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In her first novel, Loving Frank
, Nancy Horan tells the story of the complex relationship of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. In this novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky
, based on the lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osborne, she continues in this vein. The theme of both novels depicts how these women defied society's conventions to be with the men they loved. The title of the book originates from the poem, Requiem, written by Stevenson.
This second novel is an intimate portrait of the lives of Fanny and Louis, as she calls him. Based on actual facts there is much emphasis on the effect Fanny has on Louis's life, personally, medically, and creatively.
Their life together begins with their meeting at Genz. Louis goes there to meet his bohemian friends. There he meets Fanny, 10 years his senior, and is almost instantly smitten. Fanny, who is there to paint and escape the unimaginable loss of her young son and her marriage to a philandering husband, is much more reticent.
Eventually, she and Louis do fall in love and live together for a time. Fanny decides to give her marriage another chance, although she loves Louis. She returns to America, and much to her dismay she finds her husband has not changed.
Louis, determined to win Fanny back, travels on a tramp steamer despite his chronic illness. He arrives in America, his health broken by the arduous journey, near death. Eventually, he reunites with Fanny who had also been very ill. Fanny is now divorced, and she and Louis are finally married.
So begins their nomadic existence. This marriage of opposites is full of love, inspiration, and eventual loss. Fanny subverts her own creative existence to help her husband's creativity. Often she nurses him back from his many close calls with death. Despite the hardships of Victorian Age travel, they go from place to place searching for where Louis can regain his health, live more comfortably, and continue to write. Their search takes them from America, Switzerland, England, Australia, and finally to Samoa. Through much of their travels they are on a boat, and Fanny, who has terrible bouts of seasickness, is violently ill.
In Samoa Louis seems to be happy and leads a most fulfilling life. He begins a frenzy of creativity often working long hours. Fanny, who herself wanted to be a writer, is often relegated to nursemaid. She is instrumental in his success as she reads and critiques his writing and often gets him to make changes.
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