Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel

by Nancy Horan

Hardcover, 2014




Ballantine Books (2014), Edition: First Edition, 496 pages


"In her new novel, Nancy Horan has recreated a love story that is as unique, passionate, and overwhelmingly powerful as the one between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney depicted so memorably in Loving Frank. Under the Wide and Starry Sky chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics including Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, when Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge there with her children. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world.In her masterful new novel, Nancy Horan has recreated a love story that is as unique, passionate, and overwhelmingly powerful as the one between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney depicted so memorably in Loving Frank. Under the Wide and Starry Sky chronicles the unconventional love affair of Scottish literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson, author of classics including Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and American divorcee Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They meet in rural France in 1875, when Fanny, having run away from her philandering husband back in California, takes refuge there with her children. Stevenson too is escaping from his life, running from family pressure to become a lawyer. And so begins a turbulent love affair that will last two decades and span the world"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member BLBera
Just as she did in [Loving Frank], in [Under the Wide and Starry Sky], Nancy Horan brings to life the wife of a famous man. This time, her subject is Fanny Stevenson, the wife of Robert Louis Stevenson, or Louis, as he was known to his family and friends. Fanny also had ambitious to write, and she kept diaries and wrote many letters, all of which Horan draws on.

Fanny van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson was a remarkable woman. In 1875, she left her cheating husband Sam Osbourne and took her three children with her to Antwerp to study art. It was during this stay that she met Stevenson. After they married, they traveled all over the world, looking for places in which Louis was healthy. Eventually they settled in Samoa.

Horan brings Fanny to life, revealing both the joys and frustrations of her marriage to Stevenson, who never supported her ambition to write: "How could Louis not know that creative energy so possessed her mind and body some days she thought she might go mad from it. That sometimes it took fourteen hours of grinding work before the forces inside her had been sated and she could lay herself down to rest." Still, she persisted and lived an extraordinary life -- for any time. Horan's novel does justice to a fascinating woman.
… (more)
LibraryThing member StaffReads
Horan, the author of Loving Frank takes on the passionate and tumultuous relationship between
Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his Indiana-born wife, Fanny Osbourne. Extreme passion, sickness, and creativity abound. Well done on all fronts.
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Author Robert Louis Stevenson was famous for his novels, but little is generally know about the woman he loved. Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne was an Indiana girl that Stevenson met in Europe. The two had an incredible life together and this fictionalized version of it gives readers a glimpse into their world.

After reading Horan’s “Loving Frank” I wasn’t surprised to find this book was a full portrayal of a fascinating woman that was well researched. It’s truly Fanny’s story, in the same way “Loving Frank” was about the woman behind Frank Lloyd Wright. Fanny was a writer and artist before she ever met Stevenson.

Yet with all that being said, the book also offers a look into the author’s life. A few years ago I visited the Robert Louis Stevenson museum in California because I wanted to learn more about the man behind classics like “Treasure Island,” “Kidnapped,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” I knew he struggled with a debilitating illness his entire life, but I never knew about his romance or the rich adventures he had despite his ailments. I was amazed by how easily they moved from one side of the world to another, Europe to California to Samoa, especially during a time when communication was so difficult. Each time the moved they embraced a completely new culture.

The mental illness at the end of the book felt like it came out of nowhere. All books like this are somewhat hemmed in by the facts and real timelines. Plotting is more difficult because real life doesn’t follow a story arch

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting book that provides insight into an incredibly talented writer. It’s not a perfect, but Horan has a skill for capturing the spirits of the strong women that are often trapped in their more famous partners’ shadows.
… (more)
LibraryThing member schoolnurse
Great book and a very enjoyable audio version. Loved listening to every minute of it. I would recommend this to anyone who loves historical fiction. Great for book clubs too since there is a lot to talk about. Stevenson had a very interesting life to say the least.
LibraryThing member bogopea
Nancy Horan is a wonderful writer and I enamored of this as much as I was of her previous book about Frank Lloyd Wright entitled Loving Frank. In truth, both books are about the women they lived with and the roles they played in their life together. Nancy writes exquisitely, with wonderful descriptive phrases that make one feel there. With both of these books, it was difficult to think of these as fiction because in both she meticulously researched her subjects.… (more)
LibraryThing member Teritree001971
UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY is a historical fiction novel telling a new generation the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny van de Grift Osbourne. From beginning to end, the story removes the reader to another time and place allowing him to see how things could have been in a time when divorce is a sin, while rank and privilege has both advantages and disadvantages. If you enjoy the works of Sharon Kay Penman or Wilbur Smith, you won't be disappointed with this story. Much like these authors, Nancy Horan has the ability to place the reader within the pages as Robert and Fanny live their lives day to day. They are not only historical people, but people the reader comes to care for.

