The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World by Brian Doyle

Robert Louis Stevenson resided in San Francisco for a few months straddling john carsonthe years 1879-1880, at which time he lived in the boarding house owned by Mary Carson.  There Stevenson recovered his health and awaited the finalization of a divorce between his fiancée  and her first husband.  His finances were meager, as Stevenson was at this time struggling to make a living as a writer.

During his stay, Stevenson was enthralled by the stories of Mary’s husband John, a former seamen who had traveled much of the globe.  Stevenson supposedly wanted to write a book about Mr. Carson’s experiences, and this book is an imagining of what Stevenson might have written.

The stories that John Carson tells are fanciful but possible, as far-flung as Borneo, the Canadian Northwest, Australia, and western Ireland.  He tells of stern tribal chieftains and noble shipmates, all with stories of their own.  The most intriguing story is about Carson’s encounter with a feral girl living in a deserted stone village; her future takes her far away from her solitary existence, and she and John are destined to meet again.

One might wonder what kind of influence Mr. Carson’s stories had on the future renderings of  Treasure Island or Kidnapped, or whether Stevenson chose his final home of Samoa, notwithstanding his health problems, as a nod to John Carson and his wanderings.

Brian Doyle is obviously a great admirer of Stevenson’s, and I think he got the rhythms of Stevenson’s prose fairly well.  Doyle’s lively descriptions of pre-1906 earthquake San Francisco the bring the city wonderfully alive; the town is practically a character itself.  The Adventures of John Carson… is also a deep study of the natures of connection and friendship.

The preface and afterword (and the Thanks & Notes!), although fairly brief, are rich in back story and recommendations for further reading.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

under the wideMost of us probably know Robert Louis Stevenson as a famous author of fiction, including Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and of poetry, especially A Child’s Garden of Verses; some of us may be familiar with his accounts of his travels.  Many people, however, know little about his life.

This novel tells the story of Stevenson and his wife, Fanny.  As the book opens in 1875, Fanny, an American, has just arrived in Europe, bringing her three children with her.  This brave woman has left her unfaithful husband, determined to study art abroad, despite financial challenges and a language barrier.  Near Paris, she meets Louis Stevenson. Although he completed law school to please his father, his goal is to become a writer.  Fanny immediately charms him, and his lively, cheerful personality eventually wins her over.

After their marriage, they move frequently, seeking a climate where Louis’ lung problems will improve.  This takes them around Europe, to the United States, and at last on a long cruise around the South Pacific.  They settle in Samoa, where Louis takes an interest in local politics and becomes a beloved part of the community.  Fanny has many gifts, including enough writing skill to offer some helpful suggestions to Louis, the ability to run a farm in Samoa, and the patience to care for Louis during his health crises.

Horan’s thorough research includes reading the many letters by Stevenson, Fanny, and those who knew them.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)