Straight on Till Morning Essay - Critical Essays

Mary S. Lovell

Straight on Till Morning

Shortly before the death of Beryl Markham in 1986, her 1942 memoir, WEST WITH THE NIGHT, was republished in the United States where, thanks to the grace of its prose and a growing American interest in East Africa, it achieved enormous, unexpected popularity. Charges that Markham had not written the book began to surface. Fascinated both by the problem and by the woman, British biographer Mary S. Lovell traveled to Kenya, where she spent two months making friends with Markham and helping her sift through her papers. After concluding that Markham was indeed responsible for the memoir, Lovell produced this romantic and sympathetic biography.

Markham, born in England in 1902, spent most of her childhood alone with her father and his native employees in the mountains of the Great Rift Valley of Africa. More adept with animals than with human companions, she began her career as a trainer of racehorses before learning to be a safari pilot, a lucrative job which not only introduced her to the society of the rich and famous--including Prince Henry of Gloucester, with whom she had a compromising affair--but also led to her record-breaking solo flight from London to Newfoundland in 1936, the first nonstop solo trip across the Atlantic in a westerly direction. One of a generation of daring women pilots that included Amelia Earhart and Jacqueline Cochran, Markham was an amazing figure in her own right. Fearless, beautiful, and reputedly amoral, she intrigued men and infuriated women for more than sixty years.

Lovell’s well-told story evokes the glamour of an era and a place that today seem impossibly remote.