Beryl Markham (MAHR-kuhm) came to prominence in modern literature almost entirely on the basis of West with the Night, one of the twentieth century’s most compelling memoirs. She was born to Charles B. and Clara (Alexander) Clutterbuck in England, but in 1906 her family went to Kenya, the place she was to call home for the rest of her life, except for the time she spent in the United States in the 1940’s. After a short stay in Kenya, Markham’s mother returned to England, taking Markham’s younger brother with her, and soon thereafter divorced Markham’s father. Without a mother and with a father whose preoccupation with racehorses took up most of his time, Markham grew up almost on her own, in what she later would call a “world without walls.” She had almost no formal schooling, and she defeated a succession of governesses and tutors who tried in vain to discipline her. The one time her father did manage to enroll her in a regular school, she was soon expelled for inciting the other students to riot. She was a voracious reader, however, as well as a competent linguist. She learned the hunting skills of the African natives so well that she was accepted as one of them and was allowed to take part in activities in which no woman, English or native, was ordinarily allowed to participate.
Markham became most proficient at horse training. When her father went bankrupt, she turned her horse-training skills to profit. She was the first woman to be licensed as a trainer in Kenya, and her horses became famous for winning prizes. Her own riding skills were formidable, and it was said that she was absolutely fearless. Her fearlessness led her to accept the challenge in 1936 to fly over the Atlantic Ocean from east to west, becoming the first person to fly solo from England to North America.
Success also brought fame and notoriety. Hollywood beckoned (she acted as technical consultant on one film), but plans to employ her in a film about her own life were scrapped when her screen test proved disappointing. Much publicity surrounded her separation from her second husband, Mansfield Markham (an early marriage to Jock Purves had been short-lived), and her affair with England’s...
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