Lloyd Osbourne Essay - Critical Essays

Osbourne, Lloyd


Osbourne, Lloyd 1868-1947

(Full name Samuel Lloyd Osbourne) American novelist, playwright, and short story writer.

Osbourne is considered a gifted storyteller whose romantic adventure novels place him solidly in the tradition of Anglo-American escapist fiction. Bearing similarities to the popular writings of his stepfather and occasional collaborator, Robert Louis Stevenson, Osbourne's imagi-native fiction features a blend of humor, excitement, and fantastic wonder and is frequently set in exotic locales. His 1908 novel infatuation is counted among his more serious works, but it is for his relationship to Stevenson and for his popular novels, such as The Adventurer, that he is generally remembered.

Biographical Information

Osbourne was born in San Francisco, California, on 7 April 1868 to Samuel Osbourne and Fanny Van de Grift. While Osbourne was still quite young his mother married the well-known writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Osbourne accompanied his parents on their frequent travels, and was educated by private tutors in England, France, and Switzerland. He later attended Edinburgh University, where he studied civil engineering. Further travels with Stevenson after his departure from Edinburgh took Osbourne to Samoa. There he served as U.S. vice consul-general until 1897. In the late 1880s, Osbourne began his literary collaboration with his stepfather. Together the two produced three novels: The Wrong Box, The Wrecker, and The Ebb-Tide. After Stevenson's death, Osbourne wrote several more novels, including The Adventurer, Infatuation, and A Person of Some Importance, and produced a collection of short fiction, Wild Justice: Stories of the South Seas. Later in his career he wrote, along with his nephew Austin Strong, several dramas. Osbourne died in 1947.

Major Works

Osbourne's fiction includes a collection of romantic novels and adventure stories, many of them set in the South Pacific, where he spent a significant portion of his adult life. Baby Bullet is a light, humorous romance concerning the travels of a young American woman and her governess across Europe in an aging and unreliable automobile. The Adventurer recounts the voyages of the Fortuna, an enormous sailing ship that travels overland on wheels. Its captain, Lewis Kirkpatrick, directs the vessel across South America in search of the treasures of Cassaquiari, an ancient lost city. Accompanied by a cast of European and American characters—the scientific explorer Dr. von Zedtwitz, the inventor Westbrook, and the expedition's millionaire financier Mrs. Poulteney Hitchcock among them—Kirkpatrick and the Fortuna brave brutal storms, a mutiny, and the attacks of natives before recovering thousandsof gold ingots in remote Cassaquiari. Based on the actual disappearance of an Austrian arch-duke, A Person of Some Importance offers a fictionalized and fantastic account of this man's self-imposed exile on a tropical island. Discovered by a discharged U. S. Navy cadet, the archduke takes this American, Matthew Broughton, into his service for several years. After Broughton returns to New England he is tracked down by agents of the Austrian Emperor who coerce him into revealing the location of the missing duke. When the Emperor finally reaches the distant island he finds the missing man has very recently died. Osbourne's representative short story collection, Wild Justice: Stories of the South Seas, contains nine tales, ranging from peaceful idylls to accounts of jealousy and murder.

Critical Reception

Critical response to Osbourne's works amounts to reviews that assess the relative merits of his novels and short stories as entertainment. Reviewers have typically praised him for his imagination and inventiveness, as well as for his amusing plots and vivid presentation of exotic settings. Detractors have noted that, while exciting, Osbourne's stories fail to engage readers on a thematic level, and many have observed the lack of psychologically complex characters in his fiction. Nonetheless, critics generally acknowledge that Osbourne's works were simply intended as amusements, and most of his reviewers share an enthusiasm for his writing in this context.

Principal Works

The Wrong Box [with Robert Louis Stevenson] (novel) 1889

The Wrecker [with Robert Louis Stevenson] (novel) 1892

The Ebb-Tide [with Robert Louis Stevenson] (novel) 1894

The Queen versus Billy (short stories) 1900

Baby Bullet (novel) 1905

Love, the Fiddler (short stories) 1905

The Motor-Maniacs (novel) 1905

Three Speeds Forward (novel) 1906

The Tin Diskers (novel) 1906

Wild Justice: Stories of the South Seas (short stories) 1906

The Adventurer (novel) 1907

Schmidt (novel) 1907

Infatuation (novel) 1908

Person of Some Importance (novel) 1911

Peril (novel) 1929


The Bookman (essay date 1906)

SOURCE: A review of Baby Bullet, in The Bookman, London, Vol. XXIX, No. 173, February, 1906, p. 225.

[In the following review, the critic characterizes Baby Bullet as a pleasant but essentially popular novel.]

