FANNY STEVENSON by Alexandra Lapierre


A Romance of Destiny
Email this review


 Sprawling over the boundary between biography and fiction, a tale of the passionate adventures of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson (18411918). There was little in Fanny Stevenson's Indiana farm background that would predict her courageous flight from Victorian convention, unless it was her father's Universalist religion or his determination to teach his daughters to be independent-minded. After following her first husband to the mining districts of Nevada and then to San Francisco, she left him to study painting in France, where she met Robert Louis Stevenson. Ever determined to be in the forefront of artistic trends, Fanny returned to California and settled in Monterey, where Stevenson joined her. She divorced her unfaithful, alcoholic husband in the teeth of opposition from even her most liberal relatives and married Stevenson. They then set out on their well-documented wanderings in the south of France, New York, Hawaii, and the South Seas. Lapierre (daughter of Dominique Lapierre) focuses almost entirely on Fanny and her family, rescuing her from the condescension and even hatred of Robert Louis Stevenson's friends, admirers, and biographers. But is this rightly called a biography? In a preliminary ``warning to the reader,'' Lapierre asserts that the facts conveyed here are strictly true, but concedes that she has often taken the best parts of several letters and reconstructed a better one for her biography. Furthermore, she frequently composes hypothetical conversations in order to make a good story or to illustrate the states of mind of Fanny and those around her. Yet Lapierre reassures the reader, not only with recurrent warnings in the text about gaps in her knowledge, but with intelligent commentary and attention to telling detail. Having energetically retraced Fanny Stevenson's steps, she uses her own knowledge of Nevada, Panama, and Samoa to give the reader a sense of immediacy and place. Published in a smooth and unobtrusive translation from the French, this book is difficult to put down.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-7867-0127-7
Page count: 520pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995