When I read Circling the Sun a few months ago, I surmised that I wasn’t reading about the real Beryl Markham but someone who had been sanitized for popular consumption. Reading Straight on Till Morning has shown me that I was absolutely right. Markham was an unconventional woman who was difficult for others to understand. She had virtually no fear and didn’t care what people thought about her. Although she sometimes behaved without regard to others, she had some friends for life.
Straight on Till Morning is an extremely interesting biography of a fascinating woman. It follows Markham through her careers as horse trainer, flyer, and author. It also tells of her relationships with many well-known people, including Dennis Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Ernest Hemingway, Prince Harry, and Lord Delamere, as well as her three husbands and some of her many lovers.
One subject it tackles brilliantly is the authorship of Beryl’s memoir West with the Night. Controversy occurred when Beryl’s third husband claimed to have written the book, and others asserted that she couldn’t have written it because she was almost illiterate. Lovell is able to show, first, that no one questioned Markham’s authorship until the book was republished in the 1980’s, second, that not only was Markham a voracious reader but she submitted hundreds of pages to her editor before she even met her husband. Her husband, Raoul Schumaker, was a writer of sorts (mostly pulp westerns), but it is Lovell’s opinion that his style is nothing like that of West with the Night but much more closely matches that of some short stories they collaborated on. Lovell states that Schumaker probably helped Markham edit West with the Night, but the remaining artifacts of that collaboration (comments and markups) indicate that his role was as editor.
If you are at all interested in this unusual woman who led such a colorful life, I think you’ll enjoy this biography. It is lively and well written and meticulous in research.