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ROBERT LOUIS' WIFE LOSES THE PLOT; She set fire to Jekyll and Hyde tale because it was a load of'nonsense'.

THE great Robert Louis Stevenson's wife thought his first stab at his most famous novel was "utter nonsense" - so she burnt it.

Fanny Stevenson's destruction of the first draft of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is revealed in a letter which has surfaced after 115 years.

The burning was described in a two-page note from Fanny in 1885 to one-legged dramatist, poet and critic W E Henley, on whom Treasure Island's Long John Silver was based.

Fanny, protective of her sick husband but also his fiercest critic, said: "He wrote nearly a quire of utter nonsense.

"Fortunately he has forgotten all about it now, and I shall burn it after I show it to you. He said it was his greatest work."

The letter was found in the attic of one of Henley's descendants and had been penned as the Scots author recovered from a haemorrhage and grieved for a friend.

Liz Merry, head of the book department of auctioneers Philips in London, where the letter is expected to fetch around pounds 1500 on November 17, said yesterday: "This should end speculation about what happened to the first draft of Dr Jekyll.

"Fanny was a very important critic in Robert's life and thought Dr Jekyll, which was partly based on a dream, was not worthy of him.

"She considered it distasteful. It is ironic that it turned out to be one of his most successful books. "

Because the original draft was destroyed, it remains unclear whether Stevenson's wife rightly forced him to change his fantasy plot or whether he had to reproduce the original from memory.

But the letter neatly ties in with another 1885 note in which she writes: "Louis is much better and possessed of a story that he will try to work at. To stop him seems to annoy him to such a degree that I am letting him alone.

"But I fear it will only be energy wasted, as all his late work has been."

Fanny's letter to Mr Henley, written from Bournemouth, where the couple lived from 1885 to 1887, also pulls no punches when it comes to letting Henley know what she thinks of him.

She writes: "The doctor thinks that he must take a change of scene and air and half proposes London. Now I tell you frankly that in London it is you that I fear."

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, an engineer's son born in Edinburgh on November 13, 1850, was affected by illness all his life. He died of a brain haemorrhage on December 3, 1894, after a string of successes which also included Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Master of Ballantrae.

In search of better health, Stevenson and his family settled in Samoa, where he spent the last four years of his life. He is buried there, far from his beloved Pentland Hills.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 25, 2000
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