For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
Nancy Horan’s novels shed light on those often ignored by history: the wives of famous men. In her latest work, Horan recounts the improbable love affair between Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny Osbourne. On their own, these two characters fascinate and entertain. Together, they demonstrate a deep and complicated love challenged by convention, geography and illness.
- Nancy Horan author of "Under the Wide and Starry Sky" and "Loving Frank," a novel based on the life of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Photo Gallery: Inside The Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “Under the Wide and Starry Sky” by Nancy Horan. Copyright © 2014 by Nancy Drew Horan. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Nancy Horan's novels shed light on those often ignored by history. The wives of famous men. In her latest work, she recounts the improbable love affair between Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny Osbourne. On their own, these two characters fascinate and entertain. Together, they demonstrate a deep and complicated love challenged by convention, geography and illness. Nancy Horan joins me in this studio.
MS. DIANE REHMHer new book is titled "Under the Wide and Starry Sky." She is, of course, also the author of the bestselling book, "Loving Frank." And throughout the hour, if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And Nancy Horan, it's good to meet you.
MS. NANCY HORANLovely to meet you, too.
REHMThank you. Remind us about "Loving Frank." It's a book that tells, really, an extraordinary and indeed tragic story.
HORANYes. Well, "Loving Frank" was my first novel, and I happened to live in Oak Park, Illinois, which was where Frank Lloyd Wright established his first architectural practice. And I knew about Frank Lloyd Wright. Of course, you can't not know about Frank Lloyd Wright. There are impersonators walking around town, dressed as Frank Lloyd Wright. There are bus loads of people who come to see his work. And yet, I didn't know much about a client that he had fallen in love with, named Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
HORANAnd she lived on East Avenue, in a home that he had designed for her and her husband. And I lived on East Avenue, and I would walk by that house many times, not knowing the story behind Mamah and Frank Lloyd Wright. What I learned, somehow, it came to me, through some bit of information, that there was this chapter in Wright's life that was kind of swept under the rug. And the fact was that he and she left their families, embarked upon a love affair, went to Europe for a year, created an enormous newspaper scandal that was considered just appalling.
HORANAnd they decided, against all odds, to stay together. She became a translator for a Swedish feminist, and Mamah was a feminist herself. He built a house for them, Taliesin in Wisconsin. And they lived there, unmarried and living against conventional values. As time went on, Wright continued to work in Chicago and I don't -- if you haven't read "Loving Frank," I don't want to tell the ending.
HORANA powerful, powerful tragedy occurs, and I was so struck by how this story really was comparable to a Greek tragedy, unfolding on the Midwestern prairie. And I just felt like I had to tell that story. And, ultimately, I told it from her point of view. She was a footnote in history, and tried to walk in her shoes, and tried to tell the story as she might have told it.
REHMAnd now, you're telling this story of Fanny Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson. You've done a great deal of research in order to write this historical novel. Now, tell me your sources.
HORANWell, when I become interested in a subject, I tend to start by reading a couple of biographies, if they're available. And then, I pursue it and go to all the original sources, primary sources. So, I read Stevenson's letters. There are eight volumes, and they're delightful. If you get hooked on Stevenson, hopefully, after reading this book, he's hilarious. He's so warm and funny and so human. And his voice in the letters really helped me understand how his voice should sound in the book, because his writing is more formal in many cases.
HORANNot all. But, he was just a delightful human being and it's very evident in the letters. Then I went and read Fanny's letters, unpublished letters at UC Berkeley. And I read Stevenson's works, and they're voluminous. I mean, he was so prolific, some 13 novels. He was an essayist. He began writing travel essays at the beginning, and then he wrote poetry. He wrote dramas. He wrote music. He was a remarkable man.
REHMWere there also diaries?
HORANYes. And one of her diaries is her diary of their time in the South Seas. Because Robert Louis Stevenson was not a well man. He had a lung illness. He'd had it from the time he was a child. And it had kept his cooped up in his home when he was a boy.
REHMWhat was it?
HORANWell, it was -- it's assumed he had tuberculosis, but contemporary critics question that. They think it might have been something else. In any case, this is 19th century medical terminology that's throughout the book. He inherited a bad set of lungs from his mother's side of the family. I mean, this is how it got reduced. So, his whole life with Fanny was a pursuit to find a climate and a place where they could live and he could regain some strength.
REHMHow did they first meet?
