Fanny realized she would never be a great artist and became worried about morality: her own reputation and that of her daughter. She returned to America, to her husband. Louis, who could not understand why she left, went on a walking trip in the south of France. Fanny tried to reconcile with Sam, her husband, but he hadn’t changed. Becoming ill, she sent Stevenson a telegram. Without approval from his parents or much money, Stevenson set off for America, traveling steerage and then across country by train. When he arrived in Monterey he was starving and again ill.
Their reunion was rocky, but when Fanny realized how sick Stevenson was, she moved him into her Oakland cottage. He had begun to hemorrhage and they both feared he would die. Stevenson felt she was tying herself to a man who couldn’t take care of her. Nonsense, said Fanny [quoted from Fanny Stevenson: A Romance of Destiny, by Alexandra Lapierre]. “What you like most about me is my weak, morbid side; and you’re the only one who sees it. While you, beneath your fragile appearance, you’re a rock!”
When not deeply sick, Stevenson was wild and silly, always working on stories and other writing for publication. Finally Fanny’s divorce was final. Stevenson and Fanny were married and their financial difficulties eased by an allowance from Stevenson’s father. They stayed in the abandoned shacks of a silver mine near Napa for a summer. Stevenson began telling Fanny’s young son Lloyd a story of pirates and treasure.
The Stevensons returned to Europe, but the weather in Edinburgh did not help Stevenson’s lungs. They went first to Davos, Switzerland, to recuperate and then to the south of France. Fanny continued to nurse Stevenson. His father bought them a house in Bournemouth, where they lived for three years. During this time Stevenson was usually bedridden while furiously writing. When he published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he was suddenly famous.
After his father died, Stevenson took Fanny, his mother, and Lloyd to America. They hoped to get to Colorado, but Stevenson was too ill. Noting that he always seemed to feel better at sea, they chartered a ship, the Casco, and cruised the South Seas. Fanny herself was usually sea-sick, but she would do anything for Stevenson’s health. He began to feel vigorous and happy.
Told that returning to Scotland would be a death sentence, in 1890 Stevenson and Fanny carved a homestead out of the jungle on a Samoan island, with a large house and a cacao plantation: Vailima. Stevenson asked Fanny’s children and his mother to live with them, feeling that he was gathering his clan together. Fanny and her daughter sewed lavalavas from Scottish tartan cloth for their servants, who were considered part of the family.
In the South Seas, the Stevensons’ sympathies were always with the native peoples, rather than with the missionaries and the white traders. Stevenson visited with Chief Mata’afa whose rebellion resulted in his imprisonment, as well as that of many other chiefs who had participated. This did not divide Fanny and Stevenson, but she did have a kind of breakdown while trying to manage too much at Vailima and losing (she thought) Stevenson’s attention. Their interests had begun to divide. Stevenson turned to Fanny's daughter for help with his books and called Fanny “a peasant.”
Stevenson and Fanny’s daughter took her to Sydney for help. Slowly she recuperated and Stevenson realized how important she was to him. He wrote poetry to her and began a novel with women characters in it, Weir of Hermiston. Suddenly, at the end of 1894, he died of a brain hemorrhage at 44. He was buried at the top of the mountain above Vailima.
Fanny and her children could not afford to keep up the plantation. They sold it and returned to San Francisco where Fanny met a last companion, Ned Field, in a bookshop. Fanny was 55. With Ned she built several houses and published a diary, The Cruise of the Janet Nichol among the South Sea Islands, before her death in 1914.
Everything either Stevenson or Fanny ever wrote seems to have been published. I found Nancy Horan’s fictionalized Under the Wide and Starry Sky moving in its telling of how this courageous couple helped each other. Stevenson wrote of his wife:
Teacher, tender, comrade, wife,
A fellow-farer true through life,
Heart-whole and soul-free
The august father gave to me.