RLS: Under the Wide and Starry Sky and Treasure Island

pin-up pirateNancy Horan certainly found treasure with her debut novel, Loving Frank, a fictionalized account of the life and loves of Frank Lloyd Wright. In Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Horan reaches for the skies above Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland’s beloved author of Treasure Island. In my and my book club’s opinion, the second book was less successful, perhaps because we could find no one to really like very much.

Robert Louis Stevenson.(OBIT. 3975)

Robert Louis Stevenson. (OBIT. 3975)

Robert Louis Stevenson, despite his adventurous tales, was consumptive most of his life. For some unfathomable reason, he fell head over heels in love with the (in Horan’s telling) vain, neurotic, self-centered Fanny Van de Griff Osborne, an Indiana native, who had run away from her cheating husband in California. Fanny took care of Louis far better than her own son who died before she and Louis returned to California to seek and obtain Fanny’s divorce so she could marry.

All of this — and I MEAN ALL — is recounted in great detail in Under the Wide and Starry Sky. Clearly, Horan’s research was in-depth, wide-spread and exhaustive. As I reader though, I just wasn’t quite sure I needed to know exactly what they had for lunch on July 28, 1887 or the name of the third purser to the second captain on the boat they didn’t take. I jest, but after 470-some pages, you will see what I mean.

fannyThe New York Times had a far better opinion than I, calling Under the Wide and Starry Sky “a novel that shows how love and marriage can simultaneously offer inspiration and encumbrance, especially when the more successful partner believes that, as far as artists go, “a family could tolerate only one.” The Stevensons’ story is full of morbidity and sacrifice, chronicling losses and gains — and, of course, the writing of classics like “Treasure Island,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Kidnapped,” none of which, Horan suggests, would have been possible without Fanny Stevenson’s careful nurturing of her husband.”

Fanny, in Horan’s hands, holds no charm for the reader.

The carved clock on the mantel ticked off a minute before she said dully, “Just write.”

She resisted being joked into a happier humor.

“A good novel might cure your boredom,” he suggested when he realized Fanny had stopped reading books or writing stories. Only the Lancet held her attention.

“This article says that some vinegars erode your intestines.”

Under the Wide and Starry Sky depicted Stevenson’s creative process in an engaging, inviting manner. Enough to cause me to download and listen to the audiobook of Treasure Island, a classic novel I’d never made time for in the past.

Louis spread out a piece of paper on a table and began painting an island with some watercolors. Below the drawing, he wrote “Treasure Island.”

“Imagine that there is an island where a chest full of gold is buried,” he said to Sammy. “There is a boy named Jim who, quite by chance, comes into possession of a map of the island. The map has been drawn by a crusty old sailor of questionable morals, a man named, ah . . . Billy . . . Billy Bones. And through some series of events, the boy goes off on a schooner to look for the treasure. He is traveling with a collection of sailors, some of them decent fellows, and some scoundrels bent on killing the other men when they find the gold . . .”

johnny-depp-pirates-of-the-caribbeanI had no idea that in Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson essentially created out of whole cloth the entire peg-legged, parrot-carrying, shivering-me-timbers, x-marks-the-treasure-spot, dead-men’s-chest pirate that we know and love, OH JOHNNY DEPP how we love ye, today.

But he did. And he came up with the names Ben Gunn, Long John Silver, Billy Bones, the Hispaniola. Treasure Island is a fun, but somewhat tedious on audio, adventure. But maybe I’m just partial to my Kentucky homie Mr. Depp. Treasure Island though I can recommend without reservation to read for your book club. It is one of the most frequently dramatized of all novels and a fun one to read to your children. It’s got those little passages that send a shiver down the timbers.

“His stories were what frightened people worst of all. Dreadful stories they were–about hanging, and walking the plank, and storms at sea, and the Dry Tortugas, and wild deeds and places on the Spanish Main. By his own account he must have lived his life among some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea, and the language in which he told these stories shocked our plain country people almost as much as the crimes that he described. My father was always saying the inn would be ruined, for people would soon cease coming there to be tyrannized over and put down, and sent shivering to their beds; but I really believe his presence did us good. People were frightened at the time, but on looking back they rather liked it; it was a fine excitement in a quiet country life, and there was even a party of the younger men who pretended to admire him, calling him a “true sea-dog” and a “real old salt” and such like names, and saying there was the sort of man that made England terrible at sea.”

MENU rum

I marked several passages of food in Under the Wide and Starry Sky and the narrative travels from Scotland, England, France to San Francisco, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. In one scene on a particularly warm evening in Bournemouth, Scotland, they serve a large bowl of mashed potatoes with lamb. When Louis takes off on a donkey for a road trip, he takes with him “black bread, a bottle of brandy, a leg of mutton. . . .Tin of chocolates and sausage.” On the Pacific Island, due to a shipping halt, at one point, RLS and Fanny shared one avocado for dinner. The salts of Treasure Island drink lots of rum, brandy and eat lots and lots of salted goat (ugh). So have at the salted goat if you want, but here’s my Treasure Island-inspired menu:

Rum Punch

2 cups spiced rum

2 1/2 cups pineapple juice

2 1/2 cups orange juice

1/4 cup lime

Mix and serve over ice.

Shrimp Cocktail

Barbecued chicken legs or wings

Those little gold coin chocolates


There is mention of a Mozart sonata or two in Under the Wide and Starry Sky, and Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum repeats and repeats (and repeats) in Treasure Island.

