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Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9780857059956

Price: £25

ON SALE: 1st September 2017

Genre: Biography & True Stories / Biography: General / Biography: Literary

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Shortlised for the Saltire Society Non Fiction Book of the Year Award

Almost every adult and child is familiar with his Treasure Island, but few know that Robert Louis Stevenson lived out his last years on an equally remote island, which was squabbled over by colonial powers much as Captain Flint’s treasure was contested by the mongrel crew of the Hispaniola.

In 1890 Stevenson settled in Upolu, an island in Samoa, after two years sailing round the South Pacific. He was given a Samoan name and became a fierce critic of the interference of Germany, Britain and the U.S.A. in Samoan affairs – a stance that earned him Oscar Wilde’s sneers, and brought him into conflict with the Colonial Office, who regarded him as a menace and even threatened him with expulsion from the island.

Joseph Farrell’s pioneering study of Stevenson’s twilight years stands apart from previous biographies by giving as much weight to the Samoa and the Samoans – their culture, their manners, their history – as to the life and work of the man himself. For it is only by examining the full complexity of Samoa and the political situation it faced as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, that Stevenson’s lasting and generous contribution to its cause can be appreciated.


Scholarly, engaging and deeply thoughtful, Joseph Farrell's account of Stevenson's last four years in Samoa has the feel of an instant classic in studies of the writer. The Navigator Islands had fascinated Stevenson for years, but when he went to live there in 1890, frail and famous, the realities of life in on the margins of his own culture, language and society changed him forever. Rarely can a place and a writer have had so much effect on each other: Joseph Farrell's brilliant study takes us further into this fascinating relationship than ever before.
Claire Harman, author of Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography
Marvellously done, thanks to the lively fair-mindedness of Farrell's excellent prose. Vivid, scholarly, informative, but above all a really good read.
Liz Lochhead, Scots Makar 2011-16
Joseph Farrell's is the best book I have seen on Stevenson's years in Samoa, the most enviable of any writer's ever. Farrell is fair to both his sunburnt Bohemianism and his unremitting hard work.
James Buchan
Stevenson in Samoa is very good indeed . . . It is full of interest and repays the attention it demands.
Allan Massie, Scotsman.
A sparkling account of the last years of Stevenson's life . . . An emeritus professor at the University of Strathclyde and translator of literary works from Italian, Farrell comes armed with perceptive, elegant prose and a revealing understanding of Stevenson's peculiarly Scottish frame of mind.
Literary Review
A very profound examination of Stevenson's Samoa in light of current and present ideologies.
Brian Morton, Glasgow Herald.
A bracing amalgam of history, biography and travel . . . Farrell has done his compatriot proud.
Ian Thomson, Financial Times.
Farrell provides a welcome service by offering us the fascinating story of Stevenson's last great roll with the dice.
Peter Carty, Spectator.
By adeptly detailing colonial politics in which Stevenson intervened, Farrell takes us well beyond the image of the romantic exile in Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa.
Christine Bold, T.L.S.
A warm and intelligent account of the novelist's life and work in his last years in the South Seas.
Allan Massie, Catholic Herald Books of the Year