lunedì 26 novembre 2012

Close encounters with Mark Twain

Close encounters with Mark Twain
In Rudyard Kipling, says Craig Brown, Twain found an admirer. In Helen Keller, he felt the presence of God
American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.
American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. Photo: Rischgitz/Getty Images
IN 1889, RUDYARD KIPLING is 23 years old, though he looks closer to 40. He arrives in San Francisco on May 28, after a 20-day voyage from Japan. He is greedy for life. He witnesses a gunfight in Chinatown, lands a 12-pound salmon in Oregon, meets cowboys in Montana, is appalled by Chicago, and falls in love with his future wife in Beaver, north Pennsylvania.
Before he leaves the United States, he is determined to meet his hero, Mark Twain. He goes on a wild-goose chase—to Buffalo, then Toronto, then Boston—before tracking him down to Elmira, N.Y., in June, where a policeman tells him he spotted Twain, "or someone very like him," driving a buggy through town the day before. "He lives out yonder at East Hill, three miles from here."
At East Hill, he is informed that Twain is downtown, at the home of his brother-in-law, Gen. Charles J. Langdon. He finds the house and rings the doorbell, but then has second thoughts. "It occurred to me for the first time that Mark Twain might possibly have other engagements than the entertainment of escaped lunatics from India."
He is led into a big, dark drawing room. There, in a huge chair, he finds the 53-year-old author of Tom Sawyer with "a mane of grizzled hair, a brown mustache covering a mouth as delicate as a woman's, a strong, square hand shaking mine, and the slowest, calmest, levelest voice in all the world…I was shaking his hand. I was smoking his cigar, and I was hearing him talk—this man I had learned to love and admire 14,000 miles away."
Kipling is transfixed. "That was a moment to be remembered; the landing of a 12-pound salmon was nothing to it. I had hooked Mark Twain, and he was treating me as though under certain circumstances I might be an equal."
The two men discuss the difficulties of copyright before moving on to Twain's work. "Growing bold, and feeling that I had a few hundred thousand folk at my back, I demanded whether Tom Sawyer married Judge Thatcher's daughter and whether we were ever going to hear of Tom Sawyer as a man."

