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Guide to the Stevenson House Collection, Monterey State Historic Park
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Legal Status
  • Administrative Information
  • About the Collection and the Stevenson House State Historic Monument
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms
  • Bibliography

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: California. Department of Parks and Recreation. Stevenson House Collection, Monterey State Historic Park,
    Date (inclusive): 1850 - 1996.
    Collection number: 483.1
    Collector: California State Parks
    Extent: 17.62 cubic ft. (36 boxes)
    Repository: California State Parks

    Monterey State Historic Park
    20 Custom House Plaza
    Monterey, CA 93940
    Abstract: The Stevenson House Collection consists of primary and secondary source materials, artifacts, and memorabilia connected with the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and the Stevenson House/French Hotel in Monterey, California. In the Stevenson House, a former rooming house, Robert Louis Stevenson lived for four months, September to December 1879. During his time living in the rooming house he worked on The Amateur Emigrant and waited for his future wife Fanny's divorce to be finalized.
    Physical location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Monterey District Museum Curator at 831-649-7118.
    Language: English.

    Legal Status


    Administrative Information


    The collections are open for research by appointment only. Appointments may be made by calling 831-649-7110.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Monterey State Historic Park.

    Preferred Citation

    Preferred citation of these materials is: [Identification of item], [Record Group], Stevenson House Collection, Monterey State Historic Park, 483.1, California State Parks.

    Acquisition Information

    Most of the collection was accumulated over forty years, 1932-1972, via donation from a number of individuals including the Field and Osbourne estates (Stevenson's step-children from wife Fanny Osbourne) as well as Stevenson enthusiasts Flodden W. Heron of San Francisco and William Percival Jefferson, of Santa Barbara.

    Processing History

    Between 1991 and 1993, the Stevenson House Collection in Monterey State Historic Park had limited preservation and arrangement work done by an independent contractor. The work included organization and arrangement of the collection and rehousing of most of the materials in archival quality containers. The project was not completed due to lack of funding and work ceased in 1993. As a result, there was no finding aid created for the collection and no work done toward reconciling the present arrangement of items to the accession and object records within the State Parks system.
    In 2002, the State Parks designated funding to finish the work already begun and hired another archivist. A Microsoft Access database was created listing the contents of each box in the collection, record group and series numbers assigned to each folder and/or item by the prior contractor, as well as CSP-assigned accession numbers identified with each item. An interim container list was printed. This container list was reconciled with the 1960 inventory kept with the collection in its storage space.
    A preliminary inventory was completed and a processing plan devised. The primary level organization scheme from the prior contractor was retained, with each collection treated as a separate record group with series and subseries as appropriate. Certain record formats, such as monographs and artifacts, were removed from their record groups and housed as a distinct group of Separated Materials because of their unique storage requirements.
    Some item containers were changed to more appropriate archival housing, and all photographs were sleeved in PAT-passed polypropylene sleeves. All metal fasteners such as staples and paper clips were removed and replaced where appropriate with inert plastiklips. Monographs were housed in custom made book boxes.

    About the Collection and the Stevenson House State Historic Monument

    The Stevenson House Collection consists of primary and secondary source materials, artifacts, and memorabilia connected with the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and the Stevenson House/French Hotel in Monterey, California. In the Stevenson House, a former rooming house, Robert Louis Stevenson lived for four months, September to December 1879. During his time living in the rooming house he worked on The Amateur Emigrant and waited for his future wife Fanny's divorce to be finalized.
    It was in Monterey that Stevenson penned the "Old Pacific Capital." Some say that his setting for the tale Treasure Island came from his walks along the Monterey Peninsula. Today, the Stevenson House has been restored as a period home with several rooms devoted to 'Stevensoniana'.
    This two-story adobe has sheltered families, government officials, artists, writers and fishermen, beginning in the Mexican era. First owned by Don Rafael Gonzalez, and reportedly built in the 1830s, the two-story adobe originally comprised the sala and one large room upstairs. A Swiss businessman, Girardin, purchased it and added on the Houston Street section. Over the years it served many business purposes, and for a time was known as The French Hotel. Stevenson lived in the building during this period.
    In 1937 the historic adobe was purchased by the late Edith C. van Antwerp and Mrs. C. Tobin Clark to save it from destruction. They in turn presented it to the State of California as a memorial, and it is now a unit of Monterey State Historic Park.


