What did Robert Louis Stevenson read in early life?One of the strongest influences on Robert Louis Stevenson’s early life was his relationship with his nurse Alison Cunningham, who he later called ‘my second mother, my first wife’. ‘Cummy’ was a severe Calvinist, fiercely anti-Catholic, and a great upholder of the Covenanting tradition in Scotland. This aspect of Scottish culture was deeply independent, rejecting the hierarchies imposed by the Crown, with its own martyrs and a real fear of hell and witches. Stevenson as a child was a devout follower by day, but was frequently overcome with nightmares at night. Cummy read to Stevenson from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a history of Protestant martyrs under the reign of Mary Tudor, and Pilgrim’s Progress; he later dedicated to her A Child’s Garden of Verses.
How did Stevenson’s childhood reading influence his writing?
Stevenson was brought up in a culture which celebrated two distinct ideas of Scottishness: extremely puritan Calvinism, which he referred to fondly throughout his life, and the attractive Jacobite stories of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Stevenson was drawn to these opposing threads of Scottish cultural history, both rooted in struggle and suppression. The conflict between the two is fully expressed in Kidnapped, but various aspects appear in other works.
Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne is one of the texts Cummy read to the young Stevenson. It tells the story of a Scottish minister of the church who died at the age of 30 in 1843, by which time the Covenanters had been recognised as a major part of the history of the Church of Scotland.
The extract of the sermon by McCheyne serves as a warning to readers who might be tempted to stray from the paths of morality and Christian belief as directed by the writer.
‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’: duality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
- Article by:
- Greg Buzwell
- Fin de siècle, London, The Gothic
Curator Greg Buzwell considers duality in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, exploring how the novel engages with contemporary debates about evolution, degeneration, consciousness, homosexuality and criminal psychology.