Twain gets up, fills his pipe, and paces the room in his bedroom slippers. "I haven't decided. I have a notion of writing the sequel to Tom Sawyer in two ways. In one I would make him rise to great honor and go to Congress, and in the other I should hang him. Then the friends and enemies of the book could take their choice."
Kipling raises a voice of protest: To him, Tom Sawyer is real.
"Oh, he is real," says Twain. "He's all the boys that I have known or recollect; but that would be a good way of ending the book, because, when you come to think of it, neither religion, training, nor education avails anything against the force of circumstances that drive a man. Suppose we took the next four and 20 years of Tom Sawyer's life, and gave a little joggle to the circumstances that controlled him. He would, logically and according to the joggle, turn out a rip or an angel."
Twain laughs. They move on to autobiography. "I believe it is impossible for a man to tell the truth about himself or to avoid impressing the reader with the truth about himself," Twain says. "I made an experiment once. I got a friend of mine—a man painfully given to speak the truth on all occasions, a man who wouldn't dream of telling a lie—and I made him write his autobiography for his own amusement and mine…good, honest man that he was, in every single detail of his life that I knew about he turned out, on paper, a formidable liar. He could not help himself."
TWAIN TALKS OF the books he likes to read. "I never cared for fiction or storybooks. What I like to read about are facts and statistics of any kind. If they are only facts about the raising of radishes, they interest me. Just now, for instance, before you came in, I was reading an article about mathematics. Perfectly pure mathematics. My own knowledge of mathematics stops at 12 times 12, but I enjoyed that article immensely. I didn't understand a word of it; but facts, or what a man believes to be facts, are always delightful."
After two hours, the interview comes to an end. The great man, who never minds talking, assures his disciple that he has not interrupted him in the least.
Seventeen years on, Rudyard Kipling is world famous. Twain grows nostalgic for the time he spent in his company. "I believe that he knew more than any person I had met before, and he knew I knew less than any person he had met before.… When he was gone, Mr. Langdon wanted to know about my visitor. I said, 'He is a stranger to me but is a most remarkable man—and I am the other one. Between us, we cover all knowledge; he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest.'"
Twain, now age 70, is addicted to Kipling's works. He rereads Kim every year, "and in this way I go back to India without fatigue.… I am not acquainted with my own books, but I know Kipling's books. They never grow pale to me; they keep their color; they are always fresh."
The worshipped has become the worshipper.
AS HELEN KELLER'S carriage draws up between the huge granite pillars of Mark Twain's house in Stormfield, Conn., the most venerable author in America is there to greet her, though she can neither see him nor hear him. Her companion Annie Sullivan—her eyes and ears—tells Helen that he is all in white, his beautiful white hair glistening in the afternoon sunshine "like the snow spray on gray stones."
It is February 1909. Twain and Keller first met 15 years ago, when he was 58 and she was just 14. Struck deaf and blind by meningitis at the age of 18 months, Helen had, through sheer force of will, discovered a way to communicate: She finds out what people are saying by placing her fingers on their lips, throat, and nose, or by having Annie transpose it onto the palm of her hand in letters of the alphabet.
Taken up as a prodigy by the great and the good, she formed a special friendship with Twain. "The instant I clasped his hand in mine, I knew that he was my friend. He made me laugh and feel thoroughly happy by telling some good stories, which I read from his lips.… He knew with keen and sure intuition many things about me and how it felt to be blind and not to keep up with the swift ones—things that others learned slowly or not at all. He never embarrassed me by saying how terrible it is not to see, or how dull life must be, lived always in the dark."
Unlike other people, Twain never patronized her. "He never made me feel that my opinions were worthless, as so many people do. He knew that we do not think with eyes and ears, and that our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses. He kept me always in mind while he talked, and he treated me like a competent human being. That is why I loved him."
For his part, Twain is in awe. "She is fellow to Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Homer, Shakespeare, and the rest of the immortals. She will be as famous a thousand years from now as she is today." Shortly after their first meeting, Twain formed a circle to fund her education at Radcliffe College, which led to her publishing an autobiography at the age of 22, which in turn led her to become almost as celebrated as Twain himself.
But the intervening years have struck Twain some heavy blows. One of his daughters, Susy, has died of meningitis, another of an epileptic fit in a bathtub, and his wife, Livy, has died of heart disease. Throughout Helen's stay he acts his familiar bluff, entertaining old self, but she senses the deep sadness within.
"There was about him the air of one who had suffered greatly. Whenever I touched his face, his expression was sad, even when he was telling a funny story. He smiled, not with the mouth but with his mind—a gesture of the soul rather than of the face."
BUT FOR THE moment, he welcomes them into the house for tea and buttered toast by the fire. Then he shows them around. They go upstairs to see his bedroom. "Try to picture, Helen, what we are seeing out of these windows. We are high up on a snow-covered hill. Beyond are dense spruce and fir woods, other snow-clad hills, and stone walls intersecting the landscape everywhere, and, over all, the white wizardry of winter. It is a delight, this wild, free, fir-scented place."
He shows the two women to their suite. On the mantelpiece there is a card telling burglars where to find everything of value. There has recently been a burglary, Twain explains, and this notice will ensure that any future intruders do not bother to disturb him.
Over dinner, Twain holds forth, "his talk fragrant with tobacco and flamboyant with profanity." 
Dinner comes to an end, but "his talk continues around the fire," says Helen. "He seemed to have absorbed all America into himself. The great Mississippi River seemed forever flowing, flowing through his speech, through the shadowless white sands of thought. His voice seemed to say, like the river, 'Why hurry? Eternity is long; the ocean can wait.'"
Before Helen leaves Stormfield, Twain is more solemn. "I am very lonely, sometimes, when I sit by the fire after my friends have departed. My thoughts trail away into the past. I think of Livy and Susy and I seem to be fumbling in the dark folds of confused dreams."
As she says goodbye, Helen wonders if they will ever meet again. Once more, her intuition proves right. Twain dies the following year. Some time later, Helen returns to where the old house once stood; it has burned down, with only a charred chimney still standing. She turns her unseeing eyes to the view he once described to her, and at that moment feels someone coming toward her. "I reached out, and a red geranium blossom met my touch. The leaves of the plant were covered with ashes, and even the sturdy stalk had been partly broken off by a chip of falling plaster. But there was the bright flower smiling at me out of the ashes. I thought it said to me, 'Please don't grieve.'"
She plants the geranium in a sunny corner of her garden. "It always seems to say the same thing to me, 'Please don't grieve.' But I grieve, nevertheless."

