UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY – Nancy Horan
A Perfect 10
France, England, Scotland, and the World – 19 th Century
Fanny van de Grift Osbourne and her three children have left California for foreign shores – France to be exact. Sick of her husband's cheating, Fanny takes her family to an artists' colony where she and her daughter can stretch their artistic talents, and where Fanny can rest from the trauma of her difficult marriage. Divorce is an option, but her husband isn't having it and wants her back. Fanny is independent, and inordinately brilliant and brave, and she is not going to settle for the heartache forever.
The respite among fellow artists is not without pain, though, as a tragedy damages much of Fanny's resolve. Then a fellow artist introduces her to a slender younger man, Robert Louis Stevenson. He is an optimistic, talented, outgoing fellow from Scotland who follows Fanny around like a puppy. Keeping aloof from him isn't easy, as he has befriended her son, Sammy, and insists on long walks, and even longer discussions over a bottle of wine in the evenings.
Louis, as he likes to be called, is well aware of Fanny's situation, but he's determined to win her over. If he can just sell some of his writings so that he can make a promise to take care of her and her children, he knows that eventually he can convince her to divorce her philandering husband. But in order to do that, he ends up having to follow her to California.
UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY tells much about the young man, and also about his eventual marriage to the older Fanny. Letters written by both were the basis for this story. Witty, intelligent, adventurous, and loving, Louis wrote most of his famous books after marrying, and both enjoyed the travel and excitement that surrounded them. Fanny was a major influence on the carefree Louis. He loved to travel and experience different worlds, and nothing would stand in his way, even though he was never a very healthy individual.
Lovingly written, UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY was a truly enjoyable read about a giant in the literary world. Stevenson's imagination and brilliance shone through in his glorious novels, and his life, while fairly short, was lived to its fullest. He adored Fanny and embraced her son Sammy as his own. Robert Louis Stevenson was an amazing man, and the meticulous research by the author lets us all discover that.