive to capitalise on Edinburgh’s Unesco World City of Literature status, which was granted in 2004 but has come under fire for failing to generate ideas to attract visitors.
Among those taking part in RLS Day are actors Nigel Planer and John Sessions, both self-confessed Stevenson fans, who will be examining what made the writer tick. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery will host a complete reading of one of his best-known works, Treasure Island, and an event at the City Art Centre will be showcasing his photographic tours of the Pacific.
Yesterday, Sessions, the Ayrshire-born comic and actor, said: “We all know about the merriness of Dickens but there was always something manic about his jolliness. Stevenson was different. There’s a wholesomeness to Stevenson’s humour in all its mischief and devilment. Dickens was really a stranger to joy in the way that Stevenson, to my mind, certainly wasn’t.”
On 13 November, Stevenson quotes will be scrawled on the city’s pavements, a pop-up theatre will perform his work and a fancy dress “tache mob” will be held. Other events will look into Stevenson’s likely inspiration for The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, walking tours that will take fans around some of his favourite haunts and a collection of Stevenson memorabilia on show at the Writers’ Museum.
Stevenson’s former home at Heriot Row in the New Town – which is privately owned – will be opened to the public for a special event celebrating how the writer duped large sections of Edinburgh high society in the late 19th century by posing as a fictional writer Mr Libbel.
RLS Day takes its inspiration from Bloomsday, an annual event on 16 June which was first staged in 1954. Dubliners re-enact Joyce’s novel, which charts the story of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom. The Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, which is organising the Edinburgh event, hopes that its event can become as much of a fixture.
Stevenson’s association with Edinburgh – he was born in the city in 1850 – was key to the success of Edinburgh’s bid to win City of Literature status.
Ali Bowden, director of the City of Literature Trust, said: “We love Robert Louis Stevenson in our City of Literature, from his writing and the many shenanigans he got up to in his life to his marvellous moustache and his penchant for velvet.
“RLS Day is our way of raising a glass to one of Edinburgh’s most famous sons and keeping his spirit alive.
“Edinburgh keeps Robert Louis Stevenson in its heart and mind all year round: he’s remembered on plaques and in bookshops; in St Giles’ Cathedral and in Princes Street Gardens, reading lists and cinema screens. But it’s lovely to have an excuse to throw a party in his honour.”
Edinburgh Napier University, which has a vast Stevenson archive, is also supporting RLS Day, by hosting the event with Sessions and Planer.
Linda Dryden, director of the university’s centre for literature and writing, said: “This is going to be a chance for the whole city to celebrate its most famous writer through theatre, book readings, literary chat and physical expressions of the spirit of the author of Jekyll And Hyde and Treasure Island.
“During the day our acting students will be popping up around the city with vignettes from Jekyll And Hyde and Treasure Island, and handing out postcards and badges to celebrate Stevenson. We really hope that as many people as possible will join in the fun and help us to bring Stevenson back to the literary prominence that he so deserves.”
Edinburgh Napier University has made extensive efforts to bring together Stevenson collections from around the world to create an online database, robert-louis-stevenson.org. Its archive includes family portraits of the writer, photographs taken during his travels, poetry extracts, children’s books and his travel writing.
Stevenson was born in a small stone house at Howard Place in Edinburgh in 1850, the only son of a prosperous civil engineer, Thomas Stevenson, who was joint-engineer to the Board of Northern Lighthouses. The young Stevenson was expected to follow in the family business and he enrolled on an engineering degree course at Edinburgh University in 1867. He later switched to law, but after one case he decided to become a writer.
In 1894, Stevenson, who had been plagued by ill health since childhood, died from a haemorrhage in Samoa, where he had moved with his wife Fanny. He was 44.