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Fanny Stevenson: A Romance of Destiny Hardcover – March, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Robert Louis Stevenson's biographers are sharply divided over his American wife Frances (Fanny) Van de Grift (1840-1914), depicting her either as a muse, a saintly martyr or a dominating shrew. In this spellbinding biography, which is written like a romance novel, French novelist Lapierre portrays the Indiana-born farmer's daughter as an intrepid woman of rash energy, courage, violent emotion and charisma who sublimated her career as a painter in her possessive love for the tubercular Scottish novelist, children's writer and poet. They met in a French artists' colony when RLS was 25. Fanny, 10 years his senior and the mother of three, was separated from her first husband, Sam Osbourne, a gambler and womanizer whom she had blindly followed from a Nevada silver mining camp to San Francisco. Fanny's 14-year quest to restore the frail Robert's health, a quest which took them from London to Switzerland and Monterey, Calif., then to Hawaii and Samoa, makes this an intensely moving, colorful epic. Though some readers may demur at the highly novelistic approach and effusive prose, Lapierre provides ballast by creating dialogue from lines taken from the couple's letters and Robert's essays. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The winner of Elle magazine's Grand Prize for 1994 has sold nearly a quarter million copies in Lapierre's native France and is now available in an English translation. Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson's claim to fame has been her marriage to Robert Louis Stevenson. Here, Lapierre shows her as more Johnson than Boswell. The derringer-toting, cigarette-smoking Fanny captivated men with her dark skin and gypsy clothing. A lover of vagabonds and dreamers, she was a courageous, passionate, devoted blend of Annie Oakley and Hester Prynne who crossed the Isthmus of Panama with her young daughter, Belle, to follow her first husband to the Nevada gold mines. Later, she would defy Victorian standards by moving to France with her three children to study art. There she met and married Stevenson with whom she trekked the continents in search of a climate to safeguard his fragile health. For Stevenson, Fanny was adventure. For Fanny, Stevenson was all artistry. Lapierre offers a superbly passionate rendition of truth that flows with the pace of fine fiction. All dialogue in the book was taken directly from Robert and Fanny's essays and letters, and where necessary, Lapierre injects first-person clarification in a manner that is enlightening rather than intrusive. A captivating blend of scholarship and style. Patricia Hassler

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 556 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Pub; 1st edition (March 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786701277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786701278
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,322,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By E. Montgomery on August 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This biography is, as the title implies, a romantic story. Fanny Stevenson 's drive for life took her from a comfortable Midwestern family life to Gold Rush San Francisco to Impressionist Paris to the South Pacific, with three colorful men, the most famous of whom was Robert Louis Stevenson. She was maligned for her fierce adventurousness in her own era; Alexandra LaPierre resurrects her story with admiration, and tells it well.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By cserpent on May 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This 500-page, fictionalized biography is an impressive, engrossing work. Fanny Vandegrift Stevenson was a physically-robust 'man's woman' in an era when women were used hard, but held back, typed, and discriminated against. A very early marriage to a charming, faithless, adventuring neighbor-turned-gold-prospecter resulted in several children whom she took around the world in her life's amazing travels and adventures. She gave and endured much w/husband No. 1, whom she divorced to marry writer Rob't. Louis Stevenson.

That relationship was far more satisfying and productive. By becoming his vigilant caretaker and loving critic/editor/scribe, she prolonged his fragile life sixteen years and thereby left the world a rich legacy of superior literary works. Their union was largely a happy one, although not without tensions, screamers, and blow-ups, detailed in the book. Being a vigilant caretaker is a thankless job, as caretakers everywhere can attest. Mrs. S. didn't fare well in the eyes of many others, who were jealous and resentful of her influence over Stevenson, his change from adolescent to adult, and her temerity in limiting Stevenson's self-destructive (given his health) bon vivant tendencies. He, too, apparently grew to resent it as the years progressed and he enjoyed (towards the last and due to her), better health, greater energy, and congenial surroundings. But it was a true love match. They remained devoted to each other throughout their marriage and past his death. His loving poem, "To My Wife" (undated), is the cover page to the hardcover edition. Its tenderness and realism are truly moving.

The Notes section describes the author's field trips all over the world and US, and the process of synthesizing new Letters, dialogue, and scenes from the materials found.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 5, 1997
Format: Hardcover
it is ashame that this book left store shelves so quickly and has become so hard to find. it is one of those rare gems of biography, seemlessly weaving facts and writings and the many stories of a life into a work with a novel-like quality.
the work gracefully unfolds the tale of a powerful, courageous woman. fanny stevenson was a woman ahead of her time and she was of her time. she traveled alone across our continent and to europe at a time when women traveled with companions at the very least. she m
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Passionforlife on October 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Fanny Stevenson was a strong woman but deeply affected by the attitudes of her day. What a strength she had though. Love this book, any woman would appreicate her story, very well written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Okiegirl on August 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fanny Stevenson: A Romance of Destiny rates as one of the better biographies I've read in the last five years. I believe this one will be one that I remember and refer back to often.

Fanny's life contained much diversity, adventure, travel and love's ups and downs. She certainly was a unique individual and clearly had some charisma where men were concerned, although I am still baffled as to why that was considering the chauvinistic era in which she lived. IMO Fanny serves as a pre-feminist lady. She nursed and served Robert Louis Stevenson but couldn't be labeled as servile, if that makes any sense. She did not hesitate to give opinions and could bully others if they stood in the way of helping someone she loved. Strong-willed would be an understatement in describing Fanny.

Since I am a fan of RLS, I enjoyed seeing his life through Fanny's eyes. It isn't the rose-coloured view presented by most of his biographers. His passion and loyalty towards Fanny and his friends impressed me.

A couple highlights of the book:

*Fanny's fashion sense: wear the current style, but add at least one item that expresses your individual personality.

*There is enough travel, drama and adventure for a couple of lives

*The devotion and loyalty between Fanny and RLS is touching

*This is my first time seeing a Notes section layout such as this one has. I liked it a lot!

The only drawbacks:

*Even after reading this book I still don't feel like I know Fanny as much as know about her. I don't blame the author for this because most information about her is written by her enemies who felt she stole RLS from them. However, the author did a wonderful job of reconstructing her life from letters and such.
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