The story begins with its' focus on Fanny van de Grift and her early life. It tells of her life as a child, then her marriage and her eventual move to Paris, where she finally meets Robert Louis Stevenson. Then, she returns to the USA and the story begins to introduce the famous author, his friends, attitudes and travels. Eventually, Robert Louis Stevenson arrives in the states, where he manages to find Fanny once more. Along the way, the reader gets to see places and lifestyles hard to imagine in today’s world of computers, televisions, automobiles and instant gratification.
… (more)
LibraryThing member AlanaB
I just finished reading Under The Wide and Starry Sky. I really enjoyed the book. I didn't know anything about the two people the story was written about (Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van De Grift Osbourne), but I found their lives and how Nancy Horan described them to be fascinating. She does a great job of taking information from original sources and then developing a story around them. I also enjoyed reading about all the places they lived and how things were during that time. I definitely recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member 3bythesea
I really enjoyed Horan's book Loving Frank and was eagerly anticipating Under.The Wide and Starry Sky. The book was a nice mix of entertaining and informative, however at times it felt a bit bogged down in details which did not add to the story.
LibraryThing member sebago
I received an advanced copy of Under the Wide and Starry Sky. This is a novel of the romance between Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny van de Grift Osbourne, it spans several continents from Europe to Scotland ending in America. After discovering that her husband is once again involved with another woman Fanny leaves her husband and travels via ship to Europe with her children to study art. After the death of one of her sons she meets RLS and although she does not think much of this gentle man at first they eventually begin a romance that leads to marriage. The story takes us through their fight with RLS's health issues and Fanny during her struggle with mental illness. Louis died in the South Pacific and Fanny at age returns to America where she at the age of 73 spends the remainder of her life promoting the writings and life of Rober Louis Sevenson. I have to say that though I love this genre I struggle with this book. At times it was slow and I found myself putting it down to pick up a faster moving book. But that said I am glad that I read it and would rec ommend it to others.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheJeanette
I'm not a fan of romances in general, which means I also don't read many historical romances. I was more interested in this one for the history than for the romance, and I was not disappointed. "Louis" was very good to Fanny compared to her first husband, Sam Osbourne. But it must have been a real hardship for Fanny to be married to such a sickly man as Robert Louis Stevenson. Lucky for them his parents had a lot of money and gave him generous allowances to keep the couple from living in extreme poverty.

Be warned that this is not a fast, gripping read. That was okay with me. I thoroughly enjoyed Nancy Horan's careful attention to historical details, because she happened to choose the details that were most interesting to me. That doesn't always happen for me with historical fiction. So -- a mite slow moving, but very well written and often fascinating.
… (more)
LibraryThing member dallenbaugh
This novel tells the story of the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and of his tempestuous marriage to the American woman Fanny Osbourne. Robert (Louis) first meets Fanny in Grez in France and falls immediately for the petite woman who has recently lost her beloved son Hervey. Fanny takes longer to develop a love for the cheerful and forthright and poor Scotsman. She leaves for America to make one last try at holding together her marriage to her unfaithful husband and finally gets a divorce and marries Louis who has followed her to America.

The marriage has many ups and downs as Louis continually battles poor health and Fanny spends much of her time as Louis' nurse keeping him alive while encouraging him to write even when he must spend long months in bed. The Stevensons move to many places trying to find the perfect environment for Louis and his damaged lungs. They finally end up in Samoa buying 300 acres of land they call Vailima where Louis begins to regain his health, and interestingly where Fanny begins to lose her own. She sinks into depression and madness and it is Louis turn to nurse her back to sanity.