From Hello Goodbye Hello, by Craig Brown. ©2011 by Craig Brown. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

domenica 25 novembre 2012

Author Jeremy Hodges Claims Robert Louis Stevenson Died From Syphilis

The new biography of the famous novelist and poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, is a testament to the fact that the disease can cause death after a period of a few years.

 The Scottish Daily Record, which is an online news source, uploaded an article about the world famous Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson. The article stated, “A NEW biography of Robert Louis Stevenson claims that the writer died at just 44 after catching syphilis from an Edinburgh prostitute.”
Robert Louis Stevenson is well known around the world because of his works like Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is one of the few authors whose novels have been translated into many different languages around the globe. It has been common belief till now that the author died at the age of 44 due to Tuberculosis. However, his new biography written by James Hodges challenges that and states he died from Syphilis instead.
Hodges, in his book, claims that the author contracted the sexually transmitted disease at the age of 22 from a prostitute in Edinburgh. He died 22 years later when the disease reached its last stage. The proof lies in the letter that he’d written to his friend and financial agent, Charles Baxter, and in the excerpts from his mother’s diary. “That walk down Queen Street has made a fine sore of my burning and here I am,” is a sentence from the letter to Baxter which may be pointing out where he had met the prostitute.

sabato 4 giugno 2011

Rare Robert Louis Stevenson letter could fetch £8,000


By George Mair

A "LOST" letter from Robert Louis Stevenson to the English-born governor of Fiji, who had threatened to deport the Scot from his Samoan home, is set to fetch thousands of pounds at auction next week.

The Treasure Island novelist wrote the recently rediscovered letter on 27 December, 1893, a year before his death at the age of 44.

An internationally known literary figure, he had settled in the South Seas in search of a climate more suited to his delicate health than that of his native Edinburgh.

He became embroiled in local politics, and championed the cause of the people of the Western Pacific against European exploitation and administrative incompetence.

In 1892, Stevenson fired off a series of satirical letters to the Times newspaper, causing diplomatic problems for Sir John Thurston, the governor of Fiji and high commissioner for the Western Pacific, who even threatened to deport him.

Sir John, one of the founders of modern Fiji, later offered an olive branch and invited the writer to stay with him in Fiji. In reply, Stevenson elegantly buried the hatchet and reciprocated the invitation to stay.

But the two men never met, as Stevenson died from a suspected brain haemorrhage in early December 1894.

The Scot's letter to Sir John is to be sold by an anonymous collector at Bonhams' sale of printed books and manuscripts in London on Tuesday and is expected to fetch up to £8,000.

Bonhams spokesman Andrew Currie said yesterday: "Though the dispute between the two men is well documented, this remarkable letter was previously unknown, and does not appear in any of the collections of Stevenson's letters.

"This letter effectively buries the hatchet between Stevenson and Sir John, whose instincts about the welfare of the Pacific islanders were very similar but who got on the wrong side of each other when Stevenson's well-intentioned interference threatened to derail Sir John's carefully constructed diplomatic position."

Stevenson addressed his letter to "His Excellency, Sir John Bates Thurston, KCMG Fiji" and clearly sought to make amends.

He wrote: "It appears we are both equally satisfied with the new text of the ordnance; and that we may congratulate each other on the end of our momentary opposition".

He also extends an invitation to Sir John to visit him at Vailima, his home on Samoa, adding: "I shall not fail to avail myself of your kind offer, should I visit Fiji; and per contra, I press your cordiality to make use of my house should you return to Samoa.

"I believe you could enjoy as much comfort there as anywhere, and I know we can afford you better air."

The lot includes an 1894 letter to Sir John from Stevenson in which he introduces his cousin Graham Balfour and compliments the governor on his "successful government of Fiji".

sabato 14 maggio 2011

Rare Edward Ardizzone illustrations of Huckleberry Finn rediscovered

Pen and ink drawings for 1961 edition surface in publisher's study
Alison Flood, Thursday 12 May 2011 16

An extremely rare collection of drawings by the much-loved children's illustrator Edward Ardizzone for Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been discovered in a publisher's study. The daughters of the late Anthony Beal, chairman of Heinemann Education and founder of the progressive New Windmill series of books, were clearing out their father's study when they stumbled across the complete set of 37 drawings. First published in 1961, the pen and ink pictures are currently being displayed at the Illustration Cupboard gallery.

"We knew Ardizzone had been a friend of dad's from his publishing days," said Kate Beal. "We came across this folder of amazing illustrations. Dad was a real hoarder and kept everything ... We decided to have this exhibition of the pictures; it's nice because it celebrates dad's work as well."

