Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Anne by Fanny Stevenson, 1899

She was, at last, however, forced to believe that she was growing old. She was old, and the days were flying past her with an incredible rapidity.

© Wikimedia Commons
I had no idea Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife had written a short story. I would probably have missed ‘Anne’ in Scribner’s Magazine,  July 1899, had she not been referred to as ‘Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson’ in the contents page. Inside she is mentioned as Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson. The famous Scottish novelist and poet was her second husband.

‘Anne’ is the touching story of a gentle old woman who, one spring morning, spends a few quiet moments on a lovely hill reminiscing about her past, her childhood and youth, her marriage to John, ten years her senior, the purchase of their first and only house, and also thinking about their shared present as they grow old, slowly lose their faculties, and prepare to meet their maker. Anne has no children and she has been lavishing all her motherly instincts on her husband, petting and spoiling him like a child.

As Anne dreams on, she hears a clear voice and sees a familiar face, that of Marian, her mother’s cousin who died when Anne was a little child. Anne is startled and frightened when Marian tells her that she is a spirit and that they are not in Anne’s dream. Anne is, however, unwilling to accept that she is dead.

"Don't, don't!" cried Anne; "don't repeat that dreadful word! I am not, I cannot be! And yet I know, and hate the knowledge, that it must come to me very soon, for I am, as you say, an old woman. Let me enjoy this beautiful dream wherein I am still young. But is this youth?"

When a troubled Anne returns home through a mysterious fog, she finds John sitting by the table, leaning forward, probably asleep, but her husband sees nothing and hears nothing when she kneels beside him and places her hands on his.

"Oh, my dear old husband," she said; "husband of my youth and of my old age; we are one; we cannot be parted. I will not leave you. I shall wait beside you."

In the end Anne and John pass out of the house as their serving-maid shouts aloud, "Help, help, master is dead!"

The philosophical underpinning of the story is evident. Anne looks at the inevitability of life and death in a beautiful way, and accepts it, however reluctantly. There is nothing morbid about the story. It is a clean and simple tale with a touch of the supernatural, if you like. Although ‘Anne’ was written at the end of the Victorian era, the writing style is not Victorian.
  

Fanny Stevenson, who was known for her charm and wit and who did not leave her devoted husband in spite of his unfaithfulness, collaborated with him on at least one work of fiction called The Dynamiter, classified as pulp. The 1885 novel is available free online.

14 comments:

  1. well, I didn't know this either. I feel like I should have.

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    1. Charles, I discovered the story quite by accident. It is very well written.

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  2. What a nice discovery, Prashant. This sounds like a very moving few moments in time without the sentimentality that might have accompanied it. I like when a writer is able to do that. Thanks for letting me know about Fanny Stevenson.

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    1. Yvette, thank you. I was happy to read the story and write about it. It is "very moving" in a non-sentimental way. Thanks for raising that point. Anne's dream is our dream too, at some point in our life.

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  3. Probably not going to read this but I may have a look at the "Dynamiter".

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    1. Col, I aim to read THE DYNAMITER too. It's probably the earliest case of husband and wife writing fiction together.

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  4. Like the others, I had no idea. I gather this is a short story and not a novelette. It sounds like a short "character piece" of the time. Very interesting.

    On a another note completely, I've been meaning to ask you about the Tintin characters you have boxed in your second column. I gather you're a big Tintin fan?

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    1. Richard, it is a short story and told entirely through Anne's character. In fact, Mrs. Stevenson has written more than one short story that I found out only later.

      I'm a huge fan of TINTIN and ASTERIX comics, the latter a touch more. Both comics by Herge and Goscinny-Uderzo respectively remain popular in the Indian subcontinent. These are two different styles of illustrations though it'd not be easy to draw the Asterix comics because of the detailing.

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  5. Well done chum - I had no idea this even existed - is this the link? http://www.unz.org/Author/StevensonMrsRobertLouis

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I'd no idea either. I found this particular story at Gutenberg and then discovered others by Mrs. Stevenson. Thanks for the link you provided as it has many hidden treasures.

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  6. Thanks Prashant. This is indeed a discovery. I'll be searching for it.

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    1. Neer, you're welcome. Click on the link provided by Sergio above and you'll get more than just this story.

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  7. Very interesting, Prashant. You find the most unusual things.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. I like reading short stories between full-length novels which seem to take forever.

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