The book was well balanced between telling the story of RLS and of Fanny's story as she struggles to keep Louis alive while trying to find her own worth in the world, separately from being the wife of a famous man. She battles with their early poverty, the loss of a son, and the estrangement of her daughter, Belle as she unerringly follows Louis to wherever he must go to keep his health and write even though she suffers in many of these places. My main criticism of the book is its laboring over the story of Louis' ill health and how it feels the author could have shortened the story considerably without losing anything essential. At times it was a struggle to finish the book.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Kimaoverstreet
The historical fiction sub-genre featuring characters who actually lived has become a favorite of mine (e.g. The Paris Wife, The Aviator's Wife, Loving Frank, Z, etc...) This fictionalized account of the relationship of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his spunky, older American wife Franny is my favorite so far. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, this novel met all of my criteria for good historical fiction:

1) Atmospheric - Time, place, and emotion are wonderfully recreated. As the Stevensons journey to Paris, Scotland, the American West, Hawaii, and Samoa, readers are offered a glimpse of everyday life in each locale in the late 1800's.
2)The Wikipedia Test - I feel that good historic fiction should leave a reader wanting to know more about the people, places, and events they read about. I looked up a good deal as I read, and I found a factual basis for events and facts I thought were too spectacular to be believed! RLS and Fanny were both prolific writers, so Horan had a wealth of information on which to draw for her research.
3)Believable characters - Likable, but not perfect, characters are neither too good or too bad to be believable. Horan has captured the complexity of this fascinating family and its strengths and weaknesses.

I highly recommend Under the Wide and Starry Sky for fans of historical fiction and English literature.
… (more)
LibraryThing member mel927
I received this book as an Advanced Reading Copy from LibraryThing.com (it doesn't come out until 1/7/14). It is about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny who was an American divorcee. I found it fascinating. They were very colorful people with large personalities. Nancy Horan does a great job of pulling the reader into thier lives and making us care about what happens to them.… (more)
LibraryThing member Loried
I received an advance copy of Under the Wide and Starry Sky through the Early Reviewers Program. I found it a welcome addition to the other recent historical novels about the wives of famous people, the women behind the men. Since I didn’t know anything about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson, I found it particularly interesting to learn about him, and his wife led a fascinating life as well. I also enjoyed reading about the time period and the places they traveled. One would never have expected someone in poor health to have managed to travel to the most far-flung places in a time when travel was so difficult. The author brought to life the challenges of Stevenson’s health, finances and relationships. Although the book was a little longer than I would have liked, it was a unique story. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction, and I think it would make a good choice for book discussion groups.… (more)
LibraryThing member kbuchanan
Horan's expansive novel offers a worthy addition to the ever-expanding genre of literary historical fiction. I will confess that this is very much my cup of tea, realizing that it is not always everyone's. That said, I think Horan's book appeals on a number of levels that do not bind it to this audience alone. Firstly, the work reads well. Despite its length, the characters shine through and make the time move quickly. Fanny is a fascination of a woman, one who fits oddly into her particular time and place, but Horan makes her one with whom we can passionately identify, despite her difficult nature. Robert Louis Stevenson also comes through in this book as an individual, not simply as the author of famous works. Having read Stevenson's more famous works, I thought Horan did a great job working with some of the themes put forward in these works in a way that was unobtrusive and yet effective.

Apart from all this, Fanny and Louis Stevenson's lives simply make for a great story. They lived for years in a part of the world that most Europeans never saw, and they took the time to try and understand a culture that was different from their own in a way that often puzzled their own European and American friends. This book puts forth the story of a family living life on its own terms, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I have not yet read "Loving Frank," but after this read, it's high on my list. "Under the Wide and Starry Sky" is a perfect choice for lovers of historical fiction, British literature, or anyone looking for a well-written, engaging story with strong characters.
… (more)
LibraryThing member FishHeaven
I found this book to be well written but I had higher hopes for it to read more similarly to that of Erik Larson. It was interesting to read how Stevenson and his lady love lived and connected as well as the toll that her mental illness took on their relationship.
LibraryThing member porch_reader
I received this book as an Early Reviewer selection. I read, and liked, Horan's earlier book, Loving Frank, a fictionalized account of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney. Like that one, [Under the Wide and Starry Sky] fictionalizes another historical romance, that of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny van de Grift Osbourne. Horan had much to work with. Robert and Fanny travel the world, deal with serious health and family crises, and maintain a vibrant social life. Stevenson, of course, becomes a revered literary figure, while pushes against criticisms of her own work. While I am glad to know more about these two historical figures, the book felt excessive at times, providing more detail than might have been necessary to capture a sense of these lives. However, despite that, I enjoyed this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member LoisB
I received this ARC from Random House.