Beal is best known for his development of the New Windmill series, devised by children's author Ian Serraillier and his wife Anne. The books brought more modern, popular novels – including the edition of Huck Finn illustrated by Ardizzone – to children across Britain, the Commonwealth and Africa who had previously been fed a diet of a particular kind of 19th-century classic. "In the 1960s and 1970s it was a way of bringing classics to kids, making them more kid-friendly," said Beal. "Nowadays we wouldn't find [the Ardizzone illustrations] very child-friendly, but when they were drawn they were – a lot of kids' books didn't have illustrations in them at all."

Born in 1900, Ardizzone won the Kate Greenaway medal for his own picture book, Tim All Alone, but his watercolours and line drawings also illustrated the works of other writers, from a host of books by Eleanor Farjeon to Clive King's Stig of the Dump, Philippa Pearce's Minnow on the Say and Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales. Awarded the CBE in 1971, he died in 1979.

The Huck Finn illustrations show how, when Ardizzone made errors, he drew on top of the mistake rather than starting again; they also give an insight into the portrayal of blacks in America at the time, said Beal. "It's slightly embarrassing – they're a bit like the way black people are portrayed in Gone with the Wind," she said. "You wouldn't get away with that now. I work for a children's publisher and we are really careful about how we make our books portray people. These illustrations would not pass our criteria these days. But they were done in an innocent way; they are not meant to be racist."

mercoledì 11 maggio 2011

Mark Twain , l'écrivain et ses doubles

Par Christophe Mercier
Le maître américain avait consacré les dernières années de sa vie à un roman passionnant, enfin traduit.

Interrogé sur les racines de son œuvre, William Faulkner déclara un jour que tout le roman américain du XXe siècle sortait des Aventures de ­Huckleberry Finn, et que Mark Twain était le père de la littérature américaine.

En France, Huckleberry Finn (1885) est moins connu que Les Aventures de Tom Sawyer (1876), et les deux livres ont longtemps été considérés comme de simples «livres pour enfants». Il est vrai que les deux romans sont difficilement traduisibles, que le jeu sur la langue et, surtout, sur les accents, sont impossibles à rendre en ­français.

Bernard Hoepffner, qui a déjà tenté la gageure de retraduire les deux romans les plus célèbres de Twain, nous donne aujourd'hui celle de N° 44, le mystérieux étranger, l'ultime roman de l'écrivain. Il y a travaillé pendant les douze dernières années de sa vie, et l'a laissé inédit (mais non pas inachevé).

Jeu de miroirs
Aux États-Unis, ce n'est que depuis 1969, et la version intégrale publiée par les Presses universitaires de Californie, qu'on peut lire le texte tel que Twain l'avait voulu, les éditions antérieures (la première date de 1916, six ans après la mort de l'auteur) résultant d'un montage qui mêlait au roman des passages d'autres récits inédits, et infligeait au texte des coupes sévères.

Qu'est-ce que ce livre au titre obscur? Au premier abord, un roman qui semble un récapitulatif des personnages, des décors et des thèmes de Twain: deux héros adolescents, dans l'Europe du Moyen Age, confrontés à la cruauté du monde : on se croirait dans une variante du Prince et le Pauvre, dans lequel l'Angleterre médiévale aurait fait place à un village autrichien, en 1490. La scène se situe dans un château à moitié abandonné, colonisé par une communauté constituée par un imprimeur, sa famille et ses ouvriers, et un magicien. Leur existence est bouleversée par l'arrivée d'un adolescent en haillons, d'une beauté surnaturelle, qui dit s'appeler N° 44. Il devient le souffre-douleur de tous, et a pour seul ami August, le narrateur de seize ans, qui va le voir la nuit, en cachette, et apprend peu à peu une partie de ses secrets et de ses pouvoirs. Quand les ouvriers se mettent en grève, et que N° 44, afin que le travail continue, donne corps à leurs Duplicata, tout se complique.

Le thème du double, omniprésent chez Twain, et magistralement exploité dans Pudden'head Wilson (1894), son chef-d'œuvre méconnu, est au centre de N° 44, mais poussé à la puissance 10. Les Doubles se multiplient, comme en un fantastique jeu de miroirs, et Twain lui-même semble perdre le contrôle de ces machines devenues folles, comme les horloges qui, à la fin du livre, se mettent à remonter le temps.

