At the age of thirty-five, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne leaves her philandering husband in San Francisco and sets sail for Belgium to study art, with her three children and a nanny in tow. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her brood repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. There she meets Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who is instantly smitten with the earthy, independent and opinionated belle Americaine.
A woman ahead of her time, Fanny does not immediately take to the young lawyer who longs to devote his life to literature, and who would eventually write such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson's charms. The two begin a fierce love affair, marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness, which spans decades as they travel the world for the sake of his health. Eventually they settled in Samoa, where Robert Louis Stevenson is buried underneath the epitaph:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
(Requiem, Robert Louis Stevenson)
Fanny was a strong female character, she was taking charge of her life as best she could in the time period she lived in. Moving overseas she had hoped to study art with her daughter Belle only to be turned away because she was a woman. Not letting that stop her, she moved on. After moving on to France, Fanny is dealt another blow. She then takes off to the country with her children. She eventually meets Robert "Louis" Stevenson, who hadn't made a name for himself at this time. He is younger than her by 10 years and she is still a married woman. A relationship forms. Their time together is filled with ups and downs. They travel about, as Louis is ill and they hope to find a climate better suited for him.
The story takes place over many years, filled with adventures. I was very taken with Fanny. She was a strong female character, but didn't seem to be successful in the way some see success. There was a beautiful passage where Louis realizes how her ability to take care of those she cares about was her success, "She was her best creation" (Horan 444). I thought it was beautiful.
Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a longer novel and one I wouldn't consider a quick read. Take your time with it and enjoy Horan's writing. I found myself very engaged while reading. I find myself wanting to learn more about the couple (and think Horan did a wonderful job of turning a historical couple into 'real' people). I couldn't help it, once I finished I googled pictures of them. I find I'm becoming a bigger and bigger fan of historical fiction with real historical people. It makes history so much more real to me. I am very much recommending Under the Wide and Starry Sky.
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Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Nancy Horan’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
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Wednesday, February 19th: A Novel Review
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Monday, February 24th: Joyfully Retired
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