Isobel Field’s claim to fame evolves around her relationship with her step-father, Robert Louis Stevenson. In her memoir – This Life I’ve Loved – she includes references to Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) and her experiences as a white woman who graced the court of the Hawaiian king, Kalakaua. Born in Indiana, Field lived a charmed life with trips to Europe, Australia, Samoa, and Hawaii at a time when travel was not easy. Although long, wordy, and gossipy, the historical gems were worth finding – if only the septuagenarian writer (who lived to 94) had had an editor.
Field successfully conjures up life in Hawaii in the late 1800’s, and foreshadows the struggle for power that eventually overthrew the kingdom, but most of her thoughts are with her own daily issues of what dresses to wear and how many cards to leave when paying a formal call – trivia to fill the pages. Her influence on the Hawaiian King Kalakaua, as he tried to establish himself as a monarch equal to the European regents he admired, connected to her artwork. Field created water colors, one on display at the Honolulu Museum of Art, as well as sketches for royal dinner menus and the Royal Order of Oceania,
which she proudly wore as the first woman recipient. Her husband, Joseph Strong, connected to the wealthy Spreckels sugar baron, sailed with Isobel to Hawaii as the royal artist in residence, creating landscapes for his sponsor and the king.
RLS connects to Isobel only briefly when he visits Hawaii for four months with Fanny, Isobel’s mother, and later in Australia, when Isobel works as his amanuensis, offering glimpses into the famous writer’s poor
health and his well-known story telling ability. Inspired to discover more about the life of RLS, I’ve ordered his biography by Frank McLynn, published for the centenary of the author’s death in Samoa, and a few of his classics to reread. Field mentions The Master of Ballantrae and A Child’s Garden of Verses in her ramblings – might be good places to start.
What Robert Louis Stevenson books have you read?
- Quote for Today: Robert Louis Stevenson (synkroniciti.com)
I’ve read his three most famous – Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Jekyll and Hyde. My son really likes Treasure Island. I had his Children’s Verses as a child, I remember enjoying them. My friend recently told me that his Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes is excellent.
I remember reading those classics too, but the “Travels.. ” is new to me – thanks. I’ll look for it.