Lumière d'apocalypse
Le pessimisme de Twain quant à la nature humaine, son humour noir habituel, font place à un nihilisme absolu, qui baigne les dernières pages du livre, après une magnifique scène d'un bal de squelettes, d'une lumière d'apocalypse: « Il n'y a pas de Dieu, pas d'Univers, pas de vie terrestre, pas de paradis, pas d'enfer. Tout cela n'est qu'un rêve, un rêve grotesque et imbécile.»

La noirceur du livre trouve sans doute sa source dans la période tragique que vit Twain: quand il commence N° 44, en 1898, l'ancien reporter du Missouri Courrier, l'ancien pilote de «steamboat» sur le Mississippi, l'ancien prospecteur du Wild West, après un quart de siècle de gloire littéraire et de bonheur familial, fait l'expérience du malheur: maladie et mort de sa femme, mort soudaine de l'aînée de ses filles, grave dépression de la cadette, crises d'épilepsie de la plus jeune. Le monde se dépeuple autour de lui et, dans sa grande maison new-yorkaise de la Cinquième Avenue, il découvre la solitude.

Il ne publie plus rien, se consacre à N° 44 et à son Autobiographie (dont la version intégrale est sortie récemment en Amérique), qu'il achève par un texte écrit au lendemain de la mort de sa plus jeune fille, le matin de Noël 1909. Dès lors, il pose définitivement la plume, et meurt six mois plus tard…

Il laisse deux testaments: son Autobiographie et ce N° 44 , le plus fou et le plus opaque de ses romans, imparfait et passionnant, dont on n'a pas fini d'interroger les mystères.

N° 44, le mystérieux étranger de Mark Twain, traduit de l'anglais (États-Unis) par Bernard Hoepffner, Tristram, 280 p., 20 €.

domenica 20 marzo 2011

exclusive Found: Louis Stevenson’s missing masterpiece


Lost novel finished in French. By Arts Correspondent Edd McCracken

More than 130 years after it was started, Robert Louis Stevenson’s abandoned first novel has been found, completed and poised to be published for the first time.

And fittingly for Scotland’s most international writer, not only was it finished after a transcontinental search for the original manuscript, stretching from Brittany to California, but it will make its print début in French.

Before the swashbuckling Kidnapped, before the sinister The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, there was The Hair Trunk. Begun in 1877 when Stevenson was only 27 years old, The Hair Trunk was supposed to be the definitive novel of the bohemian age, drawing on his time in artists’ colonies in France.

However, within two years he had abandoned it. His first official novel, Treasure Island, would only appear in 1883.

The Hair Trunk has lain incomplete since then, considered a mere juvenile curio by Stevenson scholars. Few were aware of it. Even fewer have read it. It existed only on 140 parched pages in an American library.

That is, until now. French author and Stevenson scholar Michel Le Bris, 66, has rescued and completed the novel as part of a two-decade labour of love. “We are watching the birth of Stevenson the novelist here,” he said from his home in Brittany. “I think it shows wonderful invention.”

The Hair Trunk or The Ideal Commonwealth, to give it its full name, will be published in France next month by Gallimard. Of its 300 pages, Stevenson provides the first nine chapters, Le Bris the final seven.

The story concerns a group of young Cambridge students who decide to leave England to build a world more in tune with their bohemian philosophy. Where the mysterious hair trunk of the title – an oversized wooden chest – fits in, is unclear.

In a letter from 1877, in which Stevenson describes the novel as both absurd and very funny, he reveals the trunk “is the fun of it – everybody steals it”. As the students attempt to set up their ideal society they encounter sea battles, thievery, tempests, and the discovery of a desert island off the west coast of Scotland.

Stevenson began writing the novel at the same time as the New Arabian Nights, his first collection of short stories. However, he abandoned The Hair Trunk following an arduous trip to America and his marriage to Fanny Osbourne. It was a period of his life that transformed him deeply.

“This dramatic period abroad, where he was abandoned by almost everyone, came to be his farewell to his years of bohemia,” said Le Bris. “Once he came back to Europe there seemed to be no sense in continuing to write a novel, which was meant to be a novel of the bohemian age, whatever its literary merit. He had moved on.”

The story of the novel’s resurrection and completion began in 1990. Le Bris was working on a biography of Stevenson’s early years when he came upon a reference to The Hair Trunk on a microfilm of letters to his friend Fanny Sitwell. Upon further investigation he discovered an eight-page rough draft was kept in the Beinecke Library at Yale University in the US.

