Monday, 22 October 2012

Fanny Stevenson,Romantic enigma,adventuress and muse

Fanny  Stevenson is  a woman described by her husband the writer Robert Louis Stevenson thus
"Trusty,dusky,vivid ,true
With eyes of gold and bramble dew,
steel true and blade straight."
Later in this poem he also describes her as
" teacher,tender,comrade,wife,
a fellow -farer true through life,heart whole and soul free"
Who then was this paragon,she was an American,barely five feet tall who had run away from her husband Sam Osbourne  and taken her children to Europe to study art. An unusual thing for a woman to do but it seem that all through her life Fanny was unusual.
While she was studying in Paris her youngest child died ,she was distraught at the loss of Hervey and it seems, guilt ridden.
She took her remaing two children Belle and Samuel Lloyd to Grez Sur Loing near Barbizon where a whole gang of young artists  had gathered to paint together.
It was here that she met Robert Louis Stevenson who was visiting his handsome cousin the artist Bob Stevenson and enjoying the bohemian life.
Robert had met his Waterloo in Fanny Osbourne ,she was 11 years his senior and he had never met a woman  like her,free spirited, brave and exotic.
This is her drawing of him,showing his romantic looks and delicate hand.
He would write wonderful adventures and travel books and it is all down to Fanny who nursed him through several illnesses that may have been tubercular that he lived long enough to write these wonderful books.
She tried to put him off at first ,returning to her husband in America .  Robert begged her not to go and when he failed to pursuade her he went on a walking tour and wrote his famous "Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes"
Treasure Island  was written for Samuel Lloyd Fanny's son.
Robert could not stay away from her  and despite her entreaties not to come travelled to America to find her.Eventually after  illness and some scrapes they went off to Silverado together and survived the cold winter there.Fanny could not live without him even though she had tried.
The Silverado winter. 
Together they sailed to the south seas ending up in Samoa,the weather would they hoped cure Roberts delicate health and they could feel free.This is their house in Samoa "Valima".
Robert wrote and Fanny gardened and cooked ,she made very good mayonnaise!
They made many local  friends .
She was an exotic dresser,she liked to wear red slippers like ballet shoes and wore her curly hair  short.
Stevenson was devoted to her and they wrote this  book together.
Sadly  Robert died  of a brain hemorrhage  and is buried in Samoa where he was known by the locals as "Tusitala " teller of tales.
Her Grave.
In later life Fanny went back to America where she scandalised her relatives with two relationships with much younger men. The last one said  she was the "Only woman to die for" and when she herself died of a stroke he and her servants were devastated.  Her ashes were taken back to Samoa.
If you would like to find out more about this fascinating woman  I recommend Alexandra Lapierre's Fanny Stevenson. It is an amazing read.
Fanny's bedroom    



I Will Make You Brooches

I will make you brooches and toys for your delight
Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.
I will make a palace fit for you and me
Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.

I will make my kitchen, and you shall keep your room,
Where white flows the river and bright blows the broom,
And you shall wash your linen and keep your body white
In rainfall at morning and dewfall at night.

And this shall be for music when no one else is near,
The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!
That only I remember, that only you admire,
Of the broad road that stretches and the roadside fire.
Robert Louis Stevenson


  1. Thanks, Angela. Robert Louis Stevenson just makes me think of adventures, I hadn't really thought that he had a wife too. Really interesting!

    1. She did get some bad publicity from some of his friends but I think she was an asset to him.

  2. PS One of my favourite books is A Child's Garden of Verses. Just to read it now takes me back to my childhood.

    1. Yes they are great ,I love them too.

  3. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing this. I never really thought about who his wife might have been. She was certainly an extremely interesting and adventurous woman.

    1. She was really an unusual person for her time and seemed very fascinating to the opposite sex! Thanks for dropping in !

  4. One of the perks of working in a library is that you get to come across all these interesting books. Doesn't he look like the actor Alan Rickman in the later photos. Their exciting life makes mine seem rather mundane.

    1. Yes he does Elaine. They did have an exciting life but it must have been very high anxiety.She was an unusual woman for he time.

  5. Oh what a lovely post and so interesting. Thank you for sharing it.
    Patricia x

    1. Thanks Patricia,the book about her is a good read,very evocative and you wonder how she coped with it all.

  6. hello angela, i enjoyed this totally. i was enthralled by every word you wrote. to me fanny looks masculine in these pictures: she must have had incredible charm and spirit.

    i always like your comments on the blogs. i am glad to be here.


    1. Thanks for saying that ,I am glad you like the posts.I think she was actually quite small and more feminine than the photos. I imagine she was quite vivacious too. I really enjoyed finding out about her. x

  7. This post definitely made me intrigued, she sounds like my kind of woman.;) What a romantic story.;))
    Have a great weekend,

    1. She intrigued me and I loved the biography x Angela

  8. She sounds such a magnetic personality passionate, bold and spontaneous. Thanks for sharing the life of this wonderful woman.

    1. Thank Ruby she is fascinating and brave for her time too

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