HORANAh. Well, you need to understand about Fanny. Fanny was ten years older than he was. She was an American woman who had married at 17, had her first child at 18. She was from Indianapolis. And her husband was a college educated man, but eventually he decided to go and mine for gold and silver in California. And she followed him. And you get a sense of the kind of grit Fanny had, because to follow him, in those days, the trains did not go to California, where he was.
HORANAnd so she had to take a train from Indianapolis to the east coast and travel by ship down the Atlantic to the Isthmus of Panama. Take a train across the Isthmus of Panama, get another ship up the Pacific coast.
HORANAnd go to San Francisco, where she disembarked with about 50 cents in her pocket.
REHMAnd did she have a child at that time?
HORANShe had a five year old child clinging to her hand the whole time. She had almost no money. So, Fanny loved very much the man she was married to, Sam Osbourne, but -- and he was a good man, in many respects, but alas, he was a real philanderer. There were separations and reunions and separations, and so by the time Fanny figured out she really could not stay anymore, she gathered up her three children and she made a dash for Europe, knowing that her husband would support him, because he had been caught in a new liaison.
HORANAnd so, she went to study art. Now, in those days, studying art was a convenient way for a woman to leave a bad marriage. You know, a respectable way. But, in fact, she had been taking art lessons, and she and her daughter Isabel were really serious art students in San Francisco. So, they set off for Antwerp to go study art and classical training is what they wanted. They got there, and the art school did not admit women.
REHMThat was such a blow to her. She had sort of primed herself, fixed herself on this possibility, this prospect, and she was staying at a hotel. And she had very little money in her pocket. And then, she sees a building that has something written on the outside.
HORANShe does. She sees a hotel, and it's -- the name -- do you remember the name?
REHMIt's "Wellness." Something like that.
HORANYes. And she just goes in. She wants to see if there's a room. She's got -- she's sitting there. She's got three children back in her hotel. She can't afford to stay in a hotel. And she thinks, I have got to find a place to stay and figure out what I'm going to do next. And so she went into the hotel, and she found the most charming man, and the most charming family, who said, we'll help you out. And Fanny had a way with people. People helped her a lot. I mean, she found herself in tough situations frequently, and she had a way of endearing people to her.
REHMAnd that is absolute fact.
REHMNancy Horan. Her new book is titled, "Under the Wide and Starry Sky." It is historical fiction, and we're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll have Nancy read from her book, we'll take your calls, your email. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Nancy Horan is with me. She's the author of the Best Seller "Loving Frank," all about Frank Lloyd Wright. But her new book is titled "Under the Wide and Starry Sky" about the relationship between Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osbourne. Fanny has gotten to Antwerp. She thinks she's going to be enrolled in an art class. It doesn't happen because she is a woman. How does life proceed for her? She finds some luck. She finds a good friendly reception in that hotel.
HORANYes. The hotel Dubien Ett (sp?) , which means the Hotel of Wellbeing. I remember it now. She did. And it looked like they would get private tutors to do art and stay in Antwerp but her youngest son wasn't feeling well. And a doctor recommended they go to a specialist in Paris. And so they did. And that is where -- and the son began to improve, so that is where Fanny and Belle really did get great art training from the Academy Julianne (sp?) . And that was a teacher who had art classes for women.
HORANAnd I think the problem was that it was about the issue of drawing from the nude. And some schools did not want to mix male and female students. Well, Monsieur Julianne figured out what to do. He just kept the women together. And it was a marvelous gathering place for artists from all around the world who came to study with him. And Louisa May Alcott's sister was one of the art students in their class. And so everything was doing fine and then tragedy struck in Paris.
REHMExactly. Her young son dies.
HORANHer young son developed tuberculosis and died. And Fanny collapsed in grief. It was just a staggering loss to her. She adored this boy. And a doctor recommended that she go out into the countryside to get some fresh air and really take care of her other children who had been grief stricken as well by the loss of their brother. And so they went to a place that a friend recommended to Fanny called Hotel Chevion (sp?) in (unintelligible) which is south of Paris. And Fanny went there and stayed there with her children and tried to sort of put her life back in order.
REHMThis is a Bohemian artist colony.
HORANWell, it is. And whether she realized that or not, I don't know. But in any case, the first person to arrive was Bob Stevenson, Robert Louis Stevenson's cousin. And Bob had really been sent there early almost to chase away these Americans because he was part of a Bohemian artist group. And they loved to go there and work. They painted during the day. There was a beautiful bridge there in a river and they would drink and eat and share ideas and just enjoy each other. And they heard there was this woman there with her brats and they were really unhappy about that.
