Thursday, July 2, 2015

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

My book group at the library read this book for June and we discussed it on Tuesday night.  I loved Nancy Horan's first book, Loving Frank, about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Mamah. The author does so much research for her books that you really wonder what is fact and what is fiction, something that sparked a whole separate discussion on the genre of historical fiction.  Under the Wide and Starry Sky is about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife Fanny, and it is based on extensive research, including the many letters of both Louis and Fanny.  They had a fascinating life of love and adventure and I enjoyed the book, although it's a little slow going at times. We all agreed it (like many books) could have been 100 pages shorter. The life Louis and Fanny led, living in France, England, Scotland, Australia, Switzerland, California,  and finally sailing the South Pacific and living in Samoa was really amazing, especially considering they were living in the late 1800s.

Stevenson was a sickly man much of his life, and Fanny nursed him and nurtured his career so that he could write the classics Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll  and Mr. Hyde, among others. (Interesting fact: Stevenson borrowed the name Jekyll from family friend Gertrude Jekyll, the legendary English gardener!). Fanny sacrificed her own dreams (not always happily) of being a painter and a writer, certainly not unusual for that time period. There was lots to talk about with this book, and while most people liked the book, a few did not and that always makes for a good discussion.

Robert Louis Stevenson's 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.