West with the Night Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)

Beryl Clutterbuck

Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Markham’s memoir met with acclaim when it appeared in 1942, then dropped out of sight, as did Markham herself. Her transatlantic flight—a tribute to courage, skill, and discipline—was forgotten. For several years, Markham resumed training racehorses in Kenya. The last two decades of her life were spent in considerable solitude and poverty. The reissue of West with the Night in 1983 by North Point Press in San Francisco and Virago Press in England, however, provided her with desperately needed royalties.

The event that led to the reissue of the work suggests the impact the book can have on individual readers. A California man noticed in a letter that Ernest Hemingway had written to his publisher that Hemingway knew Markham in Africa; Hemingway commended her truthful and wonderful book. The curious reader had never heard of Markham, but he eventually tracked down a copy of the book Hemingway praised so highly. He immediately recognized it as a lost masterpiece and devoted himself to getting it published again.

Markham received further recognition in a 1985 documentary film World Without Walls. It includes an interview with Markham at the age of eighty-three. Markham remained unassuming about her accomplishments, and she apparently saw no need to discuss certain aspects of her life in either her book or in interviews. There is no mention of her three marriages, her son, her acquaintance with the Prince of Wales, or other intimate relationships. She also does not include information of that nature about others. What the memoir does include is a sense that life is to be lived. It speaks to the need always to be observing, exploring, and interacting. West with the Night was Markham’s only book, but it is a literary classic.