HORANSo Bob went and he was charmed by Fanny. And then Louis arrived late. Meanwhile, all the other...
REHMRobert Louis Stevenson, who is called Louis.
HORANYes, thank you. Yes, he was called Louis by his friends and family. So when all the other Bohemian crowd arrived, Louis was late coming. And he looked through the window of the Hotel Chevion and he always said he fell in love with Fanny at this moment. He looked through the window and he saw this lovely looking woman who had olive skin, wavy hair. She was smoking a cigarette. And he was charmed by her. And so he jumped through a window. Just made a very dramatic entrance.
HORANAnd they proceeded to fall in love. Now I must say that it was -- it may have been love at first sight on his part.
HORANBut on her part she didn't know quite what to make of him because he had a habit -- odd habits. He was young and immature. He was an only child of devoted Scottish parents. And he had been cooped up as a child. He wanted to have fun but he did certain things. For example, when someone would tell a sad story he would just throw himself upon the floor and weep. And if he was having fun he would start laughing and he really couldn't stop. So his friends had learned that what you had to do was bend back his hand really hard so that he was in agony.
REHMHe was in pain.
HORANHe was in pain.
HORANAnd that would stop the laughing, the giddiness.
HORANOh my goodness.
HORANWell, Fanny thought it was very strange. And she wrote to a friend and said, I don't know whether to hand him a handkerchief or look out the window. You know, it was embarrassing to her.
REHMHad she already been divorced at this point or was she still married?
HORANNo, she was still married.
REHMAnd Robert Louis Stevenson himself had never been married?
HORANHad never been married. He had been in love once before with a woman named Fanny Sitwell, another Fanny. And she also was ten years older than he. So he...
HORANInteresting. He had an attraction to older women. And in any case I think that their friendship developed into a love affair over time at the Hotel Chevion and continued on until the point where Fanny, for whatever reason, decided to return to her marriage. And...
REHMThat was so strange. Why? What are the reasons? Did her husband all of a sudden decide that he loved her deeply? He promised to be faithful? What was it?
HORANWell, I think it was that. I think she was thinking about her children. And they had lost a child, both parents had lost a child. It was really traumatic for her. And when she returned to America, the idea was that she was going to get a divorce.
REHMAnd tell me how long after she met Louis she returned to the states.
HORANSo after meeting at the Hotel Chevion, they went on to Paris. And I believe they lived together for a while. She's studying art still. He growing more mature and writing more and starting to get his work placed. He was still quite unknown. He had only published a few pieces. And he was a travel writer mostly and essayist. So they had been together two years. It looked like marriage was definitely in the plans. They felt married to each other. They had been so close to each other. And she returned and perhaps she lost her resolve. Perhaps her husband persuaded her to give the marriage another try. And perhaps for the sake of her children she did that. We can't be sure.
REHMNow here's where you as a creator of historical fiction have to draw on the accounts you have and put words in their mouths, words that you have no idea were uttered or not.
REHMHow hard is that to make that fit with the character you're dealing with?
HORANWell, it's a challenge but also I love that challenge. I like working with the real historical record. There are gaps in it. People have tried to understand why Fanny went back. I found my own connection. I found a very -- because I draw my own conclusions from the facts. I find biographies are as biased as novels are. You know, you have to make your own conclusions when you're writing historical fiction the way I do, which is sticking to -- close to the historical record.
HORANI found that just a few months prior to her departure a scathing article about her appeared in a journal. And it was written by a close friend of hers, a woman she thought was a close friend named Margaret Wright. And Margaret Wright wrote a piece about the Bohemian colony where Fanny had been. And she described a woman who was there as the Queen of Bohemia who felt that she was -- you know, she had Aztec blood or whatever and she was different and she was colorful. And actually she was quite tawdry was the gist of the article.
HORANIt was scathing. It was remarkable. And I don't know of anyone else who has made this connection but I felt that if I were in Fanny's shoes, it would sober me deeply to think about how the rest of the world looked upon my relationship with the man I loved and I'm living with. And I have children, you know, with me. So, you know, with writing fiction it's really an act of empathizing, of walking in their shoes and imagining. And in this case that might have been a spur for her.
REHMWhat was Fanny's background? Where in Cain (sp?) or where from did the olive skin come from?
HORANI think her mother may have had olive skin but Fanny's background was Dutch and Swedish. So who knows?