    Robert Lewis (later: Louis) Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh on 13 November 1850. His father Thomas belonged to a family of engineers who had built many of the deep-sea lighthouses around the rocky coast of Scotland. His mother, Margaret Isabella Balfour, came from a family of lawyers and church ministers. In 1857 the family moved to 17 Heriot Row, a solid respectable house in Edinburgh's New Town.
    At the age of seventeen he enrolled at Edinburgh University to study engineering, with the aim - his father hoped - of following him in the family firm. However, he abandoned this course of studies and made the compromise of studying law. He 'passed advocate' in 1875 but did not practice since by now he knew he wanted to be a writer. In the university's summer vacations he went to France to be in the company of other young artists, both writers and painters. His first published work was an essay called "Roads", and his first published volumes were works of travel writing.
    His first published volume, An Inland Voyage (1878), is an account of the journey he made by canoe from Antwerp to northern France, in which prominence is given to the author and his thoughts. A companion work, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), gives us more of his thoughts on life and human society and continues in consolidating the image of the debonair narrator also found in his essays and letters (classed among his best works).
    His meeting with his future wife, Fanny, was to change the rest of his life. They met immediately after his 'inland voyage', in September 1876 at Grez, a riverside village south-east of Paris; he was twenty-five, and she was thirty-six, an independent American 'new woman', separated from her husband and with two children. Two years later she decided to obtain a divorce and Stevenson set out for California. His own experiences continue to be the subject of his next large-scale work The Amateur Emigrant (written 1879-80, published 1894), an account of this journey to California, which Noble (1985: 14) considers his finest work. In this work of perceptive reportage and open-minded and humane observation the voice is less buoyant and does not avoid observation of hardship and suffering. The light-hearted paradoxes and confidential address to the reader of the essays written a few years before (1876-77) and then published as Virginibus Puerisque (1881) continue in the creation of his original debonair authorial persona.
    Concluding this first period of writing based closely on his own direct experiences is The Silverado Squatters (1883), an account of his three week honeymoon at an abandoned silver mine in California.
    Stevenson's first published fictional narrative was "A Lodging for the Night" (1877), a short story originally published in a magazine, like other early narrative works, such as "The Sire De Maletroit's Door" (1877), "Providence and the Guitar" (1878), and "The Pavilion on the Links" (1880, considered by Conan Doyle in 1890 as 'the high-water mark of [Stevenson's] genius' and 'the first short story in the world,' qu. Menikoff 1990: 342). These four tales were collected in a volume entitled New Arabian Nights in 1882, preceded by the seven linked stories originally called "Latter-Day Arabian Nights" when published in a magazine in 1878. This collection is seen as the starting point for the history of the English short story by Barry Menikoff (1987: 126). The Arabian stories were described by critics of the time as 'fantastic stories of adventure,' 'grotesque romances' 'in which the analytic mind loses itself' (Maixner 1981: 117, 120), and are seen by Chesterton (1927: 169) as 'unequalled' and 'the most unique of his works'. They have an affinity with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in their setting in the labyrinthine modern city, and the subject matter of crimes and guilty secrets involving respectable members of society. Stevenson continued to write short stories all his life, and notable titles include: "Thrawn Janet" (1881), "The Merry Men" (1882), "The Treasure of Franchard" (1883), "Markheim" (1885), which, being a narrative of the Double, has certain affinities with Jekyll and Hyde, "Olalla" (1885), which like Jekyll and Hyde originated in a dream and also deals with the possibility of degeneration. The above short narratives were all collected in The Merry Men and Other Tales and Fables in 1887.
    "Olalla" was written in a period of just over two years (1885-7) when Stevenson and Fanny were living in the cottage Skerryvore in Bournemouth. Despite problems of health and finances, this was a period of meetings with Henry James, W.E. Henley and other literary figures, and when he wrote the long short-story (published as a single volume), his 'breakthrough book', The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Another collection Island Nights' Entertainments , tales with a South Sea setting, was published in 1893, including "The Bottle Imp" (1891), "The Beach of Falesa" (1892, a long short story of the same length as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), and "The Isle of Voices" (1893).
    Another fortuitous turning-point in Stevenson's life had occurred when on holiday in Scotland in the summer of 1881. The cold rainy weather forced the family to amuse themselves indoors, and one day Stevenson and his twelve-year-old stepson, Lloyd (Fanny's son by her first marriage), drew, colored and annotated the map of an imaginary "Treasure Island". The map stimulated Stevenson's imagination and, 'On a chill September morning, by the cheek of a brisk fire' he began to write a story based on it as an entertainment for the rest of the family. Treasure Island (published in book form in 1883) marks the beginning of his popularity and his career as a profitable writer; it was his first volume-length fictional narrative, and the first of his writings 'for children' (or rather, the first of writings manipulating the genres associated with children). Later works that fit into this category are A Child's Garden of Verses (1885), The Black Arrow (1883), Kidnapped (1886) and its continuation Catriona (1893). The four narrative works mentioned in this paragraph, though they all have youthful protagonists and were all first published in magazines for young people, are also clearly intended for adult readers. The last three, based on careful documentary research, are fictions exploring history and culture; and the last two are interesting studies of Scottish culture.
