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July 29, 2008

Across America on an Emigrant Train

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Across America on an Emigrant Train

Author: Jim Murphy         

Page Length: 150

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Non-Fiction           

PLOT SUMMARY:  This is the story of writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, an emigrant from Scotland who travels across the United States in the late 1800’s by train.  He is in route to see his lover, who has fallen sick in San Francisco.  Stevenson made a hasty departure from Scotland to meet Fanny Van deGrift Osbourne.  Four years earlier, they had a rather scandalous affair in Paris.  Fanny was married and ten years older than Stevenson.  This did not sit well with the straight-laced society of Stevenson’s time. However, Stevenson was deeply in love and left his home country to be with Fanny.

The journey begins on a train out of New York and follows Stephenson’s travel across the Midwest with many “borderland” town stops. On the trains, Stevenson met other travelers, most emigrants looking for new homes in the west.  Many times they were crowded in the train cars with little or nothing to eat.  Stevenson was consumed with making the trip and getting to Fanny as quickly as possible.  He kept a log of his travels and one of the people he met was Davy Crockett.

As the author writes of Stevenson’s thoughts and experiences he also gives historical background of the building of the transcontinental railroad, the slaughter of the American bison, and the treatment of the American Indian as the west develops.

REVIEW:  This book did not appeal to me when I began reading it.  However, Jim Murphy developed an interesting and informative story of the history of the development of the west.  By chronicling Stevenson’s journey, there became a romantic interest.  He used many of Stevenson’s entries from his journal, which are descriptive and eloquently written (see pages 20, 35, 40, 43, 75, 95, 107,120 and 133).  Also, included are pictures from various museums and historical societies.  Murphy has an extensive bibliography that authenticates the story.  Through Stevenson and Murphy, the reader becomes interestingly educated on the history of the trans-continental railroad and the time it was built.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical Context, Setting, Sequence of Events, Informative Texts

RELATED BOOKS: Robert Louis Stevenson by Frank Swinnerton (1915); Robert Louis Stevenson and the Fiction of Adventure by Robert Kiely (1964); Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition by Edwin M. Eigner (1966); Robert Louis Stevenson: A Life Study by Jenni Calder (1980); Definitive Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Companion by H.M. Geduld (1983); Robert Louis Stevenson by Frank McLynn (1993); Dreams of Exile: Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography by Ian Bell (1993); Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography by Frank McLynn (1993); Robert Louis Stevenson: Life, Literature and the Silver Screen by Scott Allen Nollen (1994); Robert Louis Stevenson and the Appearance of Modernism: A Future Feeling by Alan Sandison (1996)

ART CONNECTIONS: Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home, 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh (a museum)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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