Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson

Full Name Frances Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson Original Name Frances Matilda Van de Grift
Born 10 March 1840, Indianapolis, Indiana Died 18 February 1914, Santa Barbara California
Spouses Samuel Osbourne (1857-1880)
Robert Louis Stevenson (1880-1894)
Children Isobel “Belle” Osbourne Strong Field (1858-1953)
Samuel Lloyd Osbourne (1868-1947)
Hervey Osbourne (1871-1876)
Parents Father Jacob Van de Grift
Mother Esther Thomas Keen

Fanny Van de Grift was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on March 10, 1840, the eldest of the six children of Jacob Van de Grift, a carpenter, and his wife Esther Thomas Keen. Both Jacob and Esther came from Philadelphia and were of Swedish and Dutch ancestry.

Fanny Van de Grift was well educated, and at the age of seventeen, she married her first husband Samuel Osbourne, a lieutenant on the State Governor’s staff. Their first child, Isobel, was born one year later. Their peaceful life changed when Samuel went to California to fight for the Union in the Civil War. In search of his fortune, Samuel went to the silver mine of Nevada after the war, and he eventually sent for Fanny to join him.1

Fanny, with her five-year-old Isobel, started a long journey across the whole of America from New York, crossing the Isthmus of Panama (travelling via San Francisco), and eventually arriving at the mining camps of the Reese River. The Osbournes’ lives in the small town of Austin was difficult: it was during this time that Fanny learned to use a pistol and to roll cigarettes.

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Fanny Stevenson. Public Domain.

After the Osbourne family moved to Virginia City, Nevada, Samuel’s infidelity threatened their marriage. Nonetheless, their second child, Samuel Lloyd Osbourne, was born in 1868. Due to her disappointment in her husband, Fanny returned to Indianapolis, but one year after separation, the couple were reconciled and living in Oakland, California, where she gave birth to their third child, Hervey, in 1871. Fanny started painting and gardening at this period, but because of Samuel’s continued philandering, Fanny finally left him in 1875 and headed to Europe with her three children to study art. They spent three months in Antwerp, and discovered that no local art schools would teach female students. After a move to Paris, both Fanny and Isobel enrolled in the Académie Julian.2

Hervey’s long illness and ultimate death in 1876 devastated Fanny. Following recommendations from friends, she moved to the town of Grez-sur-Loing, near Barbizon, France, to recover. In that year’s summer, Fanny met and befriended Robert Louis Stevenson, who came to visit his cousin and search for inspiration for his writing. They fell in love in 1877, but Fanny nonetheless returned to California in 1878 with her children.3

Despite opposition from his family and friends, in 1879 Robert Louis went to Monterey, California, and awaited Fanny’s decision about whether to leave her philandering husband or not. She did divorce Osbourne, and finally married Robert Louis on May 19, 1880, in San Francisco. A few days later they left for the Napa Valley to honeymoon. In August of the same year, the couple went back to Britain where Fanny helped repair her husband’s relationship with his father.

Fanny spent most of her time taking care of her husband’s health and searching for a proper climate for his weak lungs. In 1888, the couple chartered the Casco from San Francisco, sailing to Western Samoa and finally settling in Upolu. After her husband passed away on December 3, 1894, Fanny sold their home, called Vailima, and returned to California. She built homes in San Francisco, Gilroy, and Santa Barbara and devoted the rest of life to promoting Robert Louis Stevenson’s works.4

On February 18, 1914, Fanny died peacefully at her home Stone Hedge in Santa Barbara. Her ashes were brought to Samoa by Isobel and buried alongside those of her husband.5

SOURCES

Frances (Fanny) Van de grift Osbourne Stevenson – Wife.The RLS Website. Web. 30 March 2015.

Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson (1840-1914).Robert Louis Stevenson Museum Website. Web. 29 March 2015.

Field, Isobel. This Life I’ve Loved. New York: Longmans, Green, 1937. Print.

Sanchez, Nellie Van de Grift. The Life of Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson. New York:  the Scribner Press, 1920. Print.

WORKS BY FANNY VAN DE GRIFT STEVENSON

Short Stories

‘Too Many Birthdays’ (St. Nicholas, 1878)

‘Sargent’s Rodeo’ (Lippincot’s Magazine, Jan. 1880)

‘Chy Lung, The Chinese Fisherman’ (St. Nicholas, 1880)

‘The Warlock’s Shadow’ (Belgravia, 1886)

‘Miss Pringle’s Neighbors’ (Scribner’s Magazine, 1887)

‘The Nixie’ (Scribner’s Magazine, 1888)

‘The Half-White’ (Scribner’s Magazine, 1891)

‘Under Sentence of the Law: The Story of a Dog’ (McClure’s, 1893)

‘Anne’ (Scribner’s Magazine, 1899)

Official Collaborations with Mr. Stevenson

More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter (Longman’s, 1885)

The Hanging Judge: A Drama in Three Acts and Six Tableaux (1887)

Introductions & Prefaces to Mr. Stevenson’s Work

The Novels and Tales of Robert Louis Stevenson (Scribner’s, 1897- 1904)

Prayers Written at Vailima (Scribner’s, 1904)

Published Posthumously

The Cruise of the Janet Nichol (Scribner’s, 1914)

Our Samoan Adventure (Harper, 1955)

  1. Sanchez, Nellie Van de Grift. The Life of Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson. New York:  the Scribner Press, 1920. Print. 26-33.
  2. Field, Isobel. This Life I’ve Loved. New York: Longmans, Green, 1937. Print. 91.
  3. Frances (Fanny) Van de grift Osbourne Stevenson – Wife.The RLS Website.
  4. Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson (1840-1914).Robert Louis Stevenson Museum Website
  5. Sanchez, The Life of Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson, 333-7.