Historical Fiction - Two Great Summer Reads
A fan of historical fiction? I am. Two of my favorite books were written by Nancy Horan. Her first novel, Loving Frank, is about Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. It is a love story filled with historical facts during the heyday of Wright’s success as an architect in Chicago. It begins with him designing a house for Mamah and her husband. Truth is stranger than fiction in this debut novel. However the love story of Fanny van de Grift Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson is just as compelling.
Fanny leaves the United States with her children to travel to Belgium for art classes, following the discovery of yet another one of her husband’s infidelities. Her adventure becomes tragic when she suffers a loss requiring her to seek isolation and quiet. She finds peace in an artist community in France where she meets a young lawyer from Scotland, Robert Louis Stevenson. He is smitten with Fanny, but she finds him too young (10 years younger than her), and silly. However, she finally yields and they begin an affair and a relationship that finds them traveling the world in search of remedies for his failing health and debilitating depression.
Fanny becomes devoted to her lover and supports him in his quest to become a writer. She ministers to his illness while he pens, Treasure Island, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Decades of living on money from Stevenson’s family, Fanny remains headstrong and independent, despite the hardships they face with Stevenson’s illnesses.
Not only are the characters rich and memorable, but the setting in Under the Wide and Starry Sky takes the reader from California, to Belgium, to France, to Scotland, to Canada, and to exotic places in the South Pacific. Fanny is the heroine, as she dedicates her life to caring for Stevenson and her children. Reading this story, named for the epitaph on Stevenson’s grave, is a way to travel the world and peek into the world of a great storyteller.