    Prince Otto (1885), his second full-length narrative, is defined by Andrew Lang as 'a philosophical-humouristical-psychological fantasy' (qu. Maixner 1981: 181). The action is provocatively set in the imaginary state of Grunewald, an unusual choice for Stevenson, and it was to historical Scotland (which had already provided the setting for Kidnapped and Catriona) that he turned for his next full-length 'adult' story, The Master of Ballantrae (1889). This is a Doubles narrative in which the brothers James and Henry have similarities with Jekyll and Hyde, not only in their initials, but also because of the mixed personality of the 'good' character, the constant return of the persecuting Double, and the simultaneous death of the two antagonists. Both Calvino and Brecht consider it to be the best of his works, and it is highly praised by writers as diverse as Henry James, Walter Benjamin and Andre Gide. The novel that he was working on when he died, Weir of Hermiston (published incomplete and posthumously in 1896), is also set in Scotland in the not-too-distant past and is often praised as Stevenson's masterpiece. The centre of the story is the difficult relationship of an authoritarian father and a son who has to assert his own identity (a theme present in many of Stevenson's works - and clearly a way he used of exploring and coming to terms with his difficult relationship with his own father).
    This very Scottish romance was written when Stevenson was far away on the other side of the world. His decision to sail around the Pacific in 1888, living on various islands for short periods, then setting off again (all the time collecting material for an anthropological and historical work on the South Seas which was never fully completed), was another turning point in his life. In 1889 he and his extended family arrived at the port of Apia in the Samoan islands and they decided to build a house and settle. This choice brought him health, distance from the distractions of literary circles, and went towards the creation of his mature literary persona: the traveller, the exile, very aware of the harsh sides of life but also celebrating the joy in his own skill as a weaver of words and teller of tales. It also acted as a new stimulus to his imagination. He wrote about the Pacific islands in several of his later works: Island Nights' Entertainments already referred to; In the South Seas (published 1896), essays that would have gone towards the large work on the area that he planned; and two other narratives with a South Sea setting: The Wrecker (1892), and The Ebb-Tide (1894). The former is a mystery adventure set in various places over the globe but centred in the South Seas (indeed at Midway Island, Latitude 0' deg;) with some dark tones, especially in the fruitless search for treasure and the massacre of a ship's crew (for quite understandable reasons!). The Ebb-Tide (like "The Beach of Falesa") gives a realistic picture of the degenerate European traders and riffraff who inhabited the ports of the Pacific islands. These South Sea narratives mark a definite move towards a more harsh and grim realism (Stevenson himself (qu. Maixner 1981: 452) acknowledges affinities of The Ebb-Tide with the work of Zola).
    The authorial persona had changed from the debonair flaneur of the early works, but retained a joy in his craft and a consciousness in the shaping of his own life. He died in December 1894 and even shaped the manner of his burial: as he had wished, he was buried at the top of Mount Vaea above his home on Samoa. Appropriately it was his own short poem, "Requiem" (from an 1887 collection), that was written on his tomb: 'Under the wide and starry sky, / Dig the grave and let me lie...'
    Stevenson establishes a personal relationship with the reader, and creates a sense of wonder through his brilliant style and his adoption and manipulation of a variety of genres. Writing when the period of the three-volume novel (dominant from about 1840 to 1880) was coming to an end, he seems to have written everything except a traditional Victorian novel: plays, poems, essays, literary criticism, literary theory, biography, travelogue, reportage, romances, boys' adventure stories, fantasies, fables, and short stories. Like the other writers who were asserting the serious artistic nature of the novel at this time he writes in a careful, almost poetic style - yet he provocatively combines this with an interest in popular genres. His popularity with critics continued to the First World War. He then had the misfortune to be followed by the Modernists who needed to cut themselves off from any constraining tradition; Stevenson was felt to be one of the most constraining of immediately-preceding authors for his sheer ability, and one of the most insidious for his play with popular genres and for his preference for 'romance' over the serious novel. Condemned by Virginia and especially Leonard Woolf (1927; not unconnected, perhaps, with the fact that one of Stevenson's great supporters had been Virginia's father), ignored by F.R.Leavis, he was gradually excluded from the "canon" of regularly taught and written-about works of literature. The nadir comes in 1973 when Frank Kermode and John Hollander published their Oxford Anthology of English Literature. With over two thousand pages at their disposal in which to exemplify and comment on the notable poetry and prose produced in the British Isles from '1800 to the Present', not one page is devoted to Stevenson - in the whole closely-printed two thousand pages, Stevenson is not even mentioned once! Critical interest has been increasing slowly since then, in some countries more than others (cf. Ambrosini 1991), though there have been few single-volume studies when compared with the large numbers of books published every year on his contemporaries James and Conrad. Stevenson, some might say, has been fortunate to escape such attention. Reading this Mozartian and mercurial writer remains for many as for Borges (1979), despite critical neglect, quite simply 'a form of happiness'.
    Copyright 1997 Richard Dury. Used by permission from the author.

