OF FRICA

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

her to do the At­lantic cross­ing, and lent her his plane. But like many of Markham’s as­ton­ish­ing suc­cesses, the record-break­ing flight didn’t lead to much else other than, this time, her last brief mar­riage and the mem­oirs. By the late ’ 40s, she had left the US and was back in Africa, pen­ni­less and de­pen­dent, as she was so of­ten, on the kind­ness and char­ity of oth­ers. She al­ways as­sumed some­one richer than her would pro­vide. They usu­ally did.

Men tended to swoon over her, says Lovell. Many women dis­liked her. The ones who did be­come her friends, like O’Neill, were equally strong women con­tent not to com­pete.

I met O’Neill when I edited her own mem­oir, A Lion in the Bed­room . She had spent her life in the shadow of her glam­orous and im­pe­ri­ous mother, Enid, Count­ess of Ken­mare, for­merly Enid Lin­de­man of the Aus­tralian wine fam­ily. Beryl must have been chicken-feed. At one stage, in the mid-’ 60s, Markham and the count­ess set up a suc­cess­ful horse-train­ing es­tab­lish­ment to­gether in South Africa. The farm wasn’t big enough for two such fa­mous, de­mand­ing beau­ties; Markham soon went back to Kenya.

‘‘ She was to­tally amoral,’’ O’Neill told me, putting it down to Markham’s undis­ci­plined child­hood. ‘‘ One day, when I was liv­ing in Nairobi where Beryl was too, I fool­ishly left my hand­bag in her sit­ting-room with £ 50 in it for staff wages. It was a great deal of money then. By the time I got back half an hour later, the money was gone. When I pointed this out, Beryl opened her eyes very wide and in the soft­est voice said, ‘ Oh sweetie! How very un­for­tu­nate! It must have been Ti­mau [ her house ser­vant]. How naughty of him.’ ’’

The ques­tion still hang­ing over Markham’s rep­u­ta­tion is: did she also nick her third hus­band’s writ­ing skills?

Six years af­ter Lovell’s bi­og­ra­phy came out, a sec­ond — The Lives of Beryl Markham by Er­rol Trze­bin­ski — ap­peared. Trze­bin­ski, egged along by Schu­macher’s close friend, writer Scott O’Dell, ar­gued yes. O’Dell claimed Schu­macher had bit­terly con­fided that his wife hadn’t writ­ten a ‘‘ damn word’’ of her mem­oir.

Lovell is dis­dain­ful, ques­tion­ing how a man who’d never ex­pe­ri­enced Africa could have writ­ten about it so vividly. ‘‘ The mem­oir is crammed with knowl­edge­able and evoca­tive de­scrip­tions of the coun­try which is plainly in­ti­mately known to the writer, even to the taste of the dust, the smell of an­i­mal dung on the road, the sound made by colobus mon­keys as they flit through the trees.’’

Nor, says Lovell, was Markham il­lit­er­ate as she’d even said her­self. She knew the clas­sics and was an avid reader. ‘‘ Her let­ters re­veal a sim­ple el­e­gance in phras­ing.’’ Trze­bin­ski claims Schu­macher was an ex­pe­ri­enced ghost writer. Lovell ar­gues that the only thing he had ghost­writ­ten be­fore he met Markham was a West­ern novel which he com­pleted in seven days on a dic­ta­phone and even he called it ‘‘ a worstseller’’. The big­gest dis­crep­ancy be­tween Lovell and Trze­bin­ski is that the lat­ter has the cou­ple, who mar­ried in 1942, meet­ing in 1937, well be­fore Markham started on her mem­oirs. Lovell has them meet­ing in 1941, af­ter Markham had sent her en­thu­si­as­tic pub­lish­ers 132 pages of man­u­script from Nas­sau where she stayed with friends for sev­eral months.

‘‘ The very first meet­ing of Beryl and Raoul was a coup de foudre,’’ Lovell says. ‘‘ Af­ter it they were in­sep­a­ra­ble for a long time. There is sim­ply no room in this story for Beryl to go off to Nas­sau and have sev­eral more pas­sion­ate af­fairs and then drift back to Raoul some­how.’’

Trze­bin­ski’s pub­lish­ers in Bri­tain did not re­spond to re­quests for a con­tact. Lovell, af­ter dis­cussing the mys­tery, im­me­di­ately wrote an­other 2000 pre­cise words in an email, putting more of her case. ‘‘ I still ev­i­dently feel rather strongly about it,’’ she con­cluded with some sur­prise of the mem­oir that has now sold a mil­lion copies. ‘‘ Maybe Beryl is still looking over my shoul­der?’’

Af­ter the mem­oir, Markham pro­duced sev­eral sto­ries based on her life, and there’s cer­tainly proof that Schu­macher wrote at least three or four of them. Given nei­ther Markham nor Schu­macher pur­sued suc­cess­ful writ­ing ca­reers once they split, it’s most likely that Markham found her hus­band to be an in­valu­able ed­i­tor. Without his guid­ance, she found writ­ing too hard. But without her, Schu­macher had noth­ing to write about.

Markham was of­ten un­der­es­ti­mated through her life. There is a sense, read­ing com­men­tary on her, that peo­ple couldn’t quite for­give her some­times un­pleas­ant sin­gle-mind­ed­ness and, per­haps, the way she made it ap­pear as if her achieve­ments had come to her too eas­ily.

Hem­ing­way’s third wife Martha Gel­horn vis­ited her in Kenya in the early ’ 70s. Sur­prised by the racing leg­end’s glam­our, Gel­horn im­me­di­ately dis­missed her as a so­ci­ety dar­ling who only kept horses to amuse her­self.

Ten years later, Gel­horn — who never got a chance to meet Markham again — was still ru­ing her mis­take. Straight on Till Morn­ing by Mary S. Lovell ( Aba­cus, $ 29.99), out now.

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