HORANWho knows? And really the only person who made a great deal of her -- the color of her skin was her grandmother who just felt she did not fit the conventional standard of beauty in Indianapolis.
HORANAnd she would scrub her skin. She would put long cotton gloves on her arms and sew a hat into her hair when she went outside to keep her skin from turning darker.
REHMAnd then this Wright woman refers to her as somehow Aztec.
HORANWell, yes, exotic, some princess of some lost race or whatever. I mean, just really an ugly piece.
REHMSo what happens when Fanny goes back to her husband?
HORANShe goes back. She discovers it's hopeless.
REHMHe's still a philanderer.
HORANHe's still a philanderer. She -- he's very sincere at first. She gets set up in Monterey. They're going away. They're going to try to make it work one more time. They actually lived in Oakland. She had a home in Oakland. And when she had gone to Europe, he had moved in his latest amore into their cottage.
HORANSo anyway, they went away from that cottage. They went to Monterey and that's where Fanny was. And she knew that it was hopeless. And she somehow communicated to Louis. No one knows the content of the telegram but she sent a telegram to Louis. And he instantly decided to go and get her and marry her.
REHMNancy Horan. Her new book is titled "Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Is this a true depiction of Fanny on the cover?
HORANNo, it's not. That's not Fanny.
REHMWhy did you choose that depiction?
HORANWell, a designer chose that. And I think it has to do very much with people's tastes in book covers now. It's an invitation.
REHMAre there any photographs of her? Are there any depictions of her? After all, she was an artist.
REHMShe was living for a time in a Bohemian artist colony. One would think that there might be a drawing of her.
HORANThere are and there are photographs of her. If you go online to -- if you put in Robert Louis Stevenson and then right the word website you will find -- I think it's .org for Robert Louis Stevenson -- a wonderful website created by people at the University of Sterling I believe, and with Stevenson's whole history. But also lots of photographs of their time together in the many places they lived. Because they lived in many places.
REHMWould you read for us from the book?
HORANBe happy to. Let me set this up a little bit for you. This scene occurs in Bournemouth. After Fanny and Louis married they eventually settled in England in a home that Louise's father gave to Fanny as a wedding present. And she was very happy about that to have a home. They had traveled a lot to different TB sanitariums and different places for his health and they settled there. But Louis was not well. And his lungs would hemorrhage. And so there were periods when he was bedbound. And his arm would be wrapped. His arm would be in a sling and bound to his body so he would not be tempted to use his writing hand.
HORANHe wrote constantly but if he was in one of these bad phases, he had to have the hand. And so he could move his fingers. He couldn't speak during these periods because it would disturb his lungs.
HORANAnd so he would communicate with Fanny by finger sign language. And it was a dark period for him. It was during this period, however, that he wrote a very important work which was the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And that began as a dream. Had a dream, a very powerful dream. And he got little bits of the story in that dream. And Fanny awoke him because he was shouting in his sleep. And he said, wait why did you wake me up. I'm having an amazing dream. And he said, quick, get my paper.
HORANAnd so she ran to get his paper and he wrote with a dip pen and an ink bottle. And he started writing and he worked for three days. He wrote 30,000 words...
REHMOh, my heavens.
HORAN...in three days.
HORANAnd he read it then. Now the practice with them -- he called Fanny his critic on the hearth. He respected her taste, he respected her criticism and he would read at night to both Fanny and her son Lloyd. So he read the piece he had created, his draft and Lloyd was so enthusiastic about it. But Fanny was very reserved. And often she was enthusiastic about what he had written. She was very reserved.
REHMAnd now we're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll have you read that excerpt. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you just joined us, Nancy Horan is with me. We're talking about her work of historical fiction. It's titled, "Under the Wide and Starry Sky." All about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Osbourne, the woman who ultimately became his wife. She was 10 years his senior. She had been married once before. She had a philandering husband with who she had three children, one of whom died.
REHMAnd you were about to read for us after this extraordinarily productive period. He awakens from a dream. He's written 30,000 words of this strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
HORANRight. And his critic on the hearth is not giving him approval. And she says to him, finally, I think you have made vice of Mr. Hyde too specific. I think it needs to be more general, needs to be more of an allegory and people will relate to it, to the duality in all of us and the possibility of good and evil in all of us. And so this -- I'm going to read to you is Stevenson's reactions and he was really upset by the fact that perhaps she was taking her job as critic on the hearth too seriously.
