Fanny Stevenson: A Romance of Destiny - Alexandra Lapierre I HAD NO IDEA!!! This is continually how I reacted when I read about the life of Fanny Stevenson (1840-1914), the wife of Robert Louis Stevenson, the famed novelist, poet and travel writer (1850-1894). It was with continual wonder and surprise that I read the pages of this book. Beginning in the 1860s she traveled the world in a fashion that sounds imaginary. She traveled from Indianapolis, where she was born, to New York, then boat to the Panama Isthmus, on to San Francisco and then Nevada. The transcontinental railroad was not yet complete. To top it all off she traveled alone with her baby daughter, just a jingle of change and a few notes in her pocket. She traveled back a few years later. All her life she was a vagabond. Fed up with the antics of her first skirt-chasing husband she traveled again alone with her two young children to study art in France. Later, married to R.L.S., they sailed the South Pacific. Travel she did, and not always in luxury.

Usually she was fighting somebody or something – people or illness. She was a tremendously strong woman, clearly not an easy woman to live with. She broke society’s rules over and over again. She was one determined lady, set to do exactly what was necessary to achieve her goals. I did not find her goals selfish. Once married to the interminably sick Robert she had one goal, that being to keep him alive and aid him with his writing. Here again is another artist plagued by consumption. All medical authorities said living up in the mountain air would help. They tried Switzerland; he only grew sicker. So the warmth of the South Seas drew them, finally building their own home on a jungle covered island in Samoa. Does that sound like a dream world? Well, she built the pig-pens, planted the gardens, braved cyclones alone, continually caring for the health and career of the acclaimed author. It was a characteristic of her personality to defend the weak. And R. L.S.t was the same.

She broke every rule of propriety. R.L.S. was eleven years he junior. After the author’s death she had other affairs, lived with another man, almost forty years her junior, who married her daughter when she herself died! She broke all rules.

Following travels around the world, the reader is not only given the details of family disputes, tumults and joys but also the politics of the domicile nations. As a famed couple they could pull strings and did not hesitate to do so. Fanny and R.L.S took on the fight for the underdog. They supported the machinations of Hawaiian King Kalakaua against American powers. They sought to help the lepers on Molokai. The history of the leper colony is given. R.L.S. risked his own health to visit the island, attempting to change their conditions and the public view of lepers. . They involved themselves in the civil war and international disputes of the Samoan Islands. History is detailed. To enjoy this book the reader must be interested in such history. The artist colonies in France at the turn of the century, the growth of Impressionism, the European cultural climate in art and writing at the turn of the 19th Century - all of this is covered.

This book is written a s a biography. The author separates herself from the individuals described in the pages. Fanny Stevenson is honored by some and disclaimed by others. To seek the truth, the author has thoroughly analyzed and documented her sources. In this way the reader sometimes observes rather than empathizes with the individuals. At the back of the book the sources are discussed in detail, chapter by chapter. Rather than using quotes, the lines from prime sources are put in italics in the central portion of the book. I found the numerous and lengthy sections in italics visually difficult to read, although they were skillfully woven into the narrative. For my part, the critical analysis and detachment displayed in the writing style detracted from the book’s punch.

I enjoyed learning about Fanny’s personality, her life with Robert Louis Stevenson, the blossoming world of art in France, the political climate in Hawaii, the Molokai leper colony and finally life and political tensions in Polynesia, all at the turn of the 20th Century. For this reason I give the book four stars.