My playlist would include

Jimmy Buffet’s A Pirate Looks at 40.

Ray Steven’s The Pirate Song

Soundtrack from Pirates of the Caribbean

Happy Reading!







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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

mulatto woman

  In Jean Rhys’ magnificent, sensual, masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea, Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester is no romantic hero.  Rhys’ re-imagines how Mr. Rochester may have obtained the wife who so infamously dashes the chaste Jane’s dreams of marriage by her nightmarish presence in the Rochester attic, placing him in Spanish Town, Jamaica to receive a bride and 30,000 pounds in dowry with no provision made for his bride:  Antoinette, the beautiful, mulatto daughter of a deceased mad woman.

   Rochester makes no effort to instill any security in Antoinette or the stepfather who has sold her conveniently away during the wedding ceremony.  When he reaches their honeymoon house, Rochester describes the scene himself:

Two wreaths of frangipani lay on the bed.

“Am I expected to wear one of these?  And when?”

I crowned myself with one of the wreaths and made a face in the glass.  “I hardly think it suits my handsome face, do you?”

“You look like a king, an emperor.”

“God forbid, I said and took the wreath off.  It fell on the floor and as I went towards the window I stepped on it.  The room was full of the scene of crushed flowers.

   Soon, the man Rochester teaches Antoinette to love him but has only lust and disdain for her.  “She was as eager for what’s called loving as I was — more lost and drowned afterwards” and rely upon him.  And yet, he “did not love her.  I was thirsty for her, but that is not love.  I felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or feel as I did.”

  In Rhys’ novel, Edward eventually turns away from Antoinette, and it is her sexual frustration that drives her to become what we know as the madwoman in the attic.  As described by Charlotte Bronte in the original: “the clothed hyena rose up, and stood tall on its hind feet. . . it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal.”

   Re-reading Wide Sargasso Sea for this week’s book club discussion at the Carnegie Center, I found myself pondering Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own.  As Woolf, so much more eloquently than I could, said:

[…]any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty.
   Where lies the boundary between creativity-sensuality-madness?  Is a creative woman, a sensual woman by virtue of this aspect therefore mad?  Or was she considered to be so at one point?  Antoinette yearns for beautiful clothes, for the fragrance and luxury of brilliant colored flowers, to dress her hair elegantly and to dance.
   A more recent article from Psychology Today develops the thoughts further.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lunacy-and-mad-doctors/201305/gaslight-stories-the-madwoman-in-the-attic
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar published their famous theory – that Bertha is Jane’s alter ego (a personification of the rage engendered by pent-up female energy, especially sexual energy) – in 1979, in their co-authored book, The Madwoman in the Attic. But despite Gilbert and Gubar’s sophisticated comparisons of the patterns of metaphor and imagery common to Jane’s experiences and Bertha’s back-story, Bertha actually appears to be – among many other things – a figure who shows the potential fate of a woman who in her early life failed to assert herself (as Jane asserts herself) and who took refuge in commonplace thoughts and activities. Bertha sought freedom in promiscuity and drink, but Jane knows, as Mr Rochester has learnt, that that kind of behaviour is an illusion of freedom – for man as much as for woman. If Bertha is an echo of anyone in the novel, it is surely Blanche Ingram – the vacuous, conventional drawing-room beauty that Bertha herself once was, in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Bertha is what happens when you have no true sense of a self, and the language used to describe Blanche and Bertha (in her youth) also bears comparison – they are raven-ringleted, dark-eyed and arrogant; and Blanche’s own mother is already exhibiting Bertha-like physical attributes: her features are ‘inflated and darkened’ and her eye is ‘fierce’.


   The book is a feast for discussion in language and topic.  I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Book Club Menu:

Rum punch:  See recipe https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/necessity-invention-and-wings-the-invention-of-wings-by-sue-monk-kidd/

Fried Plantains:  Recipe Courtesy of Alton Brown, The Food Network

2 cups water
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
2 green plantains
Combine water, garlic and salt in medium size glass bowl and set aside.

In a large (12-inch) saute pan, heat oil to 325 degrees F. Peel plantains and slice crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Carefully add plantains to oil and fry until golden yellow in color, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side. (The oil should come halfway up the side of the plantain). With a spider or slotted spoon, remove the plantains from the pan and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, standing them on their ends. With the back of a wide, wooden spatula, press each piece of plantain down to half its original size. Then place the plantains in the water and let soak for 1 minute. Remove and pat dry with a tea towel to remove excess water.

Bring oil back up to 325 degrees F and return plantains to pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a dish lined with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/fried-plantains-recipe.html?oc=linkback

Fish en Papillote

This is my recipe and it’s easy.  Use any fish you particularly like.  Put several vegetables in the bottom of a brown paper lunch bag with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Carrots, zucchini, summer squash, celery all work well.  Place the fish on top of the vegetables and then fold the bag over to seal.  Cook in 350 Degree oven for 20 minutes.  Serve over brown rice.



Something wild and caribbean!


There’s been a movie made of Wide Sargasso Sea and it’s wonderful (and very sexy).  http://youtu.be/tAzC5gSKM6E




Mulatto Woman, Joanna Boyce Wells

Mulatto Woman, Eugene Delacroix

Market Day, Agostino Brunias