Under The Wide And Starry Skies is a historical novel about the life and love story of Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson. It was intriguing and informative, as I was unfamiliar with Stevenson's life. Nancy Horan does a wonderful job bringing humanity to this famous author as we learn about his health issues, his wife and their travels around the world in search of a life-saving climate. Watch for this book when it is published in January 2014!… (more)
LibraryThing member alandee
"Under the Wide and Starry Sky" is the endearing love story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his beloved wife Fanny van de Grift Osbourne. The title is taken from Stevenson's poem "Requiem" and is engraved on his tomb. The Stevenson's inadvertently lived the lives of adventurers due to searching for a climate that would be conducive for the health of his lungs. Realizing that Stevenson was healthiest at sea, Fanny arranged a long sea voyage to the South Seas where eventually they made their home in Samoa. Courage and devotion to Louis was Fanny's strength. Her indomitable spirit to ensuring his health granted Louis some semblance of normalcy and allowed him to nurture his creativity. An extraordinary work of historical fiction which gave me a special glimpse into the lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and the woman behind his genius.… (more)
LibraryThing member ddelmoni
I requested this ARC as I read Horan's first book, Loving Frank, a few years ago for my book club.

First let me say that Horan is a very good writer far better than most bestseller novelists. I'm grateful for that as, after reading her second novel, I can say the mood/atmosphere of her stories is really depressing.
Unfortunately I'm not sure any novelist can do much about that.

Though I liked her first novel, I've come to realize that I was propelled through the story by my hatred of Frank Lloyd Wright and what the SOB would do next, so my interest was held to the very end. Not so with Starry Sky.

I gave up a little more than half way through. Robert Louis Stephenson medical problems were just too bleek and his wife and travels too uninteresting in Horan's hands to continue. Maybe I'll pick Starry Sky up again in the future, but for now I've had enough.
… (more)
LibraryThing member amandacb
Be warned: this book is a commitment. It is long and thorough, although much of it leans more on the "fiction" than the "historical" tag. However, it is fascinating to delve into the supposed inner workings of Stevenson's personal life; I learned many new things about him. His adventures are not boring whatsoever and this was a book I thoroughly enjoyed. The narrative did not flag throughout the lengthy tome. *Received as an ARC from NetGalley*… (more)
LibraryThing member melaniehope
This fictionalized book tells the love affair between Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson and his partner, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne, an American ten years his junior.

Stevenson is most known for his books, Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Other than that, I knew nothing about the author's life. This was a wonderful book to read and really understand the complex relationship between the two. Also, they led a life of adventure and travels all the while dominated by Stevenson's incurable disease that debilitates him for most of his life.

Fanny meets Louis (as he was often referred as) just as she is in Europe trying to recover after a tragic loss. Although she is still married, but estranged from her husband, her and Louis develop a love affair.

The book is a long one, and at times plods along a bit slowly, but I never wanted to not read it. The life of these two characters was quite amazing. They both traveled to far flung areas of the world at a time when traveling was treacherous and dangerous, especially on the open seas. I was impressed with the details of the story. I really got to know this famous author's life and how he lived it.

I received a copy for review as part of the Librarything Early Reviewers.
… (more)
LibraryThing member brangwinn
I love historical novel where I learn about people's lives. Horan's story about Robert Lewis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, was fascinating. You have t applaud a woman who in the late 1800's was strong a character as Fanny was. She left her cheating husband in California and traveled to Paris with her children. She knew no French, yet found a place there with like-minded artistic people. The death of her young son, Hervey from consumption, lead to a nervous breakdown and recuperation out in the country. When Louis Stevenson showed up she didn't have much appreciation for this younger many. He successfully wooed her and back to his home in Scotland they went. Stevenson's poor health had them moving all over, and finally they ended up in Samoa. Its a story of how a creative woman give up her dreams to constantly nurse the great author, R.L.S. I learned so much and thankfully both Louis and Fanny were prolific writers so their story could be recreated as a novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member CeeAnne
I very recently read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and so I was extra excited to receive this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. I will say upfront that the portion of the book that explained how he came up with that story, as well as how Fanny influenced the development of it, was one of my favorite parts.

Although this is a long book, it never dragged or felt too long. The point of view went between Fanny and Louis, and the balance was just right to make the reader understand their difficult relationship. So much of his personal character went into his writing, and Nancy Horan really connects that for the reader.

I started this book hoping that it wouldn't be a let down since I enjoyed Loving Frank so much, but I was impressed again with this author. I highly recommended this one to lovers of historical fiction.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Fjumonvi
This biographical novel chronicles the unlikely love story of emerging author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny, an American who had taken her children and fled an unhappy first marriage. Based on correspondence and diaries, it is beautifully written and interesting throughout. Portions of the book that focus on Louis, as he was called, and those that emphasize Fanny are handled with equal empathy. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy biographical fiction.… (more)




0345516532 / 9780345516534
Page: 2.1872 seconds