West with the Night Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series West with the Night Analysis

Beryl Clutterbuck

Masterpieces of Women's Literature West with the Night Analysis

Beryl Markham’s autobiography can be analyzed on the basis of details she included and details she excluded. Those that are included illustrate what she believes is required of a person who breaks stereotypes and records. Those that are excluded are details that might detract, because of their controversial nature, from the case she attempts to build about herself. The details that she included present a woman who lived an unorthodox life and loved it. The three passions of her unorthodox life were Africa, horses, and flying.

Markham’s love of Africa is clear. Brought to Kenya at the age of four, she chose to live most of her adult life there, and she died there. Her early years provided her with rigorous training. Of particular importance are the descriptions of her childhood, when she lived close to the Nandi and Masai tribes. She writes of being attacked by lion and leopard, of being left alone at night on the plains after a hunt with her Nandi friends, and of being left to fend for herself at the age of seventeen.

Horses provided her opportunities early in life to break stereotypes, and they, like Africa, remained a lifelong love. The triumph of her horse Wise Child at the Kenya Derby gives Markham her first taste of fame and fortune in the predominantly male world of horse racing. Her success in horse racing foreshadows her success in flying. In both cases, she credits her success to prodigious labor and reading. She writes frequently about the hours of work she logged with her horses, even sleeping in their stalls, and she read volumes about horses. Markham left nothing to chance, and this same attitude applied later to flying.

Some particularly revealing lines about how Markham perceived herself are found in one of the chapters dealing with horses. In them, she incorporates one of her numerous literary allusions. She compares Pegasus to a knight’s beautiful steed and identifies herself with Don Quixote. Ultimately, Markham died in 1986 as the result of injuries suffered when she fell from a horse. She was eighty-four years old and still riding.

Moving from the...

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