Honey Talks About Robert Louis Stevenson

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September 1, 2010 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

Last week, my grandson Ethan, aged eleven, and I went to Santa Cruz on the north end of the Monterey Bay for a few days. From the beach, where I stood watching him as he swam into the waves, I saw the pale blue uneven line on the southern end, which is Monterey.

I rode the Hurricane and Logger’s Revenge on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk with him. I also rented a little car from the hotel that went forty miles an hour and we drove through cold thick fog up to the University past startled deer and two or three complaisantly beautiful students. The car was open, it was too small for drivers in other cars to see even though it was canary yellow, it didn’t have a steering wheel but a thing like a motorcycle steering mechanism, and Ethan frequently put his long strong young fingers over my hands and tried to take control of the steering and screamed in my ear, “Faster Grandma! Faster!” I think Ethan may not be a contemplative child but he may be contemplative at a rate of speed so I am incapable of seeing it, as people are incapable of hearing sounds that dogs hear.

On the drive back to return him to his parents and little brother, Ethan and I stopped in Aptos at the Rummonds Building. Jim Rummonds bought the building when I was working for him in the mid 1980s. He wasn’t in his office when Ethan and I stopped by but his wife Sue and assistant Chansonette were there, and we lied to each other and said we had not changed. Actually, Sue hadn’t changed and she didn’t lie about anything.

Back in the 1980s, a group of investors sued the Rummonds’ firm clients, Dean Witter Reynolds, and the brother of one of our clients, David Nevis. A Monterey County Superior Court judge led us through a three-year long court trial before dismissing the action. One plaintiff died of old age and one defendant died by flying into a mountain during those three years. The wealthier defendants videotaped the depositions that preceded the trial and the trial itself.

We took some of the depositions in Dallas – for a related case – and some in Vermont, and some in Kinross, Michigan, some place I’d never heard about before the DWR case. When we were in Michigan, we took a ferry to Grand Island and rode bicycles with David Black and David Gomes and Jeff Cole and I pretended we were old WASPs and rocked on chairs in front of the Grand Hotel. I was in Jeff Tidus’s firm’s floor in a West Los Angeles building when I saw JFK, Jr.’s silhouette talking on the phone in his office but declined the opportunity to meet him because what would I say.

Lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants, secretaries, the judge, bailiffs and clerks all watched ourselves age on the tapes. The plaintiffs’ attorney David Hollingsworth eventually submitted a 280 page Tenth Amended Consolidated and Supplemental Complaint that weighed seven pounds, and to which were attached sections of California law on fire hydrants. He told the local journalists – who apparently believed him – that not only were our clients guilty but so were we.

Last January, Jeff Tidus stepped from his house in Rolling Hills to get his laptop from his car, and someone shot him in the head. I checked Attorney Search on the California State Bar website. All of the other defense and the plaintiff attorneys in the DWR case are alive and are still licensed to practice law. Two of those attorneys were admitted in 1965 and 1966. It looks like you have to shoot lawyers to stop us from practicing law.

I spent a lot of time in Monterey during those years, and part of it I spent in the Hollingsworth waiting room looking down at a bank on Alvarado and the bank parking lot behind it.

One day, I realized that the bank stood where Fanny Osbourne’s house had stood, and that her son Lloyd had chased cows over the ground the parking lot occupied when he was a little boy.

Fanny van der Grift married Lloyd Osbourne when she was seventeen. Lloyd served in the Civil War and then went to the Nevada silver mines. His wife and little girl Isobel took a ship through the Isthmus of Panama to San Francisco, and then they took wagons and a stagecoach through the mountains. Not many women lived in Lander County. Fanny learned how to roll her own cigarettes and shot a pistol. Lloyd went to Coeur d’Ilene and sent word to Fanny that a bear had eaten him, probably because he was engaged in one of his many amorous adventures with prostitutes, and then they had another child, and Fanny left him because of the prostitutes, and then they re-united in Oakland. She left him again and went to Paris with her children to study art, and in an artists’ colony outside of Paris 1876, she met Robert Louis Stevenson, who was ten years younger than she was but looked as if he was going to expire at any moment. She then re-united with Lloyd Osbourne, who must have had what the Turks call “devil’s fur” to keep Fanny returning, and sent Stevenson a telegram calling things off between them. In 1879, broke, RLS followed her back to the United States.

