Lloyd Osbourne Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.