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Historical Context

Robert Louis Stevenson began Treasure Island in 1881, while recovering from tuberculosis in Braemar, Scotland. It was Stevenson's first novel. The story originated in a treasure map Stevenson drew with his 12-year-old stepson Lloyd, but the map quickly grew into a full-blown world. Treasure Island first appeared in installments from 1881 to 1882 in a children's magazine titled Young Folks, but it was not very successful. Treasure Island met with much greater success after Stevenson revised and published it as a novel for adults in 1883.
Treasure Island is not a historical novel, but a romantic adventure story. The location of the island is never given, although it is probably somewhere off the South American coast. Stevenson also does not specify the year in which the events of the story take place, but Jim Hawkins, a grown man when he narrates the book, says at the beginning that he is writing "in the year of grace 17--". It is likely that Stevenson was imagining the first half of the 18th century when he wrote Treasure Island, because this era was the golden age of British piracy. Thousands of pirate crews, including such colorful and notorious figures as Captain Kidd and Blackbeard, roamed the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Indian Oceans in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Piracy was a major threat to a nation like Great Britain, whose political and economic power was built on its shipping industry. It was not until the 1720's and 30's that the British navy was large and powerful enough to reduce significantly the number of pirates preying on merchant vessels.
By the late 19th century, the golden age of piracy was a distant memory. Tales of swashbuckling pirates provided a romantic escape for readers in the rapidly industrializing Britain of the 1880's, where steamships were replacing the sail-powered ships of an earlier era. Victorian children's books were written as moral lessons first, and entertaining stories second, if at all. While Treasure Island does have a moral purpose - Jim Hawkins learns about responsibility, courage, and his own resourcefulness - Stevenson was mostly interested in writing an exciting adventure tale. The success of Treasure Island introduced fantasy and adventure into the dull world of Victorian children's literature, and helped inspire other classics such as J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904). Stevenson's reputation has sometimes suffered because his best-known work was written for children, but he was highly respected in his lifetime by such important writers as Henry James, and continues to fascinate readers of all ages today.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapters 1, 2, and 3
Chapters 4, 5, and 6
Chapters 7, 8, and 9
Chapters 10, 11, and 12
Chapters 13, 14, and 15
Chapters 16, 17, and 18
Chapters 19, 20, and 21
Chapters 22, 23, and 24
Chapters 25, 26, and 27
Chapters 28, 29, and 30
Chapters 31, 32, 33, and 34


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