Friday, November 22, 2013
UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY, NANCY HORAN
This wonderful book is the love story of Robert Louis Stevenson (who liked to be called Louis) and his American wife Fanny. It begins with her childhood and first marriage, a disaster. The only good to come from her adulterous first husband was three children, Belle, Samuel Lloyd, and little Hervey. When she had had enough of the humiliation of living in the miners' camp where her husband had blown all their money and where the prostitutes he spent most of his time with lived, she packed up the children and went to Europe hoping to learn to paint. In Paris Hervey died of TB, and she learned of a lakeside resort where artists went for the summer so off they went again. At the resort she met Louis. He fell in love with her immediately but it took a while for her to return that love.
As the saying goes, the course of true love has its ups and downs, or something like that. Fanny and Louis had a tough life, first because her husband made it difficult for her to get a divorce so they could get married. Then there was always the major problem of Louis' health. He had severe lung disease and would occasionally fall ill and hemorrhage from his lungs. Fanny saved his life many times. You may have the same problem I had with the fact that both Louis and Fanny smoked until the day they each died. For such intelligent people to be so ignorant of the fact that smoke cannot be good for your lungs was hard to accept, but realistic in the late 19th century.
They eventually learned that the only time he was really healthy was when they were at sea. Unfortunately, she was always seasick, but she insisted they take long cruises to the South Sea Islands for his health. They lived on various islands for short times, then settled in Samoa. (I had always thought it was Tahiti.) They built a house on a large tract of mountainside land. Louis was very healthy there and actually got involved with a dispute about leadership of the natives, most of whom loved him. It was Fanny who fell ill there, actually suffering a horrible mental collapse. She did recover but was never the same.
The fascinating part of their love story is how she sacrificed so much for him and yet he never recognized her writing talent, dismissing it as not good enough to publish. Everything was done for him, to make it easier for him to write. She gardened as her creative outlet. Very late he realized that he had done her an awful disservice and tried to make up for it. Family gathered wherever they were; it was vitally important to him since he knew he could never go back to Scotland.
This lovely book will be out in January, but you can preorder it now. Horan's writing style rolls along smoothly and she captures well the deeply felt emotions Louis and Fanny endured. The scene of his death practically had me in tears. I encourage you to read this.
I've been on such a streak lately with wonderful books that you'll begin to think I like everything I read. Not so, but I am getting better at selecting books.
Source: Won from LibraryThing