The fine literary quality that distinguished many of the stories in Mr. Lloyd Osbourne's Love the Fiddler and The Queen versus Billy is lacking in his Baby Bullet, which is a light readable novel of the more popular kind, written in the easy, agreeable, somewhat commonplace style that seems essential to popularity. Not that the story itself is commonplace—it is an amusing and ingenious romance of a pretty American girl and her governess who are making a walking tour through England, and come into possession of an obsolete-pattern motor-car, which is continually breaking down, and involves them in all manner of difficulties and delectable adventures, but carries them to an altogether idyllic happiness at last. There is enough technical motor talk to delight the expert, and not enough of it to worry the ignorant; the love episodes are touched in with a charming airiness; the humour of the book verges at times on the broadly farcical, but the interest of it never flags for a minute, and it makes very pleasing reading throughout.

The Bookman (essay date 1906)

SOURCE: A review of Wild Justice, in The Bookman, London, Vol. XXX, No. 176, May, 1906, pp. 75-6.

[In the following review, the critic praises the stories of Osbourne's Wild Justice for their "vividness and beauty and straightforwardness. "]

The collective title of Mr. Lloyd Osbourne's nine tales refers apparently to the rough equity of the South Sea Islands; to the justice of sailors safely away from legal machinery, of natives, and of the two in their relations together. It also, we fancy, has reference to that deeper justice which makes a great passion worth while, whatever the tragic consequences, and which led Baudelaire to exclaim: "Mais qu'importe...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

The Nation (essay date 1907)

SOURCE: A review of The Adventurer, in The Nation, New York, Vol. 85, No. 2214, December 5, 1907, p. 518.

[In the following review of The Adventurer, the critic praises Osbourne's versatile imagination and engaging storytelling. ]

Mr. Osbourne's new story is characteristically ingenious and fantastic. The centre of the stage is held by a wonderful land-going ship, the Fortuna, constructed for the purpose of treasure-hunting beyond the South American llaños. Supported on eight gigantic wheels, and carrying two lofty schooner-rigged masts, she drives, day after day, across the trackless plain, bounding, jolting, careening before the trade-wind—her goal a...

(The entire section is 369 words.)

The Bookman (essay date 1908)

SOURCE: A review of The Adventurer, in The Bookman, London, Vol. XXXV, No. 205, October, 1908, p. 58.

[In the following review, the critic calls The Adventurer a "clean and invigorating tale. "]

Dr. von Zedtwitz, guiding a scientific expedition from the city of Quito into the unexplored regions of the Southern Llanos, fell into the hands of the savage aboriginals and spent three years in captivity. It was then that he happened by chance upon a place called Cassaquiari, and found the ruins of an antique city, and among the ruins the actual strong-room of the citadel, and in the strong-room five thousand ingots of pure gold. He escaped from captivity and...

(The entire section is 339 words.)

William Morton Payne (essay date 1912)

SOURCE: A review of A Person of Some Importance, in The Dial Vol. LII, No. 613, January 1, 1912, pp. 23-4.

[In the following review, Payne sees A Person of Some Importance as inventive but disappointing in style and characterization. ]

The romantic story of the Austrian archduke who separated himself from civilization some twenty years ago, his subsequent history and fate to remain a mystery, has been taken by Mr. Lloyd Osbourne for the groundwork of the tale which he entitles A Person of Some Importance. Last year, it will be remembered, the missing man was declared to be legally dead, and his estate settled. Mr. Osbourne's invention (for which...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

The Bookman (essay date 1922)

SOURCE: A review of Wild Justice: Stories of the South Seas, in The Bookman, London, Vol. LXII, 369, June, 1922, p. 143.

[In the following review, the critic lauds Wild Justice as a fascinating blend of tragedy and humor. ]

It is not fair of Mr. Lloyd Osbourne. Here are we, packed more or less securely in some of the biggest cities of the world, taking shelter from rain, wearing clothes that afflict us in hot weather and are not particularly comfortable in cold weather, catching trains and colds and running offices and paying—or trying to pay—incometax; and he considers this a suitable moment to call our attention to those South Sea isles where nature...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

The Bookman (essay date 1929)

SOURCE: A review of Peril, in The Bookman, London, Vol. LXXVI, No. 451, April, 1929, p. 64.

[In the following review, the critic recounts the plot of Peril and comments on the "charm and fragrance" of its love story.]

There is a briskness about this latest story [Peril] by Stevenson's stepson and collaborator which quickly arrests the attention and retains it. For hero, Mr. Lloyd Osbourne presents in Hal Curwen—novelist, thirty-six, divorced—a portrait which may owe something to his own early New York experiences; but his setting and the other characters are wholly of the New York and Long Island and California of to-day. The delightful Nigma...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Further Reading


Morley, Christopher. "An American Gentleman." In The Ironing Board, pp. 86-91. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1949.

Anecdotal memoir of Osbourne.

(The entire section is 23 words.)