From there Le Bris found 140 pages of the manuscript had been sold by the Anderson Auction Company in January 1915 for $1400 to a collector of rare books, George D Smith. Smith in turn sold the pages to the Huntington Library in California, where Le Bris finally found it. “It was an unforgettable feeling,” he said.

With two thirds of the novel completed, Le Bris spent two decades attempting to resolve it. He has written several books on Stevenson and translated scores of his essays, travel writing and short stories.

Le Bris argues that Stevenson is appreciated more in France than in his native Scotland. There are more works by the Edinburgh author published in French than in English.

‘‘How is it that in 2011 Stevenson’s entire work has not yet been published in English? Why is there no current edition of The Wrong Box, revised and corrected by Stevenson, available in English? Graham Greene was already calling for it in 1950! The truth is Stevenson has been hailed as a genius by the greatest, but mostly foreign, writers: Henry James, Jorge Luis Borgès, Octavio Paz, Hermann Hesse, Vladimir Nabokov, Marcel Proust, Italo Calvino. The truth is America made him famous with the publication of Dr Jekyll, not Great Britain.”

The upcoming publication of The Hair Trunk has been broadly welcomed by Stevenson scholars.

Dr Penny Fielding is a general editor of the New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. She said: ‘‘I’m very pleased to hear that this early work will now be published in French,” she said. “The Hair Trunk was started when the young Stevenson was trying to work out what kind of author he wanted to be.”

Sunday Herald columnist Ian Bell wrote Dreams of Exile, a celebrated biography of Stevenson, in 1993. He congratulated Le Bris’s enterprise, but had doubts over The Hair Trunk’s quality. “Michel is perfectly entitled to make what can be made of Lou’s leavings,” he said. “But they are leavings or, in the pompous description, juvenilia.

“Le Bris makes one good point, though. The French do have a bit of a thing for our Louis. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if there is more Robert Louis Stevenson in print in France than here. And what does that say about us?”

There are no plans to publish Le Bris’s version of The Hair Trunk in English. He will, however, travel to Edinburgh in May for an event at the city’s French Institute.

Le Bris is also the director of the book festival Etonnants Voyageurs in the Breton town of Saint-Malo. As part of the French Institute’s year of cultural exchange, several Scottish authors will be appearing there in June.

Thanks to staff at the French Institute for their help in translation.

domenica 6 marzo 2011

Invisible Ink: No 67 - Robert Louis Stevenson

By Christopher Fowler
Yes, we know you had a tattered copy of Treasure Island in your schoolbag when you were 10, you're aware of Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but did you know that the best part of Robert Louis Stevenson's career is now the least remembered?

The range and complexity of his short fiction is extraordinary. Although he is known for the graceful construction of his plots, he was also a champion of literary style throughout his life. As a child, one of Stevenson's favourite books had been the Arabian Nights, so he wrote the New Arabian Nights (1882), which featured two interlinking sets of tales, "The Suicide Club" and "The Rajah's Diamond". In them, the dashing Prince Florizel and his sidekick Colonel Geraldine leave their Rupert Street abode and hop into hansoms, setting off on nocturnal adventures involving secret societies and sinister plots to overthrow order.

You can trace this macabre strand of Stevenson's writing to his reckless student life in Edinburgh, which brings us to the Conan Doyle question: why is Sherlock Holmes so ubiquitous while Stevenson's hero is forgotten? Well, there's the matter of quantity. After all, we have 56 Sherlock stories and four novels from Conan Doyle. But we even tend to recall Stevenson's better-known tales wrongly. Mr Hyde, for example, is no physical monster but rather has the spiritual malignance of Dorian Gray, and the antidote he needs lies in the warmth of human relationships.

Stevenson cherished lasting friendships and found in them the solution to most human malaises. The characters in his darker tales, such as those in "Markheim" and "Thrawn Janet", are lonely and loveless. His later exotic fables were inspired by his South Seas travels, and "The Bottle Imp" is the best genie story ever, partly because of the dilemma the bottle imposes on an owner, for it must be sold on for less than was paid for it.

Stevenson's stories may have been overlooked by modern readers, but not by other authors. His influence can be seen in the works of Kipling, Hemingway, Nabokov, J M Barrie, Arthur Machen and G K Chesterton. He was a literary superstar in his short lifetime, but it didn't guarantee immortality for what is some of his best work. Tartarus Press reissued The Suicide Club & Other Dark Adventures in a handsome hardback in 2004, although unhappily this edition is now out of print