HORAN"Long ago, before he met Fanny, he had made up his mind that marrying another writer would be a mistake. A family could tolerate only one. Well, Fanny had been an aspiring writer before he knew her. Any qualms Louis might have felt about a life with her had inevitably passed. Their time together had become one long -- contentious sometimes, yes -- yet she had opened his mind in many ways. And Fanny's mind was keen.
HORANShe had a wonderful way of seeing things that was all hers. Sometimes her thoughts were so original that they took him aback. But she was more intuitive about human nature than skilled in literary nuance. He wanted to say to her, I love you, I owe my life to you. But my writing comes first even before you because I am my writing. And when you meddle in my work, you muck with my soul.
HORANLouis looked at the pile of paper on his lap. Earlier, he had felt so exhausted that he could not even contemplate rereading the story for errors. He had hoped to sleep tonight and read the next day with a fresh brain. There were at least 30,000 words there. Before he laid his head down, it hit him. God damn it, she's right. As it stood, the Jekyll and Hyde story was merely a penny dreadful horror.
HORANThe tale should be written as a stronger allegory. It held within it a germ of truth about the other and every man. A truth so powerful it could make any reader of the story flinch with recognition of his own weaker self. After he tossed the manuscript into the fireplace, he tried to sleep. But the new story would not let him rest. Louis sat up mapping out the direction of the next version on his board.
HORANAs soon as his note-taking ended, his pen was writing a new version of the story -- ideas, whole paragraphs sparked around his brain. He abbreviated words to capture them on paper before another bolt hit him."
REHMSo he's threw out the whole first version.
HORANHe tossed it. And in the next three days, he wrote a whole new version 30,000 words more, six days.
REHMAnd what was her reaction to the second draft? Do we know?
REHMAll right, let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. First to Lisey (sp?) in Traverse City, MI. You're on the air.
LISEYHello. Thank you for taking my call.
LISEYI have a couple of questions. One is, where did you do the bulk of your research and how long did it take to gather all of that? And last but not least, what are your personal reasons for reviewing this, bringing this out about Stevenson? Thank you.
HORANAh, interesting. Research, first of all, I read a lot of books and biographies, Stevenson's writings, his novels, his essays to get a sense of the man. I went, as I -- I think I mentioned before, I went to UC Berkeley, I went to Yale and looked at his papers and read his papers there. I also traveled and I went to his childhood home. I stayed in the house where his -- he was raised on Heriot Row in New Town in Edinburgh.
HORANAnd I slept in his parents' bedroom and there was this quite extravagant for 19th century taste bathroom attached to it. And the story goes, according to the owner of this home, that Fanny nagged Stevenson's father about making a fine bathroom because, after all, he was a famous lighthouse builder. He came from a family of lighthouse builders. They were engineers. And she teased Thomas Stevenson eventually did do something about his plumbing.
HORANIn any case, it took me five years to write the book. I do a lot of research at the beginning but I researched all the way through. As I'm going to the places they went to, I wanted to know about a year where in the south of France where Stevenson said he was really, truly, most happy in (word?). I went there. I read about it. I saw the house.
REHMThe only place you did not go was to Samoa.
HORANTo Samoa, you're right.
HORANI -- it just didn't happen. It didn't fit in. I would like to go to Samoa at some point. And so I read a great deal about that time in their photographs from that period, too, because Fanny's son Lloyd was interested in photography and documented their three ship voyages through the South Seas and then their life at Vailima, the house they built in Samoa.
REHMThe other part of her question has to do with why you decided to disclose all this about Robert Louis Stevenson.
HORANYou know, Robert Louis Stevenson was a huge literary figure in the 19th century. But in the 20th century, we've, in a sense, forgotten about him. Parents still do read "A Child's Garden of Verses" to their children. And his legacy lives on in odd ways. You know, if you say "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," people understand it. A week hardly went by during the writing of this book that I did not hear that phrase or see it in print.
HORANAnd people understand it in the same way Stevenson meant it when he published that in 1886. They get it about the duality. It's something deep, deep in our psyche so people understand is very possible for a person to possess both good and evil. But I felt that I didn't know much about it. I was a lit major. Why didn't I know more? I've read a few things. And the man I found was such a worthy subject because he was not only a great -- a consummate storyteller and the stylist, he was a great human being. And he was just fascinating to spend time with.
REHMWhen you think about their lives together, I wonder about money. Have the money begun to come in because of his writings?