    Scope and Content

    The records of the Stevenson House Collection encompass the breadth of the Scottish writer's oeuvre, from manuscript letters and first edition books to original serial publications and works of art, and are supplemented by materials from other members of his family, including wife Fanny, mother Margaret, and step children Isobel Osbourne Strong Field and Lloyd Osbourne. The bulk of the collection is dated between 1880 and 1920. Most of the collection was accumulated over forty years, 1932-1972, via donation from a number of individuals including the Field and Osbourne estates as well as Stevenson enthusiasts Flodden W. Heron and William Percival Jefferson, both of San Francisco. Significant items in the collection range from three pages of manuscript music in Stevenson's hand (transcriptions of popular pieces adapted for flageolet, a recorder-type instrument played by Stevenson), a number of autograph letters, and a manuscript page from Weir of Hermiston, to six scrapbooks of press clippings and reviews about Stevenson, meticulously kept and annotated by Stevenson's mother, Margaret. Additional items of note are six glass plate photograph negatives from Williams of Honolulu, documenting Stevenson's lengthy 1888 visit with King Kalakaua and Princess Lilioukalani of Hawaii, three volumes of Fanny Stevenson's Vailima diaries, as well as three volumes of journals and a significant collection of correspondence and photographs of Charles Warren Stoddard, Stevenson's acquaintance and godfather to Austin Strong (Isobel's son), a resident of Monterey. The collections are supplemented by a small group of materials documenting the establishment of the Stevenson House State Historic Monument and the efforts toward preservation of the historic adobe.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in a library's online public access catalog:
    Library of Congress Subject Headings

    Personal Names:

    Colvin, Sidney, Sir, 1845-1927.
    Field, Isobel, 1858-1953.
    Heron, Flodden W.
    Osbourne, Lloyd, 1868-1947.
    Sanchez, Nellie Van de Grift, 1856-1935.
    Simoneau, Jules, 1821-1908.
    Stevenson, Fanny Van de Grift, 1840-1914.
    Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894.
    Stoddard, Charles Warren, 1843-1909.
    Strong, Austin, 1881-1952.


    Authors, Scottish--19th century--Biography.
    Historic buildings--California--Monterey.
    Monterey (Calif.)--History.
    Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894--Biography.
    Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894--Criticism and interpretation.


    Additional information about Robert Louis Stevenson may be found in the following publications:
    The Robert Louis Stevenson Web Site, maintained by Richard Dury of the University of Bergamo, Italy: http://wwwesterni.unibg.it/siti_esterni/rls/rls.htm
    Balfour Graham. The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson. London: Methuen and Co., 1901.
    Bell, Ian. Robert Louis Stevenson: Dreams of Exile. Edinburgh/NY: Mainstream/Henry Holt and Co., 1992.
    Calder, Jenni. RLS: A Life Study. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980.
    Calder, Jenni. The Robert Louis Stevenson Companion. London: Paul Harris Publishing, 1980.
    Colvin, Sidney. Robert Louis Stevenson: His Work And Personality. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1924.
    Daiches, David. Robert Louis Stevenson. Norfolk, CT/Glasgow: New Directions Books/William Maclellan, 1947.
    Furnas, J.C. Voyage to Windward: the Life of Robert Louis Stevenson. New York/London: William Sloane/Faber and Faber, 1951.
    Neider, Charles (ed.). Fanny and Robert Stevenson: Our Samoan Adventure. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1956.
    Osborne, Lloyd. An Intimate Portrait of R.L.S. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924.
    Swinnerton, Frank A. Robert Louis Stevenson: A critical study. London/New York: Secker/George H. Doran, 1914.