He lived in a flea-ridden rooming house in Monterey (This building is now called “The Robert Louis Stevenson house”), hoping Fanny would divorce Lloyd. He nearly died of a high fever when he went camping alone in the Santa Lucia Mountains.

In his “Simoneau’s At Monterey,” RLS described his landlord in the boarding house:

“All this time I have said nothing of papa Simoneau himself; always in his waistcoat and shirt sleeves, upright as a boy, with a rough, trooper-like smartness, vaunting his dishes if they were good, himself the first to condemn them if they were unsuccessful; now red hot in a discussion now playing his flute with antique graces, now shamelessly hurrying off the other boarders that he might sit down to chess with me: a man who had been most things from a man in business to a navy, and kept his spirit and his kind heart through all.”

He and young Sam Osbourne went walking in Pt. Lobos during the time he was very ill. Together, they drew a map of a treasure island, and RLS composed the story when walking with the boy along the beach.

Fanny and Stevenson married in May 1880 (Divorce was still a scandal, even in California, even in San Francisco, in those days, so she did not even mention that she had been divorced.) and honeymooned in an old miner’s cottage outside of Calistoga. The bridegroom was skeletal. He was always very ill, since he was a small boy. He spent a lot of time in bed and a lot of time with a fever, and he had little else to occupy him but to write.

RLS, Fanny and Fanny’s children lived in Europe for a time – John Singer Sargent painted a wonderful oil of RLS pacing in front of seascapes and an open door, with Fanny hiding in a white shimmering mantilla to one side — and then they moved back to the United States. In 1881, a friend arranged for Treasure Island to be published in a juvenile magazine, Young Folks.

Stevenson’s most enduring works are Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886), Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and The Black Arrow (1888).

I loved them all growing up but when I was a child — and sick for a long time, living down the hill from where I live now, on West Silver Lake Drive — I loved most A Child’s Garden of Verse (1885).

“The land on counterpane
“I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed clothes, through the hills;

“And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets; or
Brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.”

After his death, Virginia Wolfe condemned Stevenson’s writing as genre horror and juvenilia, and not literature. Jekyll and Hyde initiated generations of horror but followed Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Both books illuminate the dual nature of modern science – one side of it beneficial, and the other capable of destroying us all.

His writing style is not Victorian. It is transparent. Although he arrived in California not too long after you could get to it by train, Stevenson comes across as a modern Californian.

If his – and later his and Lloyd’s – writing is aimed at children, then all right, but I still read it.

In the elevator on the way to meet the others for lunch at a restaurant surrounded by glass that was on top of a Monterey hotel, I told Tidus, “Hollingsworth’s office overlooks the house where Fanny Osbourne used to live.” I was very excited by my discovery.

A man standing behind us in the elevator said, “Lady, who the fuck cares?”

“Who the fuck cares! Who the fuck cares!” I screamed at him. “Haven’t you read Treasure Island?”

“No,” he said pushing past us and then said something about getting the fuck away from the crazy lady. I hate it when people say that.

“What about the first Disney live-action film Treasure Island?” I demanded he tell me. The man’s feet scrambled frantically on the polished and mechanically buffed floor as he ran down the hall.

“Well,” I said, outraged, as we sat down with the other lawyers. “We met a man in the elevator who has not read Treasure Island.”

“Imagine,” Dave Black said. “But then, many people haven’t heard of Houyhnhnms.”

“Houyhnhnms are the rulers and the deformed creatures — ‘Yahoos’ — are human beings in their base form,” I said. David Black nodded over his menu.

You could see all of Monterey from the restaurant windows, all the way down to Point Lobos where Robert walked with a ten-year old boy whose mother he loved and made up stories for him.

Stevenson managed to live until he was forty-four. Fanny lived until 1914. She died in Santa Barbara, California. Her daughter Isobel brought her ashes to Samoa where they were interred next to Stevenson’s on top of Mount Vaea. Lloyd, the little boy who chased cows behind his mother’s rented house in Monterey, died in California in 1947, at the age of 79.

http://www.robert-louis-stevenson.org/ is the RLS website, but, of course, you can Google Fanny Osbourne and Lloyd Osbourne and Robert Louis Stevenson and find information on many websites.

James D. Hart, editor, From Scotland to Silverado, (Cambridge, 1966)

Anne Roller Issler, Our Mountain Hermitage ( Standford University Press, 1950)

Mickey Friedman, “The Silverado Sojourn of Robert Louis Stevenson, San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, May 11, 1980).

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