HORANYes. It had toward the end of his life, and yet they were spending it and they expanded their home in Vailima. Money was always a problem. And I don't that he needed to worry as strenuously as he did about money, but at the end he was still thinking about it and yet he had an enormous reputation and he had, you know, success in writing.
REHMAll right, to Lydia. She's in Louisville, KY. You're on the air.
LYDIAThank you so much. I was so excited to hear the topic of today's program. And I wanted to ask your guest to start with that -- should I claim it or not. I am a descendant from Samuel Osbourne.
LYDIABut he in turn is a direct descendant of Daniel Boone's sister Hanna.
HORANThat's what I understand.
LYDIAYes. And so I had several questions, if I may.
LYDIAOne, the family lore, you know how that goes, says that Stevenson wrote "Treasure Island" specifically for one of Fanny's sons. I wondered if you knew anything about that. And also family lore says that Samuel finally, after coming and going, coming and going, to the mines, et cetera, et cetera, went out one night ostensibly to get tobacco or cigarette and just never came back, ain't that lovely?
LYDIAAnd that he disappeared and the lore is that he ended up dying of jungle fever in South America. Where all that came from, I have no idea. But it has been passed down.
HORANWell, let me respond to the last part first. Yes, I understand -- well, first of all, Fanny and Lloyd, it is true that Stevenson wrote that story for Lloyd. He was -- the boy was a great companion to Louis Stevenson. He called him Loolly (sp?) . He was fond of him. And he wanted some adventurous story. They were -- it was rainy, they were in Scotland. And Stevenson just began creating the story that everybody in the family delighted in, including Stevenson's father. He just loved it.
HORANSo, yes, that's true. And then the other part about Sam Osbourne disappearing. He did disappear. He was -- he had remarried to a woman named Polly and he was working late on night and she had dinner prepared and he did not return home.
LYDIASo he walked out in that time, he walked out on his second wife. Is that...
HORANWell, you know, you can look at it in different ways. It's very possible he was murdered or he was, you know, he was mobbed. He was injured.
LYDIAOkay. He was not with Fanny at that time. He was…
HORANHe had remarried. He had remarried. And he actually like Stevenson. There came a point when, you know, he suggested -- once the divorce occurred, he suggested, you know, going to Napa to recover. And, you know, he was a helpful person. But, yes...
REHMBut as for how he died, what you're saying is, we don't really know.
HORANIt's a mystery. We don't really know. We don't know.
REHMHe simply disappeared.
REHMTell us about the titled, "Under the Wide and Starry Sky."
HORANI love that line. That -- when Stevenson came across America seeking to persuade Fanny to go through with her divorce, he traveled first by ship in steerage, but he got a little writing table so that was -- that was considered second class. He wanted to write as a common man. And then he went to New Jersey and he got on an immigrant train and he came across America in this immigrant train and he became very, very ill.
HORANHe was very weakened. He experienced the worst and the best of Americans at that point. You know, some people make fun of him for being ill. Other people were kinder and gave him food, tried to be nice to him. But his ideas about the nobility of the common man were blasted apart on that trip. While he was on that trip it occurred to him that because he had told no one that he was leaving except a couple of friends, you know, he might die on this train and where would he be buried?
HORANAnd he began writing a poem that he eventually finished. But one line was under the wide and starry sky. And that is where he wanted to be buried. And poem is on his grave, it's on his tomb in Samoa. And I can try to recite it but "under the wide and starry sky dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die and I lay me down with the will. This be the verse you grave for me. Here he lies where he longs to be. Home is the sailor, home from sea. And the hunter home from the hill."
REHMIt's a beautiful poem, just beautiful. Still brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it? It's quite a story she lived on for 10 years after he died. She buried him in Samoa, that's where he wanted to be. What do you think her legacy is?
HORANOh, that's a wonderful question. I think her legacy is the memory of Robert Louis Stevenson. A, because she kept him alive, for years she kept him alive. And then secondly because after his death she did everything she could to perpetuate his legacy and to release his works and new editions and that sort of thing. She devoted the rest of her life to his memory, but she also had a full life of her own. She built houses.
HORANShe built one in San Francisco. I visited that home. She had a home in Santa Barbara and Mexico. And she never could settle in one place very long. I think her true home was in him.
REHMShe died a wealthy woman.
REHMNancy Horan, her new book, a novel, is titled "Under the Wide and Starry Sky." Pleasure to talk with you. Thank you.
HORANMy pleasure also.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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