My hero: Beryl Markham by Maggie Shipstead
Born in England in 1902, she was taken to British East Africa, now Kenya, and raised primarily by her father, who left her to roam the bush with the local Nandi and Murani people, from whom she learned spear-hunting and warrior survival skills.
She married her first husband at 16, became an accomplished racehorse trainer, then earned her commercial pilot’s licence and worked as a game-spotter. She loved a party and left a broad wake of sexual conquests, bagging, among others, the Duke of Gloucester, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and both Karen Blixen’s husband and her lover. Of Beryl’s memoir West With the Night, Ernest Hemingway claimed that she writes so “marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer”. He added that she was also a “high-grade bitch”, but, then again, rumour has it he made an unsuccessful pass at her while on a hunting trip.
In 1936, Beryl became the first person to fly solo from England to North America against the prevailing winds. (…)
Hers was a big, messy, intrepid life. I’m no game-stalking, man-eating aviatrix, but I’ve spent many months alone and travelling, and the transformative solitude Beryl experienced in the air is familiar to me, as is the self-stranger left behind when life is stripped of distractions. She was brave. I am not brave by nature but wish I were. Often that’s the point of a hero – to loan you a spirit, to remind you of how you want to be.
Stuff You Missed in History Class did a podcast on her. Best look it up on iTunes.