Breaking up can get nasty, more so for the rich and famous. How many of us have not only cut former lovers or partners from our lives, but also from our photos?
The literary acclaimed Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) – who gave us Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde – was not immune to such behavior. He went even further. He obliterated his one-time friend and step-son-in-law, Joseph Dwight Strong (1853-1899), an American artist, from the Stevenson family history.
What crime had Joseph Strong committed to have deserved such wrath?
With the passion and mastery of a literary detective, Dan McNay unearths the truth about the relationship between Joseph Strong and Robert Louis Stevenson. In Dan McNay’s novel, The Truth About Treasure Island, published in October 2013, Joe Strong tells his side of that breakup. The lives of the two men became entwined through their choice in women. Joe was twenty-six years when he married Isobel “Belle” Osbourne, an American art student. The following year, thirty-year-old Louis, as he was called by his family and friends, married Belle’s mother, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne – a divorcee twelve years his senior with two children, Isobel and Lloyd.
Joe begins his story in 1891, during the final three years of Louis’ life. That year, Joe, Belle, and their ten-year-old son, Austin, move to the Stevenson cocoa plantation in Vailima on the Samoan Island of Upolu. Louis, sickly since childhood with tuberculosis, had finally found some relief in the South Pacific climate.
Except for the financial woes of the artistic life, Joe and Belle enjoy a happy and satisfying marital relationship. But Joe is no saint. On arriving at Vailima, he resumes his illicit affair with a native Samoan Sava dancer who he had met on a previous visit. As his marriage unravels, he must come to terms with his deception and his deepening relationship with his young Samoan lover.
Louis is no innocent bystander. With his fame, wealth, affable personality, and physical frailty, he succeeds in captivating the women around him. His step-daughter Belle is no exception. While her mother is busy managing the plantation and household, Belle becomes Louis’ personal assistant and secretary. So taken up with attending to Louis’ demands, she is rarely available for activities with Joe and Austin. When Belle and Louis are together, Joe becomes an outsider.
Fans of Robert Louis Stevenson may object to me taking Joe Strong’s side in their falling out. They may be right in their assessment of Louis’ character. Perhaps I have fallen victim of Joe’s disarming sincerity and honesty in his account of events leading to the breakup with his wife and the Stevenson family, and the loss of his son. Deceitful married men have a way of winning a woman’s sympathy to their side of the story.
Am I wrong in standing by Joe Strong? Hear his side of the story. Judge for yourself.
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When American author, Dan McNay, is not working at the University of Southern California, he’s busy writing stories, composing songs, painting, or singing and playing his banjo at a local festival or bar in Los Angeles and neighboring cities.