Under the Wide and Starry Sky (Horan)

Under the Wide and Starry Sky 
Nancy Horan, 2014
Random House
496 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345516534



Summary
From Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank, comes her much-anticipated second novel, which tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny.
 
At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium—with her three children and nanny in tow—to study art. It is a chance for this adventurous woman to start over, to make a better life for all of them, and to pursue her own desires. 

Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists’ colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow, she meets a lively Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who falls instantly in love with the earthy, independent, and opinionated “belle Americaine.”

Fanny does not immediately take to the slender young lawyer who longs to devote his life to writing—and who would eventually pen such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson’s charms, and the two begin a fierce love affair—marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness—that spans the decades and the globe.

The shared life of these two strong-willed individuals unfolds into an adventure as impassioned and unpredictable as any of Stevenson’s own unforgettable tales. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Nancy Horan is the American author of Loving Frank (2007) and Under the Wide and Starry Sky (2014). The first is a novel about Mamah Borthwick and her relationship with American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The author was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction by the Society of American Historians in 2009 for works written  in 2007-2008.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky is her second biographical novel, this one detailing the marriage of Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne to Robert Louis Stevenson.

A native Midwesterner, Nancy Horan was a teacher and journalist before turning to fiction writing. She lived for 24 years in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where she raised her two sons. She now lives with her husband on an island in Puget Sound. (Adapted from the publisher and Wikipedia. Retrieved 1/9/2014.)



Book Reviews
Nancy Horan’s first novel, Loving Frank, explored the tangled personal life of Frank Lloyd Wright. Now, in her second, she takes a deep, long look at the intimate history of yet another creative man. This time, the action is viewed from two perspectives—those of Robert Louis Stevenson and (even more so) of his American wife, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, who hopes to be a painter or a writer herself. Under the Wide and Starry Sky is at once a classic artistic bildungsroman and a retort to the genre, a novel that shows how love and marriage can simultaneously offer inspiration and encumbrance,
Susann Cockal - New York Times Book Review


The central couple is Fanny Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson....[detailing] their years spent in the South Pacific traveling from one island to another. Her own writing talent is submerged in the wake of Louis’s growing fame, and her influence over him creates envy among his circle of friends in Britain. This beautifully written novel, neatly balanced between its two protagonists, makes them come alive with grace, humor, and understanding.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Horan’s spectacular second novel has been worth the wait. Brimming with the same artistic verve that drives her complicated protagonists, it follows the loving, tumultuous partnership of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his Indiana-born wife, Fanny Osbourne…. Together, they are riveting and insightfully envisioned, including through moving depiction of how their relationship transforms over time…. [An] exhilarating novel.
Booklist



Discussion Questions
1. In order to separate from her unfaithful husband, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne takes her children across the continental U.S. and the Atlantic to study art in Europe. Do you think it’s the wisest choice, given the impact on her children? Would you make a similar decision under the circumstances? Are there other options she could have pursued?

2.At first glance, Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson might seem an unlikely match. Why do you think they are so drawn to each other? Why does their relationship endure?

3. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become a phrase synonymous with the idea of the divided self. At any points in the novel, does Louis seem to live a double life? Does Fanny? In what ways do Fanny, Louis, and other characters struggle with their own identities?

4. After criticizing a story of Fanny’s, W. E. Henley incites a quarrel with Louis that threatens their friendship. Does Fanny deserve the criticism? Do you think she and RLS enhance or hinder each other’s artistic ambitions and accomplishments?

5. Take a look at John Singer Sargent’s painting “Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife” (1885; currently in the Steve Wynn collection). What do you think of his portrayal of Fanny and Louis?

6. Many of us feel the need to shape a story out of the facts of our lives. In making these stories, we sometimes create myths about ourselves. Does Fanny invent myths about herself? Does RLS do the same?

7. The Stevensons travel all over the globe in search of the ideal climate for their family, from Switzerland to the South Seas. How do landscape and environment affect each of them?

8. Many of Louis’s friends find Fanny overprotective of her husband. Do you agree or disagree? Are her actions justified?

9. In Samoa, late in their marriage, Louis suggests that the work Fanny does is not that of an artist. He tells her, “No one should be offended if it is said that he is not an artist. The only person who should be insulted by such an observation is an artist who supports his family with his work.” Do you agree with this? What does Fanny consider her art? Do you agree with her views?

10. Why do you think Horan chooses “Out of my country and myself I go” as the epigraph for this book?

11. What is Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary legacy? In what ways does reading Under the Wide and Starry Sky change your view of him and his writing?
(Questions from author's website.)

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