Friday, September 14, 2012


I was perusing a gift shop in North Conway, NH back at the beginning of August, and as I am often wont to do I wandered into the book section, intrigued by the variety of titles...

Is anyone else really attracted to books by their covers?? Ok, ok, I know we're not supposed to do that, but I can't help it! If a book has a cool cover, it just pulls me in - makes me pick it up and read the back. I buy books all the time just based on the cover and the description on the back only and my instincts usually do not fail me.

Anyway, this one book in particular pulled me in - I did buy it, and am I ever glad I did:

I had never heard of Beryl Markham before, which shocked me, considering what a fabulously adventurous and public life she had. She was the first woman to fly cross the Atlantic solo non-stop, and east-to-west, which at that time was considered the "hard" way because of winds (Amelia Earhart may have been the first woman to cross the Atlantic period, but she did not actually fly the plane - didn't know that either!). In this flight, she also became the first person to make it from England to North America non-stop east-to-west.

Fun fact: On her cross-Atlantic flight, she actually crash-landed in a bog in a place called Baleine Cove, Cape Breton. She spent some time there and in Halifax (my hometown!) while her plane was repaired, before moving on to New York City, where she was greeted by thousands of people celebrating her record. The Nova Scotia government even contributed money to a brass replica of her plane, commissioned by the RAF for the 50th anniversary of her flight. Who knew when I picked up that random book in that random store in NH that I would find a connection between my home and an important historical event!

She worked as a bush and medical pilot for years in South Africa, where she was raised, often making dangerous flights on her own in extremely remote areas. She also became a noted and respected horse trainer in Kenya and trained/competed well into her 70's. And this at a time when women were not generally allowed to have careers, let alone "adventurous" "dangerous" and "male" ones like the ones she chose.
She was married three times, and had many scandalous love affairs, including a long-standing one with Prince Henry (brother of the eventual King George VI, aka Colin Firth). It was widely believed that the Prince was the father of her son, although this was never proven. Another of her lovers was Denys Finch-Hatton (aka, Robert Redford) and they were actually in a relationship at the time of his death in a plane accident.

I found this story of BM's life fascinating - Mary S. Lovell writes with such detail and such respect for her subject, while also being honest about her flaws. Her research is clearly impeccable. She even got to meet Beryl in the mid-80's, spending several weeks with her talking and going through her personal papers and photographs. What a wonderful opportunity. This book was written before I was even born and my only reservation about that is that I never got to meet BM myself! It sounds like she would have been a sparkling dinner companion, as my mother would say.

There are so many wonderfully quirky and dynamic people that are hidden in the anals of world history and it's a shame more people do not know about them. This particularly applies to women I suppose because their achievements were not always afforded the same attention as those of men. I loved this book so much that I read Lovell's bio of Amelia Earhart immediately after (yet another notorious aviatrix, but one with a very different life and character).
Here's a tip from me to you - pick up a bio of someone you have never heard of the first chance you get and read it. You never know what you will learn or what they will inspire you to do.
What did Beryl and her author inspire ME to do? Well, try and track down THIS gem, for one! Anyone know where I could find it?? Wish me luck!


Allison said...

I don't know if you watch, but I'm pretty sure she was mentioned in the season premier of Boardwalk Empire the other night.

I didn't know Amelia Earheart didn't actually fly the plane - how strange that they always make it seem like she did and her pilot gets no credit.

Kim Humes said...

I know! I think the popular belief is that she DID fly but she was actually a passenger with two men who navigated/flew. She did make many record solo flights after this, but her first big one that she's pretty much known for, she did not fly. Interesting huh?

That would be awesome if she was mentioned in an episode of Boardwalk Empire the other night - maybe I'll track that down and watch it one of these days. I'm amazed she doesn't get mentioned more.

Allison said...

I was wrong, the pilot on the show was named "Connie Duncan" who is a fictionalized version of Amelia Earheart (the show does this a lot, fictionalized versions of real people from the 1920s).

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim! Nice to meet you :-)
I couldn't help contacting you as it sounds as if you have also "fallen in love" with Beryl! For me it all started by an article on female aviation that I read on the newspaper. Then I read 'West with the night' (highly recommended) which led me to the great film 'Shadow on the sun' (you can find it in for 12 bucks). At the moment, I'm reading (and thoroughly enjoying) her biography by Lovell.
Following your words of encouragement, I am now strongly persuaded to read Amelia Earhart's biography. Thank you!
Happy reading ... and watching!

Kim Humes said...

Hi Monica! SO nice to find another Beryl and Mary fan! I would love to hear what you think about the Lovell bio - I really enjoyed it! I have heard of the film and have been looking around for it so that's next 'on the list'